CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - It isn’t easy to get to Lt. Col. Johnny Galbert’s old workspace.
After descending a ladder to about 100 feet below the ground, you have to pass through two concrete blast doors that are designed to withstand just about anything other than a direct nuclear hit.
But once you get that far, you’ll be in the nerve center of F.E. Warren Air Force Base’s former Quebec-01 Missile Alert Facility.
“This is where the magic happened,” said Galbert, commander of F.E. Warren’s 321st Missile Squadron and a former missileer who worked many 24-hour shifts during the 2000s at the former alert facility.
The small, confined room isn’t much right now.
Loose wires run from just about every direction, and almost all of the equipment that was used to monitor - and potentially launch - a Peacekeeper intercontinental ballistic missile has been gutted.
But F.E. Warren and the state of Wyoming are working to restore the facility with the goal of opening it in 2019 as the Department of State Parks and Cultural Resources’ newest historical site.
During a media briefing, Col. Stephen Kravitsky, who commands F.E. Warren’s 90th Missile Wing, said it should attract both local and out-of-the-area residents.
“I think this is going to be a venue in which people can visit and learn about the (nuclear) mission,” he said. “I think it will give an awareness for people out of town to come visit and see something different and unique that they may or may not have any experience with.”
The launch facility is located under a seemingly nondescript building just off Interstate 25 about 20 miles north of Cheyenne.
The 5-acre facility was built in 1962 and deactivated in 2005. It was one of the sites under the oversight of F.E. Warren’s now-deactivated 400th Strategic Missile Squadron.
The actual missile launch sites are located within a few miles of the facility.
But two missileers were on alert 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year in the underground bunker. Security and maintenance personnel, and even a chef, worked upstairs at the Missile Alert Facility.
Travis Beckwith, cultural resources manager with F.E. Warren’s 90th Civil Engineering Squadron, said thousands of Wyoming drivers routinely pass the site without knowing anything of what went on there.
“It has just become part of the landscape,” he said. “You go by it, and you just think it’s a house sitting behind a barbed-wire fence with a garage without knowing that 100 feet below ground there is a very important mission taking place.”
Beckwith said this site, along with four other launch alert facilities in Wyoming, were the only ones that operated the Peacekeeper missile.
The missile, which was deployed from 1986 to 2005, could carry up to 10 nuclear warheads.
Beckwith said this made it the most powerful weapon in the country’s arsenal.
And Beckwith said that unique distinction makes Quebec-01 an attractive site for the growing nuclear tourism movement, which draws thousands each years to old Cold War-era sites.
Once it opens, Quebec-01 will be the only Peacekeeper Missile Alert Facility in the country that is open to the public.
And Beckwith said it should draw high attendance, if other similar state or national sites, such as North Dakota’s Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile State Historic Site, are an indication.
“They average about 80,000 visitors a year,” Beckwith said. “And (the state) expects to see those types of numbers here.”
The Legislature passed a bill earlier in 2015 that paved the way for the state to take control of the site.
And the deal between the state and F.E. Warren allows the base to hand over the site after making repairs and renovating the facility to look like it was before it was decommissioned in 2005.
The state will then take on the task of staffing and adding interpretive elements to the site.
But a significant amount of work is needed, since the base has to track down and restore old equipment from other locations.
Beckwith said the dusty and boarded-up building also requires a good amount of work before it formally becomes the state’s property.
“Out of all the five (former launch facilities) we have left, this one is probably in the worst shape,” Beckwith said. “(But we are using this one) because from a logistical standpoint it is the closest to Cheyenne, and it’s on a major corridor, so it just makes sense.”
Although it will take some time to get ready before it opens, Galbert said he hopes the historic site will give the public a clearer picture of what so many current and former missileers did every day.
“It’s not like the newspapers describe with us sitting down here on hair-trigger alert,” he said.
“That is just one small part of our mission.”
Information from: Wyoming Tribune Eagle, https://www.wyomingnews.com
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