Wednesday, December 26, 2007


Note to the readers:

For those of you who have happen to come across this blog and are wondering about it's content, I am compiling a narrative about my years associated with the "pulling" of nuclear alerts at Malmstrom AFB, MT between the years 1981 to 1985. The majority of the blog contents is based strictly from memory. Unfortunately, most of my personal records for this time period is missing. The posts are basically "snap shots" in time.

The past post are describing events while attending the Minuteman II ILCS IQT program at Vandenberg AFB, CA. IQT being the Initial Qualification Training course that all ICBM crews attend to gain qualification to serve as an ICBM Combat Crew member.

Tim Hebert, 490th SMS, MM ILCS, 1981-1985

Monday, December 24, 2007

Seasons Greetings to the Crew Force

Wishing all of you old crewdogs, bears, line swine, shop pukes, and SMES evaluators a Merry Christmas, Hanuka, and overall great Holiday!

A Christmas Tale

I remember my first Christmas alert, Dec 25, 1981. Took Joe Leone's place so that he could be with his family, me being single and nothing better to do. Went out to Oscar 01 with Flight Commander Al Hunt. His wife made Santa hats with our ranks pinned in front. I had a very quiet and enjoyable alert. Bob hope addressed the entire SAC alert force via a hook up to the PAS (Primary Alerting System).

Merry Christmas Joe and Al, where ever you are. Thanks for the fond memories!

Tim Hebert, 490th SMS, MM ILCS, 1981-1985

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Deafening Roar of Silence

Ray and I were rapidly approaching the end of the course. A few more MPT sessions and EWO classes and we would be ready for our SMES certification check ride. To say that Ray and I were anxious would be an understatement.

One early Saturday morning MPT ride, we had Capt. Chuck P. as our operator/instructor. Chuck was SAC's poster child for apathy. He appeared to "give a rat's ass" about nothing. He had already ran head first into that wall called FIGMO. He was riding out the string until retirement.

We were in the middle of the weapon system portion of the ride. It was a predictable scenario. Processing maintenance teams on and backing them off LFs. A couple of security situations: hard OZ, Sit 7, evolves into a full blown Sit 4 due to an IZ alarm; also occurring as if on cue, FSC passing the duress word from topside. Yep, there's a Comm team screwing around on another LF, should be going into Anti-Jam mode a little later into the ride. Every now and then, the distinctive "Raaap" sound of the CMPG printer. MOSRs, VRSA channel checks and calls to and from JOB Control.

Then......nothing.....dead silence.

When you're in the box, something should be "happening." MPT scenarios are event driven. Ray and I look at one another. Silence in MPT is usually a good indication that something covert has occurred or that something big is about to land in your lap. As infant crew members your taught to hold your hand under the CMPG printer and ask out loud, "How's my equipment cooling air flow and temperature?" If all is well the MPT operator/instructor will respond, "Your cooling air flow and temperature are with normal limits.", or, "You have reduced air flow.", or, "You have normal air flow, but it is very warm." These indications allow you to trouble shoot the situation and depending on your findings, run the applicable situational checklist.

It wasn't an air flow problem, besides Chuck was not responding with any verbal inputs. I asked Ray to do a visual sweep of all circuit breakers figuring that was the issue at hand. So we did just that. All circuit breakers were normal, nothing had popped. I picked up the phone which rang to the MPT control answer. I looked at my watch, ten minutes had elapsed. I looked back at Ray, "Fuck it Ray, it's got to be a popped circuit breaker! Let's do another sweep!" We both accomplished another sweep. Same results as the last. Another glance at my watch, twenty minutes had elapsed since our last event. I was at a loss for words. Ray just shrugged his shoulders.

Then.....Line 1 rang. I picked up the phone, Chuck's voice, "I had to step out. That was one big healthy shit that I took. You two ready to get back at it?"

Note: This took place 26 years ago, Chuck if you're still alive and happen to come across this site, FUCK YOU!!

High Noon, Gunfight at the MPT Corral

Ray was having difficulty in our MPT sessions. Bill was riding Ray's ass unmercifully and since guilt by association was a time honored SAC tradition, I was fed into the fray. We were given extra sessions, especially on the weekends. I could tell that Ray was at wits end and who could blame him.

The laws of thermal dynamics and pressure simply state that pressure in a closed system can only increase to a certain point. At that arbitrary point, something has to give; Ray had reached that point.

I can't recall the exact circumstances, but Ray and I were head long into a weapons system scenario in the MPT. Bill was acting as both MPT operator and instructor. Bill was situated up in the box's control room providing instruction and criticism via audio speaker. Bill said something sarcastic to Ray. What ever was said, it was enough!. Ray slammed both fists down on to the deputy's console desk, almost shattering the plexi glass. "God damn it, I've had enough from you!" Ray shouted into the one way MPT observational mirror. "I'm going to whip your ass!" Ray started walking towards the back entrance of the MPT. I remember trying to get between Ray and the exit. Bill came rushing in with a worried look on his face. Bill's facial expression said it all. He had pushed Ray too far and he knew it. I remember Bill profusely apologizing to Ray. It took Ray some time to calm down, but eventually he did. And we quietly finished the ride.

The incident in the MPT was a turning point. After that Bill lessened his leaning on Ray. Oh, to be sure, we still had extra sessions scheduled, but the tone was dramatically different.

Ray Williams....The Quiet Man

How it came about, I can't remember. I was crewed with Ray Williams for the MPT sessions. Ray was from Detroit, recent grad from Howard University. Ray was the quiet type. Never said much unless he had to. Conversation seem to be a chore for him, but that was fine with me. I didn't have a hell of a lot to say myself. Ray was to be assigned to the 10th SMS at Malmstrom.

Capt Bill G. was our MPT instructor. Like Ray, Bill was an African-American, from where? I can't recall. You would think that both being black that a "Brother" helping out another "Brother" would be in the offing. This was not to be the case. From the start Bill had "something" against Ray. Bill simply decided to make Ray his personal project. Unfortunately, I would be forced to endure this ethnic duel of minds. Suffice to say our MPT sessions would be gruelling and confrontational as compared to our other classmates.

After a few initial MPT sessions, it was decided that for the rest of the training course, I would ride the commander's position, while Ray sat at the deputy's seat. It would not be until my first alert at Malmstrom that I would actually occupy the back seat.

Ray and I would spend our "off" time either dining at the Officer's Club or do local site seeing around the area. I remember we drove and walked Pismo Beach. Ray would sometimes borrow my car to run errands since he had no transportation of his own. The contrast was striking, Ray being a somewhat more refined Northerner, as compared to my Southern, barely above "white trash" pedigree. What ever the ethnic and culture differences, we would need each other to get through crew training. Overall, Ray and I got along quite well. I wish I could say the same between Ray and ......Bill.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

In the Beginning Was the Word.....

The class had assembled in a back class room to be issued copies of Technical Order LGM30F-18, abbreviated to T.O.-18. The Dash 18 was basically Minuteman/ILCS's user manual. The manual was approximately 6 to 7 inches thick enclosed in the standard black government issued three ringed binder. It's contents covered the nuances of the command and control system, every equipment drawer, every control panel, all variety of circuit breakers, electrical flow diagrams. and all pieces of communication gear. And that was just part I. Part II contained all of the required checklist procedures for covering normal operations, emergencies, and trouble shooting. T.O.-18's weapon system coverage could be summed up by one simple nauseum. For the neophyte, it was daunting and not very user friendly.

Capt Gerry Giaconda introduced the T.O. to the class. With a serious and dramatic gesture, he shouted, "You have now entered a new religion..... and this is your bible!" At that point, he dropped the T.O. which landed on a table top, making a loud crashing noise. The class went dead silent. This was classic B movie material. I bit my lip, trying to keep from bursting out laughing and receiving some brand of administrative admonishment. To this day I always chuckle when I recall this scene.

Keeping to the Basics

Missile crew training was divided into three parts; weapons system, emergency war orders and Missile Procedure Training simulations.

Weapon system training involved learning all of the hardware, equipment and electrical aspects of the Launch Control Facility (LCF) and to a certain degree the Launch Facility (LF).

Emergency War Orders (EWO) was the "bread and butter" of the entire curriculum. Here is where you learned when and how to launch your missiles. You were also taught how to decode and implement an Emergency Action Message (EAM).

The Missile Procedure Trainer (MPT) tied the above two together by providing a simulation environment based upon computer driven scenarios.

All of this paved the way for the Grand Finale at the end of three months...a 3901st SMES stand board check.

Carl the "Hawk"

Carl was our weapon systems instructor. Overall good guy, but had this irritating habit for telling too many lame jokes. Carl made the statement that all crew members acquire a nickname. When asked what label that he had acquired, he replied, "The Hawk, because my nose was always on the CMPG printer reading the tapes." I thought it odd that someone who looked liked the progeny from the union of Opie Taylor(Ron Howard) and Ralph Mouth (Happy Days) would be given that moniker. More like Woody, as in Woody Wood Pecker.

Carl got me hooked on donuts and coffee. If I failed in this venture, at least I had the basic qualifications to become a police officer.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Are You a Good Witch or a Bad Witch: ILCS vs CDB

Class designation and weapon system

Improved Launch Control System (ILCS) signified the upgraded version of the Minuteman II command and control configuration. Since ILCS was in place, twenty five classes had been processed through the system to supply the crews for both Malmstrom and Whiteman. I was a member of the twenty sixth class, hence the class designation ILCS-26.

Basically, ILCS was an extensive upgrade from the Minuteman II Modernized system (MMM). There was only one MMM wing and it was located at Ellsworth AFB, SD. ILCS units were located at both Malmstrom and Whiteman. All three locations employed the LGM-30F, or simply, the Minuteman II weapon system.

On the other end of the spectrum was Command Data Buffer (CDB). CDB supported the LGM-30G, the Minuteman III. Interestingly, With minor modifications and the addition of one electronics draw, ILCS could mysteriously morph into CDB then being able to use the Minuteman III.

Note: For the novice student, it can be quiet an eye opener understanding that a weapon system undergoes modification over a period of time. Darwin would have been quite comfortable with defense contracting. Tim

There were ten of us that made up ILCS-26. Six of us were assigned to Malmstrom, the other 4 individuals to Whiteman. Out of the ten, one was a major, one a captain, the rest of us lieutenants. The major had previous crew experience with MMM. The rest of us knew very little. Overall, it was a good group to be with.

Opening Day...Mana from Heaven

Oct 14, 1980

In processing, filling out data cards, insurance, beneficiaries, military pay.....STOP TAPE!! Military pay is of extreme interest to me. The preparation for and the actual trip from Texas has taken a toll. I had approximately $600 before the trip here. Calculating, new brakes, major tune up, new tires, gas and lodging....oh, so sad, yet true, I had only seventy five dollars left in my wallet! To make matters worse, I had approximately 1/8th of a tank of gas in my Ford Elite. Fuck it all, not even one week on active duty and I might be on the verge of being a "hardship" case!

GOD BLESS CPBO (Combined Personnel and Business Office) I'm in the next pay cycle, should get a pay check next week. I'm also informed about Per Diem pay. Per what? It sounds familiar. I must have been screwing off during my last ROTC session discussing such matters. I've got up to three thousand dollars coming my way once I get to Malmstrom! Wait a minute, I can actually take out an advance to cover me? No, I'll suck it up till next payday and have this pot of gold waiting for me in three months.

Assigned quarters, I'll be staying with three other officers in the Bachelor's Officer Quarters (BOQ).

Note: Per Diem, sadly my school had omitted Latin from its curriculum. Tim


Vandenberg used to be called Camp Cooke. Back during the Second World War it's specialty was artillery training. Some ordnance detonated as advertised. Some didn't. It's the "didn't" part that was a problem. Hence upon orientation all combat crew students where advised to keep on the sidewalks. It was not unusual to find unexploded shells lurking about. The base is located roughly 150 miles north of L.A and 150 miles south of San Francisco along the California coastline.

To attest to it's air base status, there was an active runway. To solidify it's true mission, there were numerous missile launch sites both old and new. NASA owned a few sites to support their missions. One of the relics of the past were three particular launch complexes dating back to the late 1950s. These were old Atlas sites. The gantries where still in place silently rusting away. It is said that Eisenhower allowed Kruchev to take a train trip down the California coastline. The railroad tracks passed the launch complex and Kruchev was allowed to see three Atlas ICBMs on "alert". The liquid oxygen was seeping off the boosters demonstrating that they were fueled and ready to go. Other relics simply were large craters indicating failed launches. In engineering parlance, "a catastrophic failure."

South Vandenberg was where "loud" noises usually occur in the dead of night. Classified payloads were hoisted into the night's sky via variations of Atlas configurations or by the heavy lifting Titan III and/or Titan 34D launch vehicles. In short, impressive.

The 4315th Combat Crew Training Squadron, my adopted unit for the next three months, tasked with training SACs missile launch crews. This included all species of Minuteman, ILCS, CDB, and Mod. Also included in the mix was the Titan II crews. Interesting note about Titan crew training, the crews started their training at Sheppard AFB, TX and finished out at Vandenberg.

The 3901st Strategic Missile Evaluation Squadron, keepers and defenders of the faith. This was SAC's missile Praetorian Guards, or, in the opinon of some, SAC's version of the S.S. The 3901st was tasked with evaluating all SAC missile crews based upon the concept of "standardization." The 3901st was like a cold virus, unavoidable and unwelcome.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Journey...Crossing the Rubicon

Honor thy mother......

The time had finally arrived. It was October 10, 1980. My car was ready, packed with what few personal belongings that I actually owned. My mother had given me as a graduation and commission gift a new brief case. In it contained my orders that placed me on active duty and directed me to proceed to Vandenberg AFB, CA. I was to report to the 4315th Combat Crew Training Squadron. There was another set of orders. These orders directed me, upon crew training completion, to proceed to Malmstrom AFB, MT. I was assigned to the 490th Strategic Missile Squadron, 341st Strategic Missile Wing. I had received my BS in Biology back in August followed by my new commission in the Air Force as a second lieutenant. There would be no more illusions about medical school.

Mother was a stoic, stubborn, you might say hard headed woman. She was "old school." She had labored through two failed marriages and virtually raised three sons by herself. Those qualities kept my brothers and myself on even keel. When it came time to leave, this strong woman started to sob. If anything in this narrative that I remember vividly, it's this scene. "I never worried about you. Of the three of you, you always seem to know what you wanted to do, you had a purpose." I can only wonder if she feels the same today.

It's approximately 400 miles from home to El Paso. Suffice to say, it was the longest 400 miles that I would ever travel. Thoughts of home and family permeated my thoughts. It's said that real men don't cry. It's a lie.

I crossed the Rio Grande in El Paso. Something had changed. Home was in the past, in the distance of my rear view mirror. That was then, this is now. I had crossed the mental Rubicon.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Plan...The Fine Print

Hopes, dreams and desires are the offspring of life's illusions and one's delusions.

I wanted to go to medical school. No, my wanting to become a doctor had nothing at all to do with dreams of a profitable private practice. I wanted to be a career military phyiscian. So, as I am apt to do, I came up with a scheme. I would major in pre-med studies, then present my glorious academic record to the Air Force and being so impressed the Air Force would have no choice in the matter. I would be given a FREE ride to medical school. It was pure unadulterated genius. I was very, very naive in my youth.

I accepted a full ROTC scholarship. Damn it, things were finally looking up! What about medical school? If I had an acceptable GPA, then I would be given due and proper consideration, so I was told.

An Air Force ROTC scholarship is basically a contract and with most contracts there is, at the very bottom, the obligatory fine print. Scholarships are based upon man-power needs. More to the point the 18XX career field was in need of my future services. 18XX, the man-power code for the missile career field. The Strategic Air Command has no known schools of medicine.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Beginning...Well Sort Of

I should have gone to the Air Force Academy. At least that's what I had convinced myself to believe. Securing a nomination from Congressman Omar Burleson was easy. Securing an acceptable math score on the ACT was a whole different matter.

One foolish point, that was the difference. Yet, it might as well been fifty. Try as I did by retaking the ACT, my math score rapidly headed south. You see, I'm the kind of person that casinos like to have parked at the gaming table. I put all of my eggs in one basket. I let it all ride on the red.

The problem was that the Vietnam crowd was dwindling down. The Air Force needed potential pilots. Judging from my use of coke bottle spects, my young ass didn't have the potential for warming the ejection seat of any jet fighter. I was told, "It's a damn shame. If only you had applied a year earlier." This mantra would pretty much haunt me for a long time.

Thursday, December 13, 2007


My name is Tim Hebert. From January 1981 to February 1985, I was assigned to the 490th Strategic Missile Squadron which itself was a component of the 341st Strategic Missile Wing, Malmstrom AFB, Great Falls, MT. I was a missile launch officer. By the end of my "controlled" tour I would complete 295 alerts, five alerts shy of the mythical 300 mark.

As the heading of this blog states, the world, politics and our nation were vastly different. Ronald Reagan was president, the Soviet Union would go through three premiers, and NATO was countering the Warsaw Pact nations. The spectre of Vietnam still casted a shadow on the psyche the nation and it's military. Most of us were trying to forget the past four years of Jimmy Carter. This sentiment was duly confirmed by Reagan's election.

The Strategic Air Command (SAC) was THE command. This statement is defended by the fact that SAC had the largest budget of all the other Air Force commands. Pretty much what SAC wanted they got it! During my time on the crew force, SAC employed well over 400 bombers and approximately 1000 ICBMs. Malmstrom itself hosted 4 missile squadrons, this equated to 200 missile assigned to the 341st Strategic Missile Wing.

People pulled the alerts and maintained the bombers, tankers and missiles for various personal reasons. Some did it for patriotic reasons, though I find the term patriotic to be highly subjective and totally dependent on ones personal views. Some did it as a means to achieve an end such as career ambitions and advancement. And some simply found them selves with nothing else better to do.

The postings will be snippets of time and events. This is all from memory so some things may be inaccurate but not by design or malice. The people are real. I'll use only individuals first name, last name initials, and rank. I will try to capture how I actually thought and felt at the given time period. Though an individual may be described in an unflattering way, this in no way should be construed as a slight of ones character. Perception is reality, conversely reality is perception.

"It was the best of was the worst of times"