Cheering the charge: a look back on the wing’s missile competition mascot

  • Published
  • By John Turner
  • 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs
You may know him as Grizzly. You probably call him Roadkill. And perhaps you even remember him as the High Plains Warrior.

And a warrior he is. He has represented Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana, for almost three decades at missile competitions hosted by Strategic Air Command, Air Combat Command, Air Force Space Command and Air Force Global Strike Command.

With a musket in hand and a bear skin draped over his shoulders, the mysterious mountain man energizes Airmen with his rousting traditional battle cry:

“Aces in the Hole, Read em’ and weep! Malmstrom, Malmstrom, can’t be beat!”

The origins of Malmstrom’s mascot are as murky as the Upper Missouri River, the legendary headwaters that drew trappers and fur traders in the early 1800s.

There were no mascots at Strategic Air Command’s first Missile Combat Competition in 1967. Wings evolved their demonstrations of pride throughout the next decade for the annual competitions held at Vandenberg AFB, California, eventually developing full-fledged mascots by 1981. Early mascots for the 341st Strategic Missile Wing included a cowboy in 1985 and a bear in 1987.

The buckskinned bellower made his debut around 1989 and was then known as the High Plains Warrior. The warrior fronted the team in 1991 when the 341st SMW became the first wing to win the Blanchard Trophy for Best ICBM Wing in two consecutive years at SAC’s Olympic Arena Missile Combat Competition.

SAC inactivated in 1992. Air Combat Command hosted the final Olympic Arena competition in 1993.

The following year, Air Force Space Command became the home of the six Minuteman wings. The missile competition was revamped as the Guardian Challenge Space and Missile Competition to include AFSPC’s space wings. Missile wing mascots were nearly eliminated because of the restructuring.

“The space wings don’t have mascots here, and there was some debate on whether or not missileers could keep theirs,” according to the Guardian Challenge 1994 event newsletter. “But mascots have been a tradition, and in the end, they stayed. Still, there was some uncertainty as to what role they’d play at Guardian Challenge.”

Many acted as their team’s bus driver. This gave mascots an official purpose at competition events.

Peter Woelkers, now 341st MW chief of weapon safety, accepted the role in 1997. He was a captain in the 12th Missile Squadron then, and a few years older than his counterparts. The wing commander wanted a bus driver with maturity. And it didn’t hurt that Woelkers was also a Lewis and Clark Honor Guard member familiar with muskets and frontier apparel.

Woelkers remembers the nickname “Roadkill” was already firmly established then, probably attributed to the fur headpiece the High Plains Warrior wore. Woelkers chose to wear a brimmed hat from his personal collection instead, pinned up on one side in early 1800s fashion. He also wore a brain-tanned, elk hide shirt and carried his personal musket, giving the mascot a unique look that year.

Firing blanks was a tradition for the High Plains Warrior and other missile wing mascots – loud, smoky blasts at indoor rallies and on flight lines, at the competition venues and even the score posting ceremony at Vandenberg AFB. Woelkers said he fired off three pounds of gunpowder at Guardian Challenge 1997 events. He used his experience to write safety guidelines for Malmstrom’s future mascots.

The High Plains Warrior returned to his Roadkill roots in 1998, complete with the pelt on his pate. The 341st SW brought home the Blanchard Trophy that year and again in 1999. The talisman powers of Roadkill’s carrion cap helped the wing garner the trophy once more in 2002.

The next Guardian Challenge competition was in 2004. It continued as a biennial event in 2006 and 2008 and both were Blanchard Trophy years for Malmstrom. The 341st SW mascot began wearing his signature snarling bear headdress during this period and was introduced as Grizzly.

Malmstrom’s bruin-wearing backwoodsman endured as a tradition at AFGSC’s first Global Strike Challenge in 2010. He helped the 341st MW bring back the Blanchard in 2015 and the consecutive GSC in 2017 for yet another back-to-back win.

Regardless of the name the 341st MW’s mascot is known by, he continues to energize competitors, roust crowds and symbolically represent the wing at GSC events every competition year.