Titan II Memories

PART ONE: "Disaster at Silo 7" Memories

Watching a video copy of Disaster at Silo 7 brought back vivid memories of a 1978 field trip I took to a Titan Missile site. I was a sophomore at the University of Arizona on a four year Air Force ROTC scholarship, and the tour was offered as a look at a possible Air Force career choice Curtis Samson, USAF
for the undecided. I was already committed to the pilot training program, but the chance to see an ICBM and a launch facility was worth a day in the desert. All I had to do was submit my social security number for an FBI background check.

In those post Vietnam days being in the ROTC carried a certain distinction on campus. Once a week I got to put on an Air Force issue dress uniform, attend my regular classes and an Air Force History class, and then march around the football field for an hour. Wool, 110 degree heat, and being constantly called "baby killer" by pretty girls and insecure boys were the stuff of my first war stories.

Disaster at Silo 7 is a 1988, made for TV, docudrama based on an actual accident that occured in 1980 at a Titan site located at Damascus, Arkansas, outside of Little Rock. Two refueling technicians used the wrong wrench to tighten a liquid fuel line connected to a Titan missile, which broke a fuel seal causing a leak that eventually depressurized the missile's fuel stage. An electrical spark ignited the fuel, blowing up the missile and silo complex, killing one of the technicians and sending the warhead 600 feet from the site. Disaster at Silo 7 does a great job of presenting the facts and goes way, way, too far in showing us the personal lives and beliefs of the refueling technicians. The final act of the film is a Readers Digest Drama in Real Life, come to life, where a surviving refueling technician finds his faith in God over the dead body of his buddy. Disaster at Silo 7 was filmed in an actual Titan facility; the shots in the silo and the story of the refueling technicians lives took me back twenty-two years to a hot day in the Arizona desert.

PART TWO: Deadly Force

Tour day I was mildly excited and very curious as I boarded the Air Force blue bus in my dress blues. Eighteen years of atomic movies, TV, novels, picture books and other propagandas made me feel confident and prepared for what I was about to see. Before we started, the Captain from our ROTC unit, who was in charge of the fifteen or so of us, announced that we would be traveling approximately thirty miles east of Tucson to one of the nine Titan missile sites that ringed the city. The missile crews were based out of Davis Monthan AFB located east of Tucson. Michael O'Keefe arrives in the Command CenterDavis Monthan is also the home of the Air Force's aircraft graveyard and moth balled fleet which was another field trip and another story. The Captain introduced our bus driver who was one of the missile crew transport drivers and reminded us that no cameras or recording devices were allowed in the silo and would have to be left on the bus. We headed east on Highway 10, exited on Sunflower road, and proceeded north about a mile. The bus turned right off the road, rolled fifty feet on gravel, and stopped in front of a chain link gate. In front of us was a twenty foot high fence surrounding a square, one third of an acre, piece of desert. The fence was topped with razor wire and posted with the standard Air Force "No Tresspassing-Use of Deadly Force Authorized" signs. We were met at the gate by two armed Security Policemen (SPs), one with an M-16 and both wearing side arms. One of them got on the bus, introduced himself, and explained that before entering the facility we would have to agree to abide by a few "simple" rules. No touching anything, no talking, stay with the group, and of course no cameras or tape recorders. In addition, during our visit there were likely to be numerous classified training alerts. During these alerts we would be required to leave the control center to a secure area. In the event of an actual alert, we would be escorted out of the facility and off the premises. Finally, following a very pregnant pause, and in a tone of voice devoid of any humor or irony, he stated that any attempt to interfere with the duties of the launch officers would be met with deadly force.

The SPs opened the gate and the bus drove into the complex and up to a small shed. After debussing the SPs gave us a tour of the above ground sites. The SPs started at the concrete slab that covered the missile. We were not allowed to climb on it but they assured us that in the event of a launch, two very large metal and concrete doors in the middle of the slab would blast open allowing the missile to exit. They showed us the numerous communications antennae, the ventilation units for the silo and launch facility, and the emergency entrance and escape pit. Pit because it consisted of a very deep concrete lined hole with a metal ladder descending into darkness. Covering the hole was a metal grate secured with a sturdy key lock. Our guides explained that in the event the missile launch or maintenance crews could not enter or exit the facility through the normal means, usually because of locked or malfunctioning blast doors, the pit was the only way in or out. Crews hated the pit because during the day the hot metal covering grate attracted rattle snakes which often slipped through the holes in the grate and collected in the bottom of the pit. The snakes were harvested from the pit on a regular basis by University of Arizona students who collected their venom for research.

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