A Reddit user named Vmikey popped up an AMA today claiming to be a nuclear missile tech who worked in a giant underground silo.
Naturally we were intrigued. Reddit moderators independently verified him, and questions flew in fast and furious. Here are the best of them:
Do you guys really wear Snuggies? — From Reddit user teddywookie.
vmikey: Not everyone! But the uniform standards are relaxed. You sit behind two giant steel blast doors. Your crew partner is usually asleep in the rack. So sweats, jeans, anything that's comfortable. On one alert, the equipment that cools our communications equipment broke. Capsule temp spiked up to about 101. I spent that one in my underwear.
Are there any TV shows or movies that you feel give an accurate depiction of what life is like in an underground bunker? — From scrambledeggman.
There's a movie called First Strike that was commissioned by the Air Force during the Carter years. It shows a Minuteman II capsule in launch procedures, as well as the rest of the deterrent. It's on YouTube and procedures are quite accurate for a 30 year old film.
Was there a time you almost pushed the button? — From user strhally3.
Not once. Thank God! We go up to higher states of readiness if the threat is serious enough. On 9/11, my understanding is the missile force was puckered pretty tight, ready to pop. Day to day, we're usually just making sure the ICBMs are healthy and ready to fire if needed. Some people say we're on "hair trigger alert," but that's a bit of a misnomer.
What was the security screening like? Can you tell us how high you're cleared? — belgarion89
All missileers require a Top Secret with a NC2 designation. Stands for Nuclear Command and Control, means you can look at launch codes.
As a command post controller, I'm a little uncomfortable with this. Not sure if you are legit. I'm surprised you don't have a kitchen, I'd assume you'd be working 12 hour shifts. What rank/service are you in? — desuanon
We had a kitchen topside and a chef. And Command Posts have the luxury of being back on base and taking calls about kittens in trees, so I'm not surprised it sounds a bit foreign (sorry! Had to!). But to answer your question, I was a captain, an instructor in OSS, crew commander, deputy, and had the distinct privilege of the infamous 3 day alert period. That should be plenty to assuage your concerns.
In the event of a Nuclear Holocaust like Fallout, would your base make a good safehouse, or would it be the center of a feral ghoul infestation? — Sparkism
Well in the Cold War, you expected the Russians to hit you right back with a counterstrike. So our bunkers would be a TERRIBLE place to be. On the other hand, a fantastic place to ride out a Zombie Apocalypse.
Speaking of which, how did you play video games in there? Were personal computers (without internet obviously, and with emphasis on the personal bit) allowed? — Drag0nflamez
This is a great question, worthy of a topic unto itself. Video games are a no-go down there. Any electronics not cleared through the systems center at Hill AFB are thought to disrupt the equipment. But people do it anyway. I never thought lugging my xbox out there was worth the effort.
Are you desensitized to the implications of possible orders, say through continuous drills or are you made aware that you have possibly the greatest responsibility of all? — justintimme
It's hard. They do tight screening in training to make certain you're willing to "turn the key." I struggled with it at times. I'm a man of faith and sometimes duties conflict. But I also saw the intelligence on other nations, not friendly to the U.S., who had WMDs. I think that my willingness to execute a launch order, strange as it sounds, helps keep the wolves at bay.
What is the process for launching a nuclear missile? — thc1138
Well most of it is classified. Needless to say, we can execute very quickly if so ordered. The unclassified version is that we receive an encrypted message over 5 different communications systems, some that can break through EMP effects. We verify the message is properly formatted and we authenticate it using authenticators sealed in a safe with two locks on it (this way no one person can access launch codes). If the bunkers were destroyed but the missiles left standing, a special plane can fly overhead and launch the missiles from the air. I always thought of Aliens -- let's take off and nuke the site from orbit!
Did you ever have any luxuries down there? Like good meals, beer, or even some McDonalds or other fast food? — chumpkin
Great question. We had a chef that would bring us our meals down. Also had a microwave. One of my friends used to bring a campfire stove down and grill steaks. No beer! Drinking while on nuclear alert, is.. ahem, discouraged :)
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