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ICBM test launches showcase Global Strike capabilities

BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. -- The chance to launch two Air Force Global Strike Command Minuteman III ICBM test vehicles in June, was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for two missile crews.

Missile maintenance and operational task forces from F.E. Warren AFB, Wyo., and Malmstrom AFB, Mont., combined with the 576th Flight Test Squadron at Vandenberg AFB, Calif., to launch the missiles June 16 and 30 for a "very rare and extraordinary opportunity," said Capt. Isaac Earnhart, 341st Operations Support Squadron missile combat crew commander.

These Malmstrom and F.E. Warren crews continue a 50-year record of deterring potential adversaries. It is a unique training opportunity for crews to turn the launch keys that send an actual missile rocketing into the sky.

The process is careful and deliberate.

"You don't get a second chance with an ICBM test launch," said Mr. Richard Serrano, 576 FLTS instrumentation laboratory team chief at Vandenberg. "You have to do it right the first time."

A successful launch is also a moment of pride for the missile maintenance team, according to Tech. Sgt. Robert Houck, 341 MMXS missile handling team chief at Malmstrom. "It shows what we work on is still a vital weapons system...there's a certain pride in ownership in knowing they put it together and watched it take off," he said.

"Every flight test provides valuable experience to the crews and an evaluation of the missile's accuracy and reliability in its intended operational environment," said Col. Carl DeKemper, 576th FLTS Commander at Vandenberg. "These launches are part of a continuous self-assessment of our proficiency."

The final launch sequence begins years earlier as pre-determined criteria are used to carefully select a missile from the field and then transport it hundreds of miles to Vandenberg for processing by the 576 FLTS, said Capt. Douglas Carmean, 576 FLTS chief of ICBM test operations.

"The process requires deposturing a missile on alert after months of detailed monitoring and shipping the 60,000-lb. missile nearly half the length of the country," said Capt. Earnhart, missile combat crew commander at Malmstrom who took part in the June 30 launch.

Once it has been transported, all missile components are individually inspected. Test equipment is installed and all components are reunited at the launch facility to once again take the shape of a flight-ready missile.

Teams from the operational missile bases come to Vandenberg and assemble the missile as they would at their home bases, said 1st Lt. Jared Hostetler, 341st Missile Maintenance Squadron mechanical flight commander at Malmstrom. The test launches validate maintenance technicians' skills from the operational wings, he said.

Prior to the launch, missile crew are certified by undertaking intensive simulated test launches, Serrano said. Launch day is like the Super Bowl to the missile community, a rare opportunity to see the pay-off all of the preparation, said Capt. Earnhart.

Another Minuteman III launch is scheduled from Vandenberg Sept. 15, by a missile task force from the 91st Missile Wing, Minot Air Force Base, N.D.

**Note: Col. David Bliesner will accept command of the 576th Flight Test Squadron during a change of command ceremony Aug. 2.