Los Alamos National Laboratory

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Smells Like Alert

Missileers are highly trained members of the United States Air Force who must be ready, willing, and able to launch nuclear-warhead-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) during their 24-hour alerts. No pressure.
December 1, 2016
Smells Like Alert

The eight-ton steel-and-concrete door of a launch control capsule is hand-painted like a Domino’s Pizza box. The “next one” referred to here is a Minuteman ICBM. (Photo: Open Source)

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  • Clay Dillingham
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I take a deep breath and pick up the pen, not anticipating the swell of emotion in my stomach. The magnitude of my actions—or inactions—suddenly becomes very real, and I sign my name to the paper. I am officially on my first 24-hour alert as a Deputy Missile Combat Crew Commander—a missileer. I am 23 years old. 

My signature ensures that I will care for and, if ordered by the president, launch any or all of the 10 nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles now in my custody. I know that from this moment forward, I have to follow ICBM launch protocol to a T. The public, my family, my peers, base leadership, the commander of U.S. Strategic Command, and ultimately the President of the United States depend on me to launch these weapons, should I ever be ordered to do so.

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