ICBM maintenance crews train for field

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MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE, Mont.  — When it comes to ensuring the United States’ intercontinental ballistic missiles are ready at a moment’s notice, an essential piece to the puzzle is proper maintenance on its communications network.

This is where the 341st Missile Maintenance Squadron Missile Communications training section comes into play.

Using a one-of-a-kind training vault, personnel are able to provide a realistic training environment to better prepare missile maintenance Airmen for what they will experience in an actual launch control center (LCC), as well as the wires and conduits stretching across the 13,000 square miles of Montana real estate the missile fields cover.

“Each base has their own trainers, but periodically we have hosted folks from Vandenberg Air Force Base (California) here for some special training,” said Bernie Marinaccio, a 341st MMXS missile radio instructor. “They’ll come here because we have the better trainer over the other two (missile) bases.”

The training facility was made possible by utilizing parts and equipment left over from the decommissioned 564th Missile Squadron. The result is a near-replica of an LCC, complete with almost all of the functioning communications systems, ranging from radio to hard-wired communications found in the field.

“It’s still a work in progress and there’s still a lot to do, but we have four of our five communications systems operational in our trainer,” Marinaccio said.

By using an on-base trainer, it reduces trips to the field, thus limiting the time missions are put on hold. This keeps LCCs active for longer periods of time, while still providing critical training.

“The more we can do on base, the better quality training we can give (missile communications members),” said Bob Fick, a 341st MMXS missile satellite instructor. “We don’t have a time limit; we’re not interrupting an operational mission, so we can take our time and explain things better.

“It’s just a better scenario,” he added.

Because of new demands on the maintenance personnel, training days for new members of the squadron have jumped from 80 to 120 days, cramming in extra proficiencies and combining jobs done previously by other shops, making each technician a more vital asset.

“We have taken on about another 100 (training) tasks within the last six months,” Fick said. “They determined that it would be better for us to do the whole mission, much like the old communications squadron did.”

Previously, it would have required lengthy trips to the missile field, but having an on-base trainer allows Fick and Marinaccio to rapidly educate 341st MMXS members on the new tasks, reducing training time significantly, and improving and bulking up the force of ready maintainers.

The trainer is constantly being improved and added to, with a major addition expected to be completed later this year.

“There’s another big piece to the puzzle, which hopefully we’re going to get completed in the spring,” Fick said. “There is one task that we cannot do on base — a periodic servicing of an antenna. If we get that set up here as a trainer, all the guys that weren’t able to be involved in the training last year out in the field, we’ll be able to train them all on base.”