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Team V's ICBM systems celebrate 50th anniversary

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- (Courtesy Photo)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- (Courtesy Photo)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- (Courtesy Photo)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- (Courtesy Photo)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Fifty years ago, on the morning of Sept. 9, 1959, a crew of Vandenberg missileers launched the first operationally-configured Atlas Intercontinental Ballistic Missile from California's Central Coast.

Soaring 3,899 nautical miles over the Pacific Ocean, carrying a Mark 2, Model 4 reentry vehicle, the Atlas 12D ICBM successfully hit within the parameters of an ocean target north of Wake Island.

This monumental achievement of the United States, as well as the Air Force, all began at Vandenberg Air Force Base.

"For every ICBM weapon system the United States has ever deployed since the Cold War era and every person who has been put on ICBM alert, the development and training started at Vandenberg," said Jay Prichard, curator of the Vandenberg Heritage Center. "Every ICBM professional has started his career by coming through the front gates of Vandenberg."

The decision to house the ICBMs at Vandenberg was primarily based on its location. The remoteness of the property served two functions. The base was able to disperse many missile launch facilities over the vastness of land and use the terrain to provide protection against foreign enemies. Second, Vandenberg's coastal location allowed missiles to be deployed over the Pacific Ocean and away from local communities.

Once the location was determined, the development of the ICBM program was in full swing. One of the more significant feats during this period was the speediness of forward progress. Roughly, within a five-year time span, the first ICBM was on alert status.

"Before the Atlas 12D was launched, nothing to its magnitude had ever been accomplished," Mr. Prichard said. "It is amazing how the pioneers of Vandenberg took, at the time, only a concept and created something that was operationally reliable. The kicker is -- we still use it today. They weren't just doing rocket science, they were creating it."

It is important to never forget about the intense focus and dedication of our predecessors, who have led us to where we are today, Mr. Prichard said.

"This is especially important in today's world with an ever-growing number of potential threats," he said. "The ICBM professionals have to be absolutely dedicated and focused, allowing no room for indecision."

As the world turns, nobody is able to predict the future of Vandenberg's missile programs. However, some things never change.

"The responsibilities of the ICBM professionals will not go away at the end of the 50th anniversary," Mr. Prichard said. "Rather, they will continue to chart history at Vandenberg for the next 50 years and beyond with follow-up programs evolving past today's ICBM systems to the next generation. Vandenberg will remain steady at the forefront of training to keep America a free nation."