by Lt. Col. Anita A. Feugate Opperman
The article concerning trouble in the intercontinental ballistic missile community [“ ‘Burnout’ in the nuclear force,” Dec. 2] mischaracterizes the atmosphere within the community as one of malaise and “burnout.” As a former missile squadron commander, I can tell you that impression of the missile force is inaccurate.
The problem stems from a Rand study, commissioned by the Air Force, to look objectively at the quality of life of the entire ICBM force — security forces, missile maintenance, missile field chefs and facility managers, not just ICBM combat crew members. The study was a way to find processes we could change that would have a positive impact.
Shortly after the study results came out, the 20th Air Force commander, who oversees the nation’s three ICBM wings, directed us to ensure we were protecting each airman’s time off. Admittedly, I did not do a good job of ensuring our personnel were only asked to perform official duty on days they were already scheduled to work. It should not have taken a two-star general to come up with this simple, no-cost solution that gave my squadron members more time with their families.
That being said, the attitudes I saw every day for the two years of my command were crew members, facility managers and chefs enthusiastic about their jobs. I was impressed with their proficiency and desire to do the best they could each and every missile field tour.
Missile field work often feels unnoticed and unappreciated by Americans and sometimes even the Air Force. Because of this, I always enjoyed bringing a group out to tour the missile alert facility, not only to help educate average Americans and Congress members on the mission, but to give squadron members a chance to show off what they do so well.
There is nothing like having a tour group eat an MAF meal. Tater tots and hamburgers never tasted so good. Our chefs, often in their first assignments, are eager to cook their signature dish.
Facility managers used every visit to display what they had done to keep the MAF neat, clean and as much a home away from home as possible.
They use their spare time and money decorating the MAFs in space-related themes such as Star Wars.
ICBM crew members understand America expects a great deal of them — with perfection as the standard. Thus, I take issue with the suggestion in the article that perfection is unrealistic. Our crew members are entrusted with the most deadly weapon on Earth. They understand it is their job to get it right every time.
They know that in the post-Cold War world, their job is to protect America and her allies from the one thing that can threaten a nation’s survival: nuclear attack. They understand their job is as relevant today as it was when the first ICBM crew pulled alert more than five decades ago.
Life in the missile field is not glamorous, but it is filled with proud professionals. I saw their dedication firsthand. I was and am honored to serve with all of them.■
Lt. Col. Anita A. Feugate Opperman is a student at the Air War College, Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala. Previously she was commander, 320th Missile Squadron, F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo. The opinions expressed are her own and do not reflect official positions.