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Faces of GT-239: Malmstrom's missileers

An Air Force Global Strike Command unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches during an operational test at 12:51 Pacific Time Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021, at Vandenberg Space Force Base, Calif.

An Air Force Global Strike Command unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches during an operational test at 12:51 Pacific Time Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021, at Vandenberg Space Force Base, Calif. ICBM test launches demonstrate that the U.S. ICBM fleet is relevant, essential and key to leveraging dominance in an era of Strategic Competition. (U.S. Space Force photo by Michael Peterson)

MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE, Mont. -- Ten months ago, preparation was made for an individual Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile to conduct a test launch, which occurred Aug. 11, 2021 at 12:53 A.M.

Every year, Air Force Global Strike Command schedules three-to-four launches, or Glory Trips, consisting of operational, unarmed Minuteman III ICBMs.

Glory Trips consist of integrated operations between the three missile wings: 341st Missile Wing from Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana; 90th Missile Wing from F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming; and the 91st Missile Wing from Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota.

For this year’s launch, Glory Trip-239, each wing sent two ICBM combat crew members, commonly referred to as missileers, to Vandenberg Space Force Base, California, where the launches take place.

Malmstrom’s representatives for GT-239 were Capt. Sarah Ingram, 10th Missile Squadron instructor, and 1st Lt. Ryan Stimson, 12th Missile Squadron ICBM combat crew commander.

“The purpose of these Glory Trips are not only to test our systems and personnel, but also to show the world that our weapons system can still perform the way it needs to,” said Engram. “Each launch tests or monitors different aspects, but the driving principle remains the same.”

Engram and Stimson regularly deploy to Malmstrom’s 13,800-square-mile missile complex to perform alert duties in launch control centers, where they are responsible for overseeing more than 10 missile silos at time.

Engram works as a flight instructor for the 10th MS, ensuring squadron members are current on all training and ready to deploy to the field at all times, although, she considers pulling alert her primary duty.

“I still consider my first job to be posting to the field and pulling alert,” said Engram. “I enjoy both [pulling alert and instructing] and I take pride in doing my job; it helps keep the nation safe.”

Part of Stimson’s job, as a combat crew commander, is coordinating with Airmen of multiple career fields, such as authenticating commands and procedures with maintenance Airmen and ensuring missile site security through security forces defenders.

“I made known my desire to be considered for this unique opportunity to be part of GT-239,” said Stimson. “My flight commander and assistant flight commanders fought for me to be selected.”

Once selected as operations crew members for GT-239, Engram and Stimson were given two weeks to complete training and professional development specific to VSFB.

After training and upon arrival to VSFB, they had to conduct alert status, man the LCC and send out commands to the missile.

“While we are here, we are responsible for monitoring the missile after it goes on alert,” said Engram. “Basically, we will pull alert as we do at the wing to make sure the missile is ready to go when we need to launch. We coordinate with all members of the task force and work with those at the 576th [Flight Test Squadron] to ensure everything is going as planned.”

They also performed tests, checks and procedures in conjunction with the 576th FTS located at VSFB.

“From procedures to equipment, there are definitely some test-specific differences between the 576th and the missile wings,” said Stimson. “They do keep things realistic as to how things are done at the operational missile wings.”

One major difference between the test squadron and the missile wings is the key turn process. Missileers at Malmstrom practice each step of the launch procedure in the missile procedure trainer - a simulated LCC – then turn the keys to simulate a missile launch. During GT-239, however, when the missileers turned the keys, an operational missile launched.

Collaboration across different career fields, bases and units resulted in a successful test launch for GT-239.

“Since being here, I’ve been able to see missile handling teams, missile maintenance teams and electro-mechanical technicians work first-hand,” said Stimson. “They would place the missile, conduct coding actions and other maintenance procedures that we, as operators, rarely get to see at the wings.

“This is a dream assignment for missileers,” he concluded. “I’m glad I was selected.”
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