Clinton St. Quarterly, Vol. 7 No. 4 | Winter 1985 (Seattle) /// Issue 14 of 24 /// Master# 62 of 73

Lt. Morrison____ The city’s a rush, but you never feel as good as when you’re driving back into the balmy salt air of the Olympic Peninsula. Usually there are deer standing in groups by the side of the road this time ofthe evening. Usually it’s raining, but not tonight. The sun has been trying to come out all day, and—What is this on the bridge? A dozen cars are stopped in the middle of the Hood Canal Floating Bridge, and there it is, two miles away, moving north toward you at about 5 or 6 knots. Cars line up behind you; people stop their engines. A few get out and walk over to the railing, and you follow them. The shape of a submarine has not changed much since the old World War II movies, but this one is half as long as a football field. How can anything this big move in such stillness? It passes in front of you, bloated grey metal. A couple of swabbies wave to a kid. The bridge stays open until the sub is fully two miles past it, heading for open waters. That quiet voice in the back of your head says, “Men do not build extravagant weapons because they don’t want to use them.” Back in the car, you feel disenfranchised, alienated, helpless, hopeless. You wonder if you’re the only one that’s worried, and you can’t think of any solutions. Notice: There are lots of people, some famous, some unknown, working in groups or acting alone. They are united in the conviction that the nuclear machine can and must be reversed. The duty? Basically it’s waiting for the President to decide to give the command to launch nuclear weapons. Basically it’s sitting in a red chair by a red phone, with one other officer, 40 feet under a wheatfield. This is the third psychiatrist in four days. Who knows, anymore, what it is and is not smart to tell an Air Force doctor. The assignment, Sir? You have it right there in my records. D M Triple C. Deputy Missile Combat Crew Commander. The duty? Basically it’s waiting for the President to decide to go. Waiting, for the command to launch nuclear weapons. Basically it’s sitting in a red chair by a red phone, with one other officer, 40 feet under a wheatfield. Three days on, three days off. Down the elevator to Launch Control Center for six hours, up to Launch Control Facility to sleep six hours, down for six, up for six and on like that for three days. Except lately, as you know, Sir. Basically I’m not sleeping at all on Alert. Staying up for three days. And at home, I don’t sleep either. No, Sir, it’s not likely that you would be familiar with the Facility. It’s all by itself in a wheatfield 10 miles from Malmstrom (Montana). Above ground it looks like any other one-story industrial building. Underground is a 10 by 20-foot room, low ceilings, fluorescent lights. It’s encased in four feet of reinforced concrete with a four-foot blast door. It’s suspended in a capsule on shock absorbers intended to withstand the shock of a near miss. I doubt it could take a direct hit. The launch message would come over the red phones, the land lines. And if they got blown out, there is an aircraft that has all the codes and sends out War Codes from up there. If we got the message, we would go over to the wall by the door. We each have keys to the two little padlocks on the safe, which can also be opened with a hammer, if need be. We take out little sealed packets called authenticators. We take those back over to our respective consoles and break them open. We take down the decoding books. We write down the message that comes over the radio, decode it, break down the authenticator packets, and there are letters. We see if these letters match the authenticator letters in the message, and if they do, it’s a valid message. We go through the launch sequence. Fire the missiles. As far back as training at Vandenberg—I don’t know whether the Air Force could prosecute me for perjury—but, I told myself I’d never do it. And I swore to the Air Force that I would. I was newly married to a woman with two kids. We bought a washer and a dryer and a car. I found out that being a Launch Control Officer was a guaranteed four-year tour of duty in someplace like Montana or Wyoming. At the time, it didn’t look like there’d be a nuclear war. There was not a first strike mentality, then. It was more like the old Mutually Assured Destruction. We would be launching (because they'had already launched. When we came up to Malmstrom, we went through more intensive training. It started getting more real. We talked about the War Plan, where the missiles were going, depending on what kind of a war it was, depending on whether they wanted to hit military or civilian targets. We went into Wing Headquarters. We got to read the Strategic Integrated Operational Plan. Then they asked us again to swear to turn the key. I swore it again, because I wanted to keep the job. Yes Sir, back to the Launch Sequence. In that little box by the door with the two padlocks are the two keys. We each take one. Each of us has a gun. We have sworn to the Air Force that we’ll use the gun on the other officer if he fails to carry out the order. Part of the Launch Sequence is to insert the keys and stand by. In the President’s message, there is an exact launch time. It’s minutes, how many is classified, but it’s very quick. We turn the keys simultaneously. All the missiles don’t go at once. So we sit at the consoles and monitor them, seeing which ones launch, and if they launch on time. It depends on the War Plan how many missiles are ignited by turning the key. Then, we wait for the SUSAN CICOTTE Story and Illustrations by 28 Clinton St. Quarterly