'Big Missiles' is MAF, LF security done right

  • Published
  • By John Turner
  • 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs
The 341st Missile Security Forces Squadron provides the day-to-day site security at Malmstrom Air Force Base's 15 Missile Alert Facilities and 150 Launch Facilities. The squadron's mission is to prevent unauthorized access to these sites and to deter threats against the 341st Missile Wing's strategic assets.

With about 450 personnel authorized, the 341st MSFS is the largest squadron in 20th Air Force and one of the largest in Air Force Global Strike Command.

Known colloquially as 'Big Missiles,' the squadron is responsible 24-hours a day for the security of the wing's 13,800-square mile missile complex. These defenders are prepared to confront a variety of situations including the recapture and recovery of a nuclear weapon from malevolent agents should the need arise.

"Big Missiles are the first responders for the missile field," said Maj. Justin Secrest, 341st MSFS commander. "We are the first on scene for any contingencies that may happen out there."
To accomplish this mission, 341st MSFS personnel are posted to the missile field in four-day rotations. They operate in six-person teams assigned to each MAF, working and sleeping there until relieved by the next security team coming on duty. A Big Missiles Airmen is typically posted in the field at least 120 nights a year.

Normally, three 341st MSFS Airmen are on duty at each MAF at any given time--the Flight Security Controller and two Alarm Response Team members--while three team members are a standby rest status as the Security Response Team. These roles alternate every 12 hours.

The FSC oversees the MAF's entire flight area including 10 LFs, and has the greatest amount of responsibility. The FSC controls access to the MAF, monitors the status of all security and maintenance teams in the flight area, coordinates checks of LFs and ensures that they are completed on schedule and dispatches the ART team as necessary. The FSC records all events that happen in the flight area, gives weather and safety briefs and accounts for all weapons, ammunition and communications security material on site. Finally, the FSC is the last line of defense for the Launch Control Center.

Even the smallest mistake by the FSC could cause an unauthorized access to a site or a maintenance delay, Secrest said.

The FSC position was designed to be held by a non-commissioned officer. In reality it is often assigned to a senior airman.

"FSC is probably one of the hardest certifications to get in Air Force Security Forces, and we have to keep a minimum of 100 of those guys ready to go all the time," Secrest said. "We spend a lot of our time making sure those FSCs are good, trained, and ready to go. And these are some of the youngest troops in the Air Force."

The average age within the squadron is only 22.7 years, which Secrest said is 'remarkable' considering the level of responsibility that is placed on each Airman.

"They are the definition of 'integrity first,'" Secrest said. "Integrity is doing the right thing when no one is looking. There is a good portion of the time where these men and women are out there with nothing between the nuclear arsenal and them, and they have to do the right thing."

Effective training is the key to success for this mission. Generic checklists don't always apply to the situations a responder might encounter.

"Every LF is in a different kind of terrain and the way the enemy is postured could be different," Secrest said. "Our Airmen, even down to the strategic airman 1st class, has to be able to read that situation and respond accordingly. And he won't be able to look at a checklist. He has to know the basic concepts and use his best judgment as to how to interdict whatever is happening there. It's a tall order."

To meet this expectation, the squadron emphasizes practical training.

The 341st MSFS has partnered with the 819th RED HORSE Squadron to rebuild the Security Forces 'Warrior' trainer LF located on base. The improved trainer will be an accurate model of an LF that will allow security forces teams to practice their site security skills year-round, regardless of weather. The new trainer is expected to be ready this fall.

"When roads are icy (in the field) we don't get to train as much because it is too dangerous," Secrest said. "Once we get that Warrior LF built the way we want it, it's really going to provide some realistic training for us. We can literally do it here, all year, bad roads or not."

Recently, when AFGSC began to rewrite the doctrine for the recapturing and recovering nuclear assets, it found that a solid foundation had already been laid by the 341st MSFS to address local procedures.

The squadron put in long hours last year to revamp the site security procedures for Montana's missile complex, and saw its hard work pay off when Minot AFB, North Dakota successfully used those guidelines during its Nuclear Surety Inspection earlier this year.

AFGSC's version of the doctrine, still in draft form, builds upon the 341st MSFS's groundwork including a mnemonic device that the squadron created to help young security forces Airmen respond quickly and decisively during incidents.

This is only one of several Big Missiles success stories of late.

This year the 341st MSFS was certified by AFGSC on its remote visual assessment capability for the cameras recently installed at each LF. For the squadron this meant building a training and evaluation program from scratch based only on general guidance and then passing a final inspection by AFGSC.

"That's a big accomplishment for us this year," Secrest said. "I'm proud of my guys for that. We were able to get that done, first time ever, here."

Additionally, the 341st MSFS just received an 'outstanding' rating on its annual safety inspection and has the highest safety rating of any unit in the wing for the last three years, Secrest said. This is noteworthy because the squadron drives nearly a million miles each year on Montana's roads in some of the most extreme weather and challenging terrain in the country, often while patrolling in 13,000-pound armored Humvees.

As a caveat to this, the squadron's constant presence in the missile field also puts Big Missiles Airmen in direct contact with local communities. A security team might be the first Air Force representatives to talk with a disgruntled land owner, or it could be the first responder at a vehicle accident on the highway.

"We are the 'ambassadors in blue' because we live out there," Secrest said. "We are always there and we have more of a responsibility for that than most people."

Another success for the squadron, Secrest said, is that it has been able to work itself back to a proper nine-flight schedule this year, allowing predictable shift rotations through the three operational missile squadron areas. Manning requirements for support security tasks within the 341st Security Forces Group had siphoned off some of Big Missiles' personnel in the past, forcing seven- and eight-flight schedules to be implemented. Returning to the nine-flight system means squadron personnel will be in the field for four days, get three days off, and have two training days for each rotation.

Finally, the 341st MSFS has developed a key spouse program. This is important because the squadron has many young, married members who are deployed to the missile field several days at a time. The program has grown over the last year from mailings and spouses calls into a volunteer program that now has nine key spouse volunteers.

"Thirty-five percent of our squadron is married," Secrest said. "A lot of young couples are separated for four days at a time regularly. And that requires a support system for folks."

The 341st MSFS mission requires dedication and sacrifice, and for this Secrest has the highest praise for the professionalism of his squadron. "The people who do this mission are special," Secrest said.