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By Staff Sgt. Cody Dowell and Glenn S. Robertson
90th Missile Wing Public Affairs
The Combat Mission Ready initiative was designed to ensure operators remain proficient in their field, even when stationed away from a missile wing. Though this is a routine possibility for many pilots serving in staff positions, the concept was recently modified and implemented for missileers serving at higher headquarters.
Maj. Thomas Keim, Air Force Global Strike Command chief of ICBM standardization and evaluation, stood alert at the L-01 missile alert facility near Kimball, Nebraska, Jan. 19, 2023, marking the first time a missileer stationed with AFGSC has pulled alert at one of the missile wings.
"The last time I pulled alert was in spring of 2019," said Keim. "For the last three years, I have been in maintenance operations, and I'm just now getting back into missile operations."
Keim's director tasked him and other policy writers to be Combat Mission Ready, ensuring their competency and currency within their respective fields by meeting all qualifications to fully operate their mission, as well as stand a certain number of alerts throughout the year to remain qualified. Though the process is an administrative and logistical challenge, the hurdles were overcome and members of the 321st Missile Squadron at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming, paved the way to get Keim back into the launch control capsule.
"There are a lot of flyers I work with and [CMR] largely focuses on them, so I took it upon myself to attempt certification to better support the entire missile community," said Keim. "With my connections at F.E. Warren, they were able to get me up to speed with the 321st Missile Squadron. The experience was a straightforward process, but I know it was a lot of administrative work for them, and I cannot give enough appreciation and praise for the work they did to get me to CMR."
Keim's proficiency with operations and procedures was certified by Capt. Thomas Burgess, 321 MS weapons officer, and Capt. Jeremy LeBlanc, 321 MS flight commander. While there are challenges to pulling personnel from their day-to-day requirements, there is a strong sense that assuring more missileers are certified mission ready is worth any administrative obstacles.
"The biggest hurdle with the process is the individual taking time away from their primary duties to travel and get trained," said Lt. Col. John Graves, 321 MS director of operations. "All of that is taking time away from day-to-day operations, but we think the juice is worth the squeeze. In the end, this will get the right people in those positions who are knowledgeable about daily operations in the missile field."
Since every missileer's career and their time away from a missile wing is different, there will be no set standard for CMR training, but Keim and the 321 MS have taken the first steps in showing the community that the capability can be achieved.
"Since it is going to vary when someone last pulled alert, the training is not going to have a standard timeline," said Graves. "The important standard is the end result of becoming combat mission ready and ensuring those higher up missileers whose decisions affect the career field are truly familiar with current day-to-day operations. I would recommend anyone in the 13N field to come here and we will get them CMR'ed."
Those efforts will be put to test soon, when Keim performs alert again at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana. The administrative process will be roughly the same, but will only require him to get familiar with local policy since he accomplished all certification requirements with the 321 MS. Those efforts, though, will have a positive ripple effect for the entire ICBM force.
"This initiative strengthens the individual members involved and the ICBM force as a whole," said Col. Deane Konowicz, 20th Air Force vice commander. "Whenever a staff member pulls alert with a wing crew member, there are opportunities to build relationships, learn from each other and sharpen understanding of current operations across the force. Additionally, providing more members to pull alert helps with mission readiness, gives more flexibility to the wings and will pay huge dividends as we simultaneously sustain Minuteman III operations and field Sentinel."
Modernization can be achieved in many forms such as the fielding of the new LGM-35A Sentinel ICBM, as well as efforts to improve the efficiency of existing programs. Adapting an already effective program like CMR is showing promise in ensuring missileer force readiness.