MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, ND —
The Airmen who perform the vital mission of ensuring intercontinental ballistic missiles meet operational standards are some of the most skillfully trained and dedicated personnel in the Air Force. Late last year, a crew of these Airmen from the 791st Missile Maintenance Squadron pulled an unarmed Minuteman III ICBM out of a secure launch facility near Minot AFB to participate in a regularly-scheduled operational test launch.
The launch, scheduled for Feb. 10, marked the first OTL, or “glory trip,” of 2023. There are typically three to four OTLs scheduled throughout the calendar year, each requiring 10 to 12 months of preparation.
“When we have a test launch coming up, a directorate under the U.S. Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center will randomly select which missile from which site they want to test,” explained U.S. Air Force Capt. Johnathan Quinlan, 791st MMXS director of operations.
The randomly-selected missile is then securely transported to Vandenberg Space Force Base, California, where a joint team of U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command Airmen prepare and execute the test launch. Not only do glory trips verify the operational readiness of the Minuteman III in as near to an operational environment as possible during peacetime, they also give missile operations teams a rare opportunity to see their hard work pay off.
“It’s a great opportunity for the teams to go down there and get that experience of watching what they’ve worked on fly,” said Quinlan. “Aircraft maintainers get to see that every day; they fix something up and they get the satisfaction of seeing it take off. But an ICBM maintainer fixes it and then it stays where it is, so sending a team down there is a great opportunity for them to see their handiwork in action.”
Airmen assigned to the 791st MMXS consistently prove their mettle not only by handling one of the Defense Department’s most sensitive missions, but by doing so in one of the harshest and most austere environments in the contiguous U.S. For them, seeing firsthand how their work contributes to the accomplishment of a larger mission can be a deeply rewarding experience.
“The Airmen on the missile operations team really enjoy the glory trips,” said U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Miguel De Leon, 740th Missile Squadron mission lead crew commander. “It’s a different experience than we get at the missile wings. We’ve been able to integrate with the maintenance teams, which has been important in further understanding each other’s experiences and learning about how the mission gets done.”
OTLs like this are performed to demonstrate the readiness of U.S. nuclear forces and provide confidence in the lethality and effectiveness of the nation’s nuclear deterrent. The Airmen of the 791st MMXS have a direct impact on the nation’s security and readiness to defend the freedoms it holds dear.
“You want to make sure what we’re doing here works,” said Quinlan. “And that’s the best way to test it.”
See page B8 for more on the recent unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launch.