If a single W56 nuclear warhead with a yield of 1.2 megatons strikes the court house in Olde Town Conyers, the historic southern municipality and its inhabitants vanish from the face of the earth. Within the wide blast radius, Stonecrest Mall would be demolished as buildings in Lithonia and Covington crack or crumble. Walnut Grove is devastated. Loganville, Monroe, and Stockbridge receive severe to moderate damage.
This is the war the world must avoid. Rockdale resident and Snapping Shoals EMC employee Travis Bryan was trained by the Air Force to retaliate for his country if the unimaginable happened. Ironically, due to SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty) between the United States and the Soviet Union, Bryan helped dismantle Minuteman II nuclear missiles to hopefully save lives instead of participating in the extermination of the human race. They are called Missileers.
Bryan was born in 1967 while his Marine father was in Vietnam. "With Dad being a Marine we moved around a lot, three different high schools in my case, but only one college - the University of Georgia. Actually, UGA is the ‘only' college in my opinion." Bryan augmented college expenses working as a UGA police officer. He graduated in 1990, the same year he married his sweetheart, Julie.
With a military career foremost in his mind, Bryan signed up for Officer Candidate School with the Air Force. And he waited, and waited. "My second chosen career was police work," he recalled. "I was hired by the Hall County Sheriff's Department and almost forgot about the military, but lo and behold the Air Force called me in 1991."
After attending OCS at the Medina annex at Lackland AFB, Tex., Bryan's first duty assignment was Whiteman AFB at Knob Noster, Mo. "It was an ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile) base," he said. "I was stuck there for two months." His duties? "Painting the squad room and anything else nailed down."
Security Police was his first choice on the Air Force's ‘dream sheet' with ‘needs of the Air Force' eternally the fourth choice for every young officer. Bryan was eventually chosen to be a Missileer. When asked why he was chosen to man nuclear missiles, he replied, "I have no earthly idea."
Missile Combat Crew training took place at Vandenberg AFB near San Francisco. Bryan recalled, "We had four thick T.O.s (technical orders) the size of dictionaries, two classified, two non-classified. We had to learn them front to back, from hundreds of acronyms to launching a nuclear missile."
In case of a nuclear launch, the Missileers never know their target. "I guess that way we don't think too much about what we're hitting," he surmised. "But pushing the button is only part of the story. A Missileer has to know what to do if the missile acts up in the silo, if you lose air, if there's a fire, a security breach, and hundreds of other scenarios."
The inevitable question "could you push the button?" was asked. "Yes, but if you have second thoughts during your career you're allowed to remove yourself. You have to have confidence in authority, the people above you that issue the order. The decision to launch would be a last resort. It would mean someone had launched at us first. In the nuclear missile game, America will not be the aggressor."
But Bryan was not asked to launch. Instead he was chosen to dismantle obsolete Minuteman II Missiles back at Whiteman AFB. Asked how a person dismantles a nuclear missile, he replied, "Very, very carefully."
The silos are in outlying areas, unmanned, and monitored by Missileers in an Air Force "house" usually miles away. One "house" can monitor five flights, each flight with 10 missiles. Launch sequence is classified, as is the unbelievable security available if an electrified and sensor-sensitive fence surrounding a missile silo is disturbed.
Bryan reassured, "The American people need to understand that even if a ‘house' is taken out or goes down for whatever reason, an airborne launch control center can override our system and launch from the wild blue yonder."
Once a missile was dismantled and removed, the silo was blown up. "I suppose people could spot a silo from the road," Bryan said. "But you'd have to know what you're looking for." When questioned about safety or experiencing a security breach, he replied, "Absolutely, we had fence security violations several times, invariably a group of curious or hungry rabbits. But let me say this, nobody, and I mean nobody, needs to think about sneaking up on a missile silo. ‘Nuff said."
As the Minuteman Missile II program faded out, Bryan merged with the Space Command. "That was different," he said. "Instead of launching missiles we looked for ‘incoming' missiles. We also tracked the junk in space." Asked to clarify ‘junk', Bryan said, "You wouldn't believe all the stuff floating around our planet, including an Astronaut glove. Anything bigger than the size of a coin, we track. Junk could bring down a Space Shuttle or destroy a missile launch." In fact, ‘junk' has hit the Shuttles on reentry taking chips out of the windshield and nose.
When he became a Captain, Bryan's job at Space Command was terminated. After five years in the Air Force, he finally had a job around airplanes. Assigned to a KC-135 refueling wing, he said with a grin, "I finally got aboard an Air Force plane. I worked at the Command Post. We controlled everything on the ground, the planes, crew rest, on ground fueling, shoot, I really liked that job." Within months, officers were removed from Command Post to allow sergeants to fill the roll.
Bryan said teasingly, "I told my wife it was time to get out before I shut down the entire Air Force." More seriously, he said, "We decided to let God lead the way, let Him take us to our next port-of-call." After leaving the military Bryan returned to police work. He pulled duties at two universities before taking an IT (information technology) position at Snapping Shoals EMC, a position he's filled for the last 11 years.
Asked for final thoughts, Bryan said, "I want people to know Missileers are dedicated men and women. We don't joke or make fun of our job. We realize the seriousness of what we do or what we may be required to do. That said and done, I did see a Domino's Pizza sign on one of the blast doors. Of course it read, ‘If not delivered in 30 minutes, your next one is free.'"
Pete Mecca is a Vietnam veteran, columnist and freelance writer. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or aveteransstory.us.