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By By Staff Sgt. Elora J. McCutcheon
341st Missile Wing Public Affairs
To an outsider passing by, the missile alert facility tucked into the grassy hillside of central Montana’s U.S. Highway 87 could easily be mistaken for a long-abandoned military fortress originally used during the Cold War.
The few pale-colored buildings sitting atop Alpha 01-MAF are surrounded by chain link fencing, simply identified by one small brown entry sign, and serve as the only visible portion of a fortress that functions to operate, maintain and secure the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile.
On March 23, 2023, it happens that the only personnel who manned Alpha 01-MAF were women from the 341st Missile Wing, Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont.
The group was comprised of missileers, security forces members, one facility manager and one chef; they executed a typical weeklong posting which consisted of 24-hour operations above and below ground.
Their posting was an annual event in honor of Women’s History Month and served as a testament on how far women in the military have come since 1948, when they were first allowed to enlist in the Air Force.
According to 1st Lt. Hannah Deaver, 12th Missile Squadron missile combat crew commander, the typical demographics of a MAF on any given alert cycle is entirely male.
“It’s not terribly uncommon to not only be the only woman on alert, but the only woman at the alert facility,” Deaver described of her job. “In doing the all-women’s alert, it is a testament to how far we have come not only as missileers but also in the other career fields that typically support the [intercontinental ballistic missile] mission.”
It was not long ago that certain jobs in the Air Force were still excluded for women. Before they were allowed to serve as missile combat crew members in 1978, Strategic Air Command had to first fund research studies which determined the American public believed women had the mental and physical attributes required to serve.
Fast-forward to 1985, and women were officially allowed to join the security forces career field. And still, it was only in 2021 that women were issued newly designed, proper fitting tactical vests.
In 1971, women made up just 1% of the military services. As of 2022, women made up about 18% of the Department of Defense active duty force.
“[The all-women posting] is less about proving women can perform the mission, but rather the acknowledging the significance of those who paved the way for us to perform in a career field that demands nothing but excellence from us,” Deaver explained.
The ICBM mission, as mentioned by Deaver, is one that hungrily requires constant application by Airmen to support, defend and operate the world’s most dominant nuclear-capable weapon system.
“I am humbly reminded of the critical mission we carry out every single day,” she said bluntly. “We continue to deter our nation’s adversaries and provide assurance to our allies knowing that we stand on alert, ready at a moment’s notice, 24/7, 365 days a year.
As missileers, Deaver and her colleagues’ duties place them underground for twelve hours at a time in a launch control center no larger than a school bus. Their selfless service and attention to detail are the reason the LGM-30G Minuteman has continued to be relied upon since 1962.
“I am incredibly proud to be trusted with such an important mission and I do not take that responsibility lightly,” Deaver exclaimed.
Deaver is joined by every man and woman in the 341st Missile Wing to make up the backbone of continued safe, secure, reliable and effective deterrence.
Thus far, the Minuteman system has endured changes in technology, mission and personnel to meet the challenge of a future fight.
Its surety, thanks to the Airmen who have stood watch for the last several decades, precedes the arrival of its replacement: the LGM-35A Sentinel.
As Airmen look to the next 75 years, they can be confident in the fact that our Nation is ready to provide strategic deterrence for tomorrow.