Does the US Air Force treats the nuclear arsenal as a punishment detail?
November 10, 2014 4:48 PM   Subscribe

Mother Jones: Death Wears Bunny Slippers Guarding and maintaining the ICBMs based in central Montana and other United States Air Force installations is vital to not only the safety of American citizens, but that of everybody on earth. But the personnel to whom the USAF entrusts this mission are bored, burned out, and suffer from bad leadership.
posted by starbreaker (27 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
 
Thanks for the extra anxiety. Also everyone should read Command and Control, which shows how unsafe and badly guarded nuclear weapons always were (and in the 50s and 60s, there were so many more of them, and they had few failsafes). Also, it has one of the scariest last passages of any book.
posted by blahblahblah at 4:54 PM on November 10, 2014 [18 favorites]


My uncle was on similar duty back in the 70s in the Dakotas.

Things..... haven't changed much.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 4:56 PM on November 10, 2014 [2 favorites]


You're welcome, blahblahblah. :)
posted by starbreaker at 4:57 PM on November 10, 2014


Why am I not surprised, Pogo_Fuzzybutt?
posted by starbreaker at 4:58 PM on November 10, 2014


An acquaintance of mine from graduate school had a similar posting, also in the Dakotas; he explained that going back to school for graduate work became a lot more appealing after a brief stint there...
posted by thomas j wise at 5:00 PM on November 10, 2014


I was prepared to swear this was double, but it turns out that I'm thinking of a different FPP about the monotony of beng an ICBM operator titled "Death Wears Bunny Slippers."
posted by justkevin at 5:08 PM on November 10, 2014 [13 favorites]


I recommend NOT reading Command And Control unless you never want to sleep peacefully ever again.
posted by The Whelk at 5:25 PM on November 10, 2014 [3 favorites]


Seriously, I don't want any 'go-getters' working with nuclear missiles. Maybe those people who graduated to the Air Force from McDonald's or Walmart. Someone who's just going to do the bare minimum so that nothing murders an entire civilisation.
posted by hal_c_on at 5:28 PM on November 10, 2014 [9 favorites]


Echoing the recommend for Command and Control. It's terrifying, but fascinating.
It also might galvanize us into fixing that problem, which would be really cool.
posted by tiaz at 5:44 PM on November 10, 2014


I had a friend in Navy Electronics School who had purposefully failed out of the Nuclear Electronics school when he found out his job would consist of watching 2 dials for 8 hours at a stretch. Dying of boredom maybe not, but going postal on submarine, probably not fun either.
posted by doctor_negative at 6:08 PM on November 10, 2014 [1 favorite]


SPOILER ALERT

Every missile is a dud by now.
posted by Renoroc at 6:32 PM on November 10, 2014


This was my brother's job. He was posted at Warren AFB in Cheyenne and Malmstrom in Great Falls. He liked Cheyenne well enough; it was close enough to Denver. The less said about Great Falls, the better. He and one other guy would get driven out to a classified site in the prairie, and they would spend alert watching movies. It was not the most stimulating of environments, but he was up to date on films. He is no longer in the AF.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 6:51 PM on November 10, 2014 [4 favorites]


Every missile is a dud by now.

If only.

In fact, as Schlosser reacts exactly to this point in the book. We may not think of them, but the U.S. has nearly 5,000 nuclear weapons, and other states thousands more, and "Every one of them is an accident waiting to happen, a potential act of mass murder. They are out there waiting, soulless and mechanical, sustained by our denial – and they work."
posted by blahblahblah at 6:55 PM on November 10, 2014 [7 favorites]


I wonder if the Founding Fathers ever envisioned an ICBM caucus when they set up the electoral college.

I'm now cheering for the fracking and prison industries since they're the only things that could make up for losing land nukes in those godforsaken districts.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 6:57 PM on November 10, 2014


Normally I wouldn't re-recommend a book after it has already been mentioned three times, but Command and Control is just that good. I'd also add Inventing Accuracy to the reading list for another detailed "nuts and bolts vs. national security policy" view.
posted by kiltedtaco at 7:07 PM on November 10, 2014 [2 favorites]


John Oliver on this topic
posted by svenni at 7:14 PM on November 10, 2014 [3 favorites]


Pogo, your dad and my dad may have known each other, or maybe just missed each other. Somewhere in my mom's house is a photo of my dad in a tiny little room with a box of ritz crackers, looking bored out of his mind, with a panel of buttons and things in front of him.
posted by PussKillian at 8:49 PM on November 10, 2014


If you think this is bad, you should see the other guy...
posted by Devonian at 6:29 AM on November 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


This is the thing about any crisis position: If there's ever a crisis, you spring into action, and the rest of the time, you do nooooooooothing.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 7:16 AM on November 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


would consist of watching 2 dials for 8 hours at a stretch

Actually, a crap ton of meters and indicator lights. Maybe only two move, ideally, but the skill is in knowing what it means if one of the other ones does. And what to do about it.

Plus, that would be considered a rare nice quiet relaxing watch for a change. I guarantee the reactor operator is not bored bringing the plant through rapid maneuvering transients from 10-100% power within minutes. And then there are the casualty drills.

But being a missile tech would be just like the bored Air Force guys.
posted by ctmf at 10:17 AM on November 11, 2014


I know some former missileers and they would confirm that, ignoring everything else, the posting is extremely compatible with picking up a distance learning graduate degree. Or two. Or three.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 10:33 AM on November 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


The thing is, while we certainly don't want overachievers working out in the silos, we do want critical thinkers. We want the Vasili Arkhipovs of the US Air Force ready and waiting to countermand an order if it doesn't make sense and thereby potentially saving us all from nuclear annihilation. So hearing that these guys and their commanding officers view the posting as punishment? Not good.

'Why-not' Minot never had a lot going for it to begin with and a pile of radioactive waste would not add to the landscape, y'know?
posted by librarylis at 10:45 AM on November 11, 2014


I'm gonna predict that when (not if) congress appropriates billions to renovate the US nuke program, it will include some sort of AI technology to second guess the human switch pushers. If cars can soon drive themselves, why shouldn't wholesale death from above do the same.
posted by Fupped Duck at 12:28 PM on November 11, 2014


My dad was out there too - a young first lieutentant pulling alerts at Malmstrom in the early 70s. The USAF admitted to my mom that the cancer that killed him 25 years later was a result of being around those missiles.
posted by bendy at 12:29 PM on November 11, 2014


I think we found the answer to this AskMe.
posted by slogger at 1:58 PM on November 11, 2014


computech_apolloniajames: "The less said about Great Falls, the better." HEY NOW. Don't be dissin' my 406.
posted by davidmsc at 5:48 PM on November 11, 2014


I'm gonna predict that when (not if) congress appropriates billions to renovate the US nuke program, it will include some sort of AI technology to second guess the human switch pushers. If cars can soon drive themselves, why shouldn't wholesale death from above do the same.

Do you want skynet? because this is how you get skynet.
posted by emptythought at 6:19 PM on November 11, 2014 [3 favorites]


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