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“…The Holiest of the Unholy”

By Mike L. Veres

This is a two-parter about Minuteman crew changeover in the 564th SMS at Malmstrom AFB, Montana in the late 1970’s. It shows the high degree of trust and confidence us crew dogs enjoyed among ourselves in The Odd Squad. The first part is called Little Boxes in Montana, and takes us from the time a crew arrives at the Launch Control Facility through LCEB inspection. The second part is called The Wages of Man’s Love and Hate, and picks up with the new crew about to enter the LCC, and covers the complete changeover process. The works of Alistair Cooke, The Groobers, and Captain Robert Wyckoff inspired the titles to these articles.

I’ve dramatized this article a bit to make it more enjoyable to read, but this is nevertheless a truthful and accurate account of routine crew changeovers. The people depicted here are based on those I knew while I was on crew, but all the names are fictional except for my own.

“Little Boxes in Montana…”

First Lieutenant Jim Evans turned the big Chevy Suburban right into Tango's driveway, rolled past the sewage lagoon (affectionately known as the officers' swimming pool) and pulled up at the gate. As they drove up the hundred-yard driveway, Captain Mike Veres eyed Tango-Zero Launch Control Facility.

Like the other LCF's, Tango covered about two acres of land permanently leased from a local farmer or rancher. It consisted of the underground LCC and LCEB, plus the above ground Launch Control Support Building (LCSB, more simply known as the ranch house). The ranch house had nine bedrooms to house the Security Alert Teams, Facility Manager, cook, transient maintenance teams, and other personnel as needed. It had a day room with TV, a pool table, and a kitchen and dining facility. There was also a garage, a diesel generator, and other support equipment and supplies.

Veres got out of the truck as one of the SAT troops trotted out to meet him at the gate and check his ID card. Satisfied, the young guard gave a thumbs up to the Flight Security Controller watching from inside, who buzzed the electrically controlled lock on the gate. The guard and Veres worked together to slide open the wide gate in the barbed wire topped chain link fence. Evans drove the Suburban through the gate, and stopped a few feet from the entrance to the ranch house. As Veres and the guard walked in, they could hear the air flowing in and out of the LCEB through the two squat mushroom shaped vents off to the right. They glanced up at the site's American Flag as they walked in. The eyebolts attaching the flag to it's rope were slapping the flagpole in the breeze, while Old Glory made a pretty sight outstretched against the big sky of Montana.

The Facility Manager on duty, a tech sergeant, came out to greet them. He was carrying two sets of neatly folded clean white sheets for the LCC bunk. They all exchanged pleasantries, then Veres and Evans went inside with him to get a detailed briefing of the LCF status. The briefing boiled down to everything being in good shape and working properly. He handed the sheets to Evans, bid them to have a good tour, and then went back about his business. Veres and Evans went into the Security Control Center to talk to the FSC, Sergeant Bill Fox.

"'Morning, Captain" said Fox. He buzzed the French door open from his desk, which was in the corner formed by two windows about twenty feet across the room from the entrance. Fox stood up to greet the two officers. The buck sergeant was about twenty, with short brown hair and a thin mustache that matched his tall, thin frame. Fox was wearing an Air Force issue Smith and Wesson Model 15 Combat Special .38 caliber revolver. An M-16 was within an arms' reach.

"How you doing, Sarge," replied Veres.

"Fine, sir. We had a Sit 6 on 43 about three AM, but the SAT didn't find anything. All quiet since then. My team came out yesterday, so we'll be here for all of your tour."

A Situation 6 was the first level of intruder warning on an LF, meaning that the radar system had detected something moving across the site. Even though it was usually caused by a gopher or bird or kids throwing beer cans or rocks over the fence, the SAT had to investigate every alarm.

"OK, sounds good," said Veres. "Let me give you our VCN."

The Visitor Control Number is a number agreed upon by the MCC and FSC. It was used by the FSC to discreetly tell the MCC whether conditions topside were secure or that a person wishing access below ground has been properly identified. The VCN was encoded by means of a "one-time pad" and passed to the MCC over an intercom system that had both a speakerphone and a handset. The crew in the LCC remotely controlled the access door.

"OK, sir, I got it," Fox said to Veres.

"Good," said Veres.

Veres walked over to the door and pressed the button to call the crew downstairs.

"Wine Cellar," was the response from the LCC, in a matter of fact, almost bored tone.

That would be Moldner, thought Veres. Always good for a wisecrack to break up the monotony.

Capt. Mike Moldner was a mustang - a former enlisted man who had worked his way up through the ranks to become an officer. He was much older than most other crewman, with something like fourteen years of enlisted time before he got commissioned. He had just pinned on his Captains' bars last month, so he needed only about two more years before he was eligible to retire with twenty years of service. This would probably be his last duty station. All of this gave Moldner a different perspective on things: he knew what was really important and what wasn't; and when it was necessary to play the game, and when he could relax. He didn't sweat the small stuff.

"Howdy, Mike. This is Veres. You ready for relief?"

"You betcha I'm ready to get out of this hole! Bill, give me a VCN."

"OK, sir. On page 1242, I pass you Papa Alfa."

"That's a good one," said Moldner, buzzing the door.

Fox held the door open while Veres and Evans carried their bags in. Evans set his bags down in front of the elevator while he opened the cage-like doors: first the door to the shaft, then the elevator door itself. They walked in and dropped their bags; Veres closed the doors, and then hit the down button. The lights dimmed briefly as the motor started to slowly take them down to the tunnel junction level, sixty feet below ground. The trip took about a minute. They descended in relative silence, not talking, just watching the lima bean green concrete walls slip smoothly by to the whining grind of the elevator motor.

They reached the bottom with a bump and the motor fell silent. Evans slid open the twin doors, their grating clatter disturbing the sudden silence, then the pair stepped out into the tunnel junction. Straight ahead was a blank concrete wall painted the same shade of green. A couple of government gray tables and a few chairs were stacked in a corner. To the right was the Launch Control Equipment Building. Around the corner to the right was the caged ladder leading up, with a litter stowed beside it. Tucked away beside the ladder was a pallet of C-Rations for use by any of the topside personnel fast enough to get downstairs and lucky enough to live through an atomic attack or tornado. To the left was the Launch Control Center, still sealed behind its six ton, concrete and steel blast door.

The LCF is a big hole in the ground. If both the LCC and LCEB blast doors are open, one can look along the entire distance from the Power Control Center at the back of the LCEB to the Commander's Console at the back of the LCC, about 120 feet.

Evans retrieved two pair of plastic earmuffs that were hanging next to the LCEB blast door, and handed one to Veres. The LCEB's door was over twice the size and weight of the LCC's in order to accommodate the large pieces of equipment. It weighed thirteen tons, yet was balanced so that one man could open it with little trouble. Evans turned the wheel to unlock the door. The positive air pressure popped the door open slightly. Evans slowly swung it open wide enough for them to get inside. As he did so, the roar of equipment and rapidly flowing air assaulted them. They put on their earmuffs to protect them from the loud noise inside. The glow from a few yellow and green status indicator lights from the far end of the LCEB greeted them momentarily, then were overwhelmed as Veres turned on the lights. The noise and earmuffs threw up a wall of isolation between the two men, even though they were never more than ten feet apart.

The LCEB is a large steel lined, reinforced concrete building. It contains the equipment necessary to support the LCC and crew for an extended period of time. This included an environmental control system with a twenty-ton air conditioner at its core (used to cool the electronic equipment in the LCC), a diesel generator (with a 14,000 gallon tank of diesel fuel buried next to the LCEB, enough for about three months), and a power distribution system. All of this equipment was bolted to the steel floor, which in turn was suspended from the ceiling by hydraulic shock isolators, which are essentially like the shock absorbers in your car - but king sized. They are some twenty feet tall and more than a foot in diameter. Thus, in the event of a "shockwave" (another euphemism for the "nuclear near miss" that lands close enough to rattle your cage, but far enough away so that the underground portions of the LCF would survive), the floor and equipment on it would sway around and bang into the walls, but would suffer little damage.

The two crewmen walked across the hinged drawbridge that spanned the gap between the wall and the suspended floor. They went about their inspection quickly and methodically. Their years of experience and good weapon system knowledge gave them the practiced eye that allowed each of them to complete a sixty-step checklist in only a few minutes, yet still be able to detect anything that was out of the ordinary. The crew's inspection duties were divided into the left and right sides of the LCEB: the MCCC went down the right side and the DMCCC took the left. Good crews like this one would do more than look at switches and indicator lights, they would actually touch and feel some of the equipment, checking for excessive vibration or temperature. Veres paid close attention to the air conditioner, bending down to check the fluid level in the compressor, actually feeling it to satisfy himself that it was not too warm and was running smoothly.

Evans had started his inspection by looking at the left front shock isolator. Then he checked the Chemical, Biological, and Radiological filter. Evans hoped that if the time came, it would work.

Evans opened the door to the diesel enclosure, turned on the light, and went inside. Even with the bare light bulb burning brightly from the middle of the enclosure's low ceiling, it was still dark inside, and the harsh shadows made it necessary for Evans to pull out his pocket flashlight (every good deputy carried one in his shirt pocket) to shine into dark corners. Evans wanted to be both quick and thorough here, because commercial power is often lost during thunderstorms on the prairie, so the diesel engine gets its share of use. He checked the radiator to the left, then the diesel engine itself. No loose wires, no leaking fuel. Exhaust manifold looks tight. Only a little oil in the drip pan. Satisfied, he turned the light off, backed out, and closed the door.

Veres was waiting for Evans in front of the Power Control Center, and had put on the communications headset to call the MCC. Veres gave him a thumbs up with a questioning look on his face, and Evans responded with his own thumbs up and a nod. Veres pressed the call button.

“Capsule,” Answered Dave Phillips, Moldner's deputy. Phillips was a twenty three year old Second Lieutenant who had been on crew for about a year. A graduate of the Texas A & M Corps of Cadets, he was much more formal than Moldner. Veres wondered what the squadron commander had in mind when he put that unlikely pair together: Just who was supposed to influence whom? "Everything looks good in here. We're coming over," said Veres.

"Yes, sir. We're ready for y'all."

"On our way."

Veres put the headset back on its hook and put on his earmuffs. He pointed to the door, and Evans followed him out, killing the lights as they passed through the doorway. They gently closed the massive blast door and stowed the earmuffs. Both men had to push together on the door to overcome the air pressure. They had to time their pushing just right with spinning the wheel, or the door could be damaged. Gathering up their crew bags, they approached the LCC, stopping short of the set of yellow hash marks that was painted on the black floor to define the arc swept out by the door.

“…The Wages of Man's Love and Hate…”

They heard Phillips yell out "Stand Clear!" as the LCC door started to swing open. On the door was a red sign with stenciled white lettering:

NO LONE ZONE. SAC TWO-MAN POLICY MANDATORY.

The sign meant just what it said. Simply put, no one could ever be in the LCC alone. This was necessary because the complete Minuteman launch code was present in the LCC. Not to mention the Sealed Authenticators, launch keys, and more classified information and codes than most military people see in their entire career.

Phillips opened the door wide and stood aside to admit Veres and Evans. He was a solidly built, clean-shaven, good looking man, tall with crew cut blond hair that gave him a no-nonsense tough appearance, like the stereotype of the 1950's Polish football player, only smaller. His alert uniform (known as "crew blues") was clean and sharply pressed. His combat boots were spit-shined. He had his sidearm on, and was even wearing his scarf. Veres and Evans had removed theirs in the elevator.

Each squadron had a color-coded scarf for crewmen to wear with their alert uniform. But the 564th's was different. Instead of a solid color, it had alternating vertical red and blue stripes, with white stars in the stripes. Just one more reason the 564th was called "The Odd Squad." The main reason for the nickname was, of course, that it's weapon system was completely different from the other three squadrons, which were known as "The Mod Squads," after the official designation of "Minuteman Modernized," sometimes simply called "Force Mod" by the old heads.

Phillips greeted the new crew, "Good morning, sir. Come on in, Jim."

“‘Morning, Dave.”

“Hi, Dave,” countered Veres and Evans. Crouching down to fit the tunnel-like entryway through the LCC's thick shell, the three men went inside single file; Veres and Evans dragging their heavy bags with them. With the bags and parkas they barely fit, and they heard the nylon of the parkas and leather of the bags scraping against the steel wall and floor of the tunnel as they struggled through the narrow opening. The familiar metallic whine of the motor-generator greeted them as they stood up in the LCC. The noise was amplified almost to a shriek, vibrating into and carried by the steel floor. Looking up, it was mostly dark. There was one light above the latrine entrance to illuminate the area, but it cast harsh shadows, shining like a star against the rust red primer color of the curving steel lined LCC walls. As they walked over the thick steel drawbridge in their heavy combat boots, minor misalignments and the natural springiness of the steel caused a loud metallic slapping or banging noise. It was a nuisance that you had to watch in the middle of the night, lest you awaken your partner.

The noise faded as they crossed into the acoustical enclosure with its rubbery tile floor and sound absorbent walls. It seemed almost quiet by comparison, though in reality the rush of air was loud enough that the Air Force issued earplugs to crews. Veres and Evans deposited the bags in the usual spot between right rear shock isolator and the compressed air bottle and started taking their locks off of the crew bag handles while Phillips closed the blast door. As they were doing so, the warble tone blared from the PAS speaker, causing them to stiffen almost instinctively, certainly out of thoroughly trained reflex action. When they heard that it was only a routine Primary Alerting System comm check, they relaxed and continued preparing for changeover.

Veres and Evans both removed their locks from the bag handles and placed them through a belt loop on their pants. Phillips stayed behind to close the blast door, then returned to his console as the other pair dug their T.O.'s out of their crew bags. Evans took off his jacket, but Veres left his on.

"Hi, Mike," said Veres, walking past the Deputy's Console towards Moldner, who was standing at the Commander's Console. The two deputies were already in a huddle, talking about the status of Tango's ten birds of war.

"Howya Doin' Mike," replied Moldner. Moldner was short and thin, in his mid-thirties with slightly long sandy hair. His nearly constant smile revealed a wide gap between his two front teeth. His uniform was well worn, but his shoes were shined. They were regular GI leather, not the expensive and shiny corfams now in vogue. He wore his gun, but Moldner's scarf was still stuffed into the pocket of his green nylon flight jacket that was draped over the back of his chair. Moldner was sipping hot coffee out of a cheap china cup that came from the site's kitchen. "Want some coffee?" he asked, hooking a thumb towards a thermos on the console. That hand held Moldner's favorite cigarette, an unfiltered L&M. The trail of smoke left by the wave of his hand quickly dissipated in the rushing air of the LCC.

"No, thanks. I just had some in the truck." Veres dug his cigarettes and lighter out from the sleeve pocket of his flight jacket. Lighting up, he inquired, "Quiet alert?"

"Not bad. Sit 6 on 43 last night, nothing to it. We've got a maintenance team on 46 doing a can change. You may get a cycling environmental fault on 42 if it gets cold at night, but other than that, they're all clean and green."

Clean and Green. This was a Missileman's shorthand way of saying that there are no problems and the missiles are on Strategic Alert, ready to be launched. The term was taken from the green light at the top of each missile’s status summary column on the Deputy's Console.

Moldner continued, "Nothing out of the ordinary here at Tango, either. Everything's working right and in its place. All you should have to do is reconfigure 46 when they're done out there, maybe three, four hours from now. No other retargeting actions required. Normal DEFCON and Posture."

"Good," replied Veres. Plenty of time to get settled in, have lunch and get the routine stuff out of the way, he thought. Maybe even a catnap.

"That's it?" inquired Veres.

"That's it," countered Moldner.

Veres turned to his deputy. "Jim, you got the missiles' status squared away?"

"Yes, sir; and Dave says Tango is in good shape, too," was the Deputy's reply.

"OK, let's check the seals." The seals were special band-aid sized tape strips embedded with tiny latex spheres. The seals were placed over critical components containing launch or enable codes. When viewed with a special retroreflective viewer (the crews laughingly referred to the viewer, which fit into the palm of your hand, as the "Batman Decoder"), any broken spheres would readily show up. This could be evidence of tampering, which was a sticky problem that would get you in trouble; but more likely was due to someone accidentally bumping the seal. Evans got the viewers from the file cabinet, kept one for himself and gave the other to Veres.

Veres crushed out his Camel in the metal ashtray at the Commander's Console. As he did so, he looked at the Launch Switch, the Enable Switch, and the Code Insert thumbwheel switches. They were all in the expected positions: Launch Switch OFF; Enable Switch SET; Code Insert switches all set on P7. He then led Evans through the routine of inspecting the seals at both consoles and on the Weapon System Controller rack, midway between the two big consoles.

The WSC was the master computer for the flight. At a time when computers were just beginning to be integrated into weapon systems, the WSC seemed to work like magic, and was a real step up from the older systems. It monitored the missiles' health, stored and generated targeting data and shipped that and other commands to each missile per the crew's orders, monitored the other LCC's, and in a pinch could control all fifty missiles in the squadron. Some said it could even cook breakfast if you asked it nicely.

"Looks good to me, Mike," reported Evans, finishing first.

"Yeah, me too," agreed Veres. Veres then asked Moldner: "You taking any classified back?"

Moldner couldn't resist the opportunity to wisecrack and yank his strait-laced deputy's chain at the same time: "Naw, nothin' much. Just half the war plan today. Gonna sell it to the Rooskies."

Veres snorted, and saw Phillips out of the corner of his eye, just shaking his head. "Aw, lighten up Dave. I sold the other half to the Chicoms last week. Me and Mike are going to buy ourselves a tropical island in the South Pacific and watch the fireworks!" By this time Evans was chuckling, as much at Phillips' looks of consternation as at the dry humor.

The official crew changeover checklist was two pages long and comprised of some thirty-two steps; but just like the inspection checklists, the essential information could be gleaned in a few minutes. It also called for an inventory of classified material prior to accepting the alert. But one thing about the 564th was a sense of trust in your fellow crew dog. Everybody knew his job, and nobody was going to screw around with the classified. You could really get your tit in the wringer for that, maybe even go to jail. Besides, everybody wanted to get home ASAP, and you did your best to make a lousy situation tolerable for each other. So, as soon as you got to know a new guy, you would usually trust him with the secrets.

"You ready, Jim?" Veres asked, still smiling.

"Yep," Evans replied between chuckles. He had to turn away from Moldner's big gap toothed grin to keep from losing control.

"OK, Mike, pull 'em." Veres said firmly, indicating to Moldner that he was satisfied with changeover and was ready to inventory the Sealed Authenticators. His tone of voice also carried the message that the fun was over: Sealed Authenticators are serious business. Even being inside a well guarded launch control facility, sixty feet underground inside the launch control center with it's six foot thick steel reinforced concrete walls, and it's sealed six ton steel blast door; was not enough protection. The Sealed Authenticators and launch keys were inside a small steel box, painted red and welded to the frame of the LCC itself above the Deputy's Console, it's downward opening hinged door locked with two combination locks. Stenciled on all sides of the box with white paint were the words: ENTRY RESTRICTED TO MCCC AND DMCCC ON DUTY.

Moldner and Phillips went to the Deputy's Console, reached up, worked the combination to his respective lock, and removed it. Just like everything else requiring two-man control, each man only knew the combination to his own lock. The locks were off in seconds and Moldner opened the door. He and Phillips then backed away from the console, allowing Veres and Evans access to the safe. Moldner and Phillips each took up a position beside Veres and Evans so that they could witness the solemn proceedings.

Veres and Evans reached into the safe, each retrieving their respective photo album-like plastic binder containing the launch keys and Sealed Authenticators. The Commander's binder was on the left; the Deputy's was on the right.

The binders were small, about four inches square and a bulging one-inch thick. The covers were bright red, with the SAC shield printed in black on the cover, and the words TOP SECRET printed top and bottom. Below the SAC shield, "341st Strategic Missile Wing, Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana" identified the owner of the binder.

And there we had them. To quote Alistair Cooke in his book America, these were the "Holiest of the unholy," the documents that would prove that the President, or his duly authorized successor, had indeed ordered these quite ordinary men to do the extraordinary; to not only think the unthinkable, but to transform themselves, as Oppenhiemer muttered as he witnessed the first atomic bomb at Trinity, "... I am become Death, the Shatterer of Worlds ..." Missile crews literally held the keys to Armageddon in their hands. They had done this many times, and would do this many times more - with the same hands that held their own babies. Both things are routine, maybe even boring. Both, oddly enough, is done with love. Neither is taken lightly.

The Sealed Authenticators, later officially called Sealed Positive Control Documents, were always handled in accordance with the SAC Two-Officer Policy. This is very simple, meaning that only a pair of properly trained SAC officers could handle the documents. Each crewman was required to memorize three boldprint sentences that governed the control of Sealed PC Documents. These boldprint items were handed down from CINCSAC himself. They were the Eleventh, Twelfth, and Thirteenth Commandments for SAC crews, thus:

ALWAYS HANDLE ALL SEALED AUTHENTICATORS IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE SAC TWO OFFICER POLICY

SEALED AUTHENTICATORS WILL BE KEPT UNDER POSITIVE CONTROL AT ALL TIMES

REPORT ANY VIOLATIONS OF THE SAC TWO OFFICER POLICY TO THE WING COMMAND POST IMMEDIATELY

The concept of Positive Control was also simple. One doesn't simply throw these things into a safe for months at a time and assume that they will still be there when needed. They are carefully inventoried at each crew changeover against the list kept nearby, and both crewmen must sign for the documents. Their condition is also checked for signs of tampering.

The serial numbers on both of the launch keys are also verified against the serial numbers on the launch switch locks. Inside the cover of each binder, in the first clear plastic pouch, was one of the launch keys.

In a procedure that resembled a sacred religious ceremony, the inventory began. This is a private duty, no visitors are ever allowed in the LCC at this time, and nothing is allowed to interrupt it. The three other men followed Veres as if he were a priest as he carried his binder to the Commander's Console to verify that the serial number on the key matched the serial number on the Launch Control Panel launch switch, which contained the mechanical code units with the actual launch code. Evans was immediately behind Veres, reverently holding his binder with both hands. Satisfied, Veres led the procession back to the Deputy's Console, where they repeated the procedure at the Cooperative Launch Switch. There were no launch codes behind that panel; the switch merely provided the electrical continuity that allowed the Execute Launch Command to be picked up by the WSC and sent to the missiles.

The rites continued. They placed the binders on either side of the inventory sheet, which itself was in folder that Phillips had placed in the center of the console's narrow desk space. With a due balance of deliberation and speed, Veres turned the pages of both binders. Each page was a clear plastic pouch, containing one Sealed Authenticator. Reminiscent of the Catholic priest that said Mass in Latin when he was a boy, Veres rhythmically read the identifiers on each Sealed Authenticator, comparing what he read with what was typed on the inventory sheet. Like an alter boy, Evans responded "Check" to each of Veres' utterances, meaning that Evans had also matched the identifier on each of his documents with that on the sheet. As each page was turned, both men examined the back and front of the documents, checking for damage or tampering. As expected, they found none.

There were a large number of Sealed Authenticators in each binder. First, there were many for SIOP Execution. They were red. Then came several for SIOP Termination, the so-called "Chicken Tickets," in crew dog lingo. These were actually yellow. Then there were a few more for special purposes. They came in a variety of colors, mostly green and brown. Inside each Sealed Authenticator was printed enough information to determine whether any Emergency Action Message making reference to a particular Sealed Authenticator was, in fact, a genuine and legal order. The contents of the message had to exactly match the contents of the specified Sealed Authenticator; otherwise the message would not be considered valid and no missiles would be launched.

Finally, the inventory was complete. Both keys were present, and all Sealed Authenticators were in place and in satisfactory condition. Veres and Evans closed the binders and returned them to the safe. They then closed the door and hung their locks, scrambling the combinations and yanking on them to be sure they were secure. Evans hit a button that caused the WSC to issue a printout of the current Greenwich Mean Time. He recorded that time on the log attached to the inventory sheet, known as the SAC Form 647. Veres signed the 647, then Evans.

Veres now signed the new crew log that, as part of the crew dogs' traditional courtesy for one another, had been prepared for him by Phillips. The special, preprinted entry read, in part, "I accept custody of Tango-Zero LCF and Ten Mated re-entry systems/vehicles." The Sealed Authenticators were his. The capsule was his. And now the bombs were his. Only one more ritual remained, almost ludicrous compared to the weighty responsibility of the Sealed Authenticators and nuclear warheads: the transfer of sidearms from the old crew to the new.

Missile crews were required to be armed. The reason is not, as has been romanticized in various doomsday novels, to force the other guy to launch missiles or to shoot him if he goes crazy and tries to launch the missiles or destroy vital equipment. The real reason for the weapons is that the LCC contained a variety of code components, including the complete Minuteman Launch Code, and SAC regulations required custodians and handlers of such hot items to be armed.

Moldner and Phillips unbuckled the plain black leather belts and handed the holstered weapons over to Veres and Evans, who promptly put them on. The pistols were Smith and Wesson snub nosed .38 revolvers. They were now armed, but just barely. "Well, it's your show now," announced Moldner.

"Yeah. Thanks, I think. Keep the shiny side up and the greasy side down," replied Veres, telling Moldner to drive safely. Then to Evans: "Want to let them out, Jim?"

"Sure thing, boss," said Evans, as he reached for the phone to call Wing Command Post. He contacted WCP on the direct line, EWO-1, to report that changeover was complete, and for permission to "go soft." Only one LCC per squadron, and one SCP per wing, was allowed to have a blast door open at any one time. That way, most of the wing was still in a hardened condition, and losses would be minimized if the Russians picked that particular moment to attack. Since when does a man need permission to go soft, anyway, Evans chuckled to himself.

Next, Evans called the FSC on another dedicated line. "Sergeant Fox, this is the NEW CREW." He emphasized those words to avoid confusion and the nasty security situation that would result if he got the wrong VCN. "Give me a VCN, please." These words told Fox that changeover was complete, and the old crew was ready to go topside.

"Yes sir." said Fox. "On page 1243, I pass you X-ray Oscar."

"That's a good one, Sarge." Evans went to the back of the capsule and opened the blast door. He slid open the thick deadbolt, which had a long handle with a heavy steel ball on the end. It slapped loudly against door as he dropped it. He spun the shiny wheel, withdrawing the flange that held the door shut, and then pushed the door open. Moldner and Phillips gathered up their crewbags from the kitchen area outside the acoustical enclosure just inside the drawbridge. Evans carried their trash bag into the tunnel junction for them. Returning to the LCC after they came out, he stood in the doorway and waved. "See you next time."

"Yup. Later, guy."

Moldner and Phillips disappeared into the elevator. Evans heard it's motor start as he closed the blast door. Back at his console a minute later, he answered Fox’s call and buzzed the topside door to let them out. Finally, he and Veres began to settle in for the alert.

Veres and Evans did the classified inventory. There were about a dozen thick red loose-leaf binders full of classified documents, plus the codebooks and Emergency Action Message books at the consoles. As expected, everything was where it was supposed to be, Moldner's threat to sell the secrets notwithstanding. As Veres was putting away the clipboard, the cook called on the FSC's dedicated line to take their lunch order…

…And so began just one more of my 251 missions beneath Montana.

 

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