By 1st Lt. Ariana Henry, 341st Missile Wing
/ Published January 28, 2019
MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE, Mont. -- I have been to Washington, D.C. for a vacation, a competition and a recent reunion for the 490th Bomber Squadron.
I am 26-years-old and I am stationed at Malmstrom Air Force Base for the 341st Missile Wing. I work as a deputy missile combat crew commander for the 490th Missile Squadron, and my job is to supervise and maintain nuclear surety and positive control of the Minute Man III intercontinental ballistic missile.
I graduated from Baylor University and was commissioned as an officer through their ROTC program in May 2016, then entered active duty with the U.S. Air Force in May 2017.
I was inspired to join the U.S. Air Force when I was 14-years-old because of my love for aviation. I joined Civil Air Patrol, which helped me get an Air Force ROTC scholarship for college.
When I found out my vision disqualified me from becoming a pilot, I turned to missiles. I liked the ICBM operations tempo and figured my degree in mechanical engineering would help me understand the ICBM weapons system.
My instincts were correct. I love my job. Day-to-day I sign for responsibility of up to 10, sometimes more, nuclear capable Minute Man III missiles.
That's why my last trip to the District of Columbia was so very special. As I mentioned, I am with the 490th Missile squadron, which used to be called the 490th Bomber Squadron.
The 490th reunion I attended had invited members from the present day squadron to their very special event with the intent to integrate the past and present, transition facilitation of future reunions, and carry on the heritage of the 490th.
Every couple of years past members choose a location and they and their families attend the event and tour different relevant historical places in the city.
With me this year were Lt. Col. Troy Stauter, 490th Missile Squadron, commander; Maj. Marc Keller, 490th Missile Squadron, assistant director of operations; Maj. Chris Boney, 490th Missile Squadron, assistant director of operations; Capt. Tony Ferrelli, 490th Missile Squadron, bravo flight commander; Capt. Ryan Potts, 490th Missile Squadron, instructor and missile combat crew commander; 1st Lt. Kinsey Richmond, 490th Missile Squadron, missile combat crew commander; 1st Lt. Kyla Thrasher, 490th Missile Squadron, missile combat crew commander; 2nd Lt. Mitcheal Nairn, 490th Missile Squadron, deputy missile combat crew commander; Master Sgt. Matthew Manning, 490th Missile Squadron, noncommissioned officer in charge and Airman 1st Class Todd Conley, 490th Missile Squadron, aviation resource manager.
In the four-day trip, we explored the Pentagon, the Udvar-Hazy Center and Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling where the banquet for our reunion was held.
The Pentagon was an overwhelming experience. It is an office building that functions like a small town. The sheer volume of people in those identical halls who go there every day is astounding.
Richmond of our group made me realize this when she described the uniquely-shaped building this way: "The Pentagon building houses many agencies, and many people from other agencies and services, including the National Security Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency, Missile Defense Agency and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Because of all these people, it offers its employees shops, concessions, a gym and even sleeping quarters."
We wandered a lot through the halls. As Conley said jokingly, "I'm not saying we got lost, but if Major Marc Keller wasn't with us, we would still be in the Pentagon."
During our Pentagon tour, our group settled into some briefing rooms where we talked to members from the Department of the Air Force's Air Staff who work in the Strategic Deterrence and Nuclear Integration Office (or the A10).
Our briefers worked in the policy and strategy branch, and in the nuclear command, control, and communication ground systems branch. We learned these officers work tirelessly advocating for fundamental changes and updates to our NC3, governing documents and more.
We were able to talk about missiles of the future with the upcoming Ground Based Strategic Deterrent program and see the presentation that described the technical requirements of GBSD that the U.S. Air Force sent to industry.
We also talked about the submarine and bomber roles in nuclear policy strategy and wrapped up the brief with an in-depth look at how NC3 extends from the President of the United States almost directly down to us in our launch control centers.
The short chain of command between us and the commander in chief emphasizes the fact that launch commands come directly from the U.S. president, not his or her office or staff.
Our Pentagon tour then took us a couple of floors down and we found ourselves at the National Military Command Center, which primarily serves the President of the United States advising him or her of nuclear options.
Exploring the Pentagon and learning about how work there directly affects our day-to-day operations was enlightening and encouraging because it revealed the bigger picture. It is easy to have narrow vision when all you see is the inside of a launch control center. So many more people are involved behind the scenes, helping to sew together the nuclear blanket of deterrence.
The Pentagon tour was excellent, but the main reason we were in Washington D.C. was to connect with the 490th Bomber Squadron.
These guys had served in India, Burma and China flying in the B-25 Mitchell bomber during World War II. Their B-25 bombers were used to destroy infrastructure utilized by the Japanese who were fighting in northern Burma.
Infamously they used the glip bombing technique to destroy bridges, which is where their name the Bridge Busters originates. Interestingly enough, the original 490th was not part of the nuclear triad; all their bombs were conventional. They were, however, part of the 341st Bomb Group, now the 341st MW.
Their original insignia of the Bridge Busters was a winged skull. The emblem is still integrated in the missile squadron's patches today. Although they had traveled throughout Asia, most of the veterans and their families talked about people instead of battle exploits.
We first met up with the veterans and their families for an early dinner the day before the actual reunion banquet. It was overwhelming for both sides I would say because we all weren't really sure how to break the ice and connect with each other.
Conversation was fun and polite, but all of us were still reeling from our Pentagon visit. But the next day we were all together--the day we toured the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center--we strongly connected over a shared love for aviation, and specifically nuclear aviation.
Though I have been to Washington, D.C. two other times, I have never made it out the Udvar-Hazy Center, which is the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum's annex at Washington Dulles International Airport, where they house famous aircraft, some of the most notable being the SR-71 Blackbird, a Concord, space shuttle Discovery and even a World War II plane that barely survived the attack on Pearl Harbor.
This was the part of the trip I looked forward to the most. I have always loved airplanes, they were what inspired me to join the Air Force.
We saw so many historical aircraft. I thought my favorite to see would be the SR-71 Blackbird, a supersonic stealth type of aircraft designed for reconnaissance, but I surprised myself.
The aircraft I enjoyed the most was probably the one the veterans enjoyed the most, the restored Enola Gay, the famous aircraft that dropped the first atomic bomb Little Boy on Aug. 6, 1945.
We spent the most time admiring, asking questions and learning from each other about this beautiful B-29 Superfortress. One of the veterans curiously asked if the engines were like his old B-25s. The tour guide didn't understand, but everyone in our group did.
It used to be that before starting the B-25s' engines, one of the guys would have to run out and turn the propeller a couple of times to ensure that the oil was evenly distributed throughout the engine. If this was not done, the engine would not start and could even break.
I think both the veterans and the missileers connected with each other because of their knowledge and respect for the Enola Gay. The B-29 was very different from the B-25, but it was still a bomber and part of their heritage, just like it is a part of our nuclear heritage.
The next and last time we got to spend with the veterans and their families was at their banquet dinner on Bolling AFB. At every table sat at least one veteran with their family and a couple of us who are active duty.
Potts and I had the pleasure of sitting with Maj. Charles Good who was a P-51 fighter pilot. He was not in the 490th, but is a friend of the 490th and served as a fighter pilot in World War II and Korea. Charlie had a happy smile.
His family told us all about his adventures while in the service. It was fun to hear them share their family history. We also got the opportunity to share a bit of our world with Charlie's family. His daughter and granddaughter asked Potts and me many questions about what we do day-to-day in the missile fields.
It reminded me of when I first explained my job to my family. Of course they wanted to know if there was a big red launch button; I told them it was a little mailbox style key.
There were more numerous heartwarming moments during the banquet. Words can't really describe how it felt to be there listening to Staff Sgt. Murry Schenker, a retired U.S. Air Force B-25 tail gunner for the 490th, read the roll call.
Some of the men listed were present in the room, but most were not. This means they have either passed on, or are maybe a little too far down life’s road to make a difficult trip. They were missed and when they weren't there to say "present" it made the silence that much more heavy.
The trip in its entirety was amazing, but being able to spend time with World War II heroes, original members of the squadron I call my own, was beyond humbling. It was surreal, like being in a movie.
We learned more about where we came from, we were able to talk about who we've become, and we got a peek behind the curtain at where we are going.
We left the banquet with tears and hugs. Hopefully next summer some of the veterans and their families will be able to come up and tour our missile wing and see what we do now with their own eyes.
Regardless, the 490th of the past and the 490th of the present promised each other to be a part of the 490th of the future, with both old and new participating in the reunions to come.
Videos of the roll call read by Staff Sgt. Murry Schenker, as well as his reading of "Through the Year ," can be found on YouTube. Search for 2018 490th Bomb Squadron reunion.