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Malmstrom first to launch missile squadron deployments to missile complex

A photo of Airmen

Airmen from the 490th Missile Squadron pose for a group photo with a missileer flag before posting to the 10th Missile Squadron missile alert facilities Aug. 5, 2020, at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont. The 490th MS initiated the first-ever squadron deployment of a missile squadron – increasing time off, unit cohesion, and overall camaraderie and morale. (Courtesy Photo)

A photo of Airmen

Airmen from the 490th Missile Squadron conduct operations in a launch control center March 27, 2019, near Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont. The 490th MS is one of three missile squadrons assigned to the 341st Operations Group, which secures, supports and operates intercontinental ballistic missiles assigned to Malmstrom's area of responsibility. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Daniel Brosam)

Civic leaders toured an ICBM launch control center as part of their orientation to the ICBM mission and capabilities

First Lt. Quinn Sokolnicki, 10th Missile Squadron intercontinental ballistic missile operator, speaks to Air Force civic leader members May 6, 2019 at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont. These Airmen partake in now squadron-wide in-garrison deployments to a 13,800 square-mile missile complex throughout the state of Montana. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jacob M. Thompson)

MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE, Mont. --

The 341st Missile Wing's mission revolves around an in-garrison deployment to a 13,800-square-mile missile complex, home to Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Air Force ICBMs protect the American people and our allies from a major attack - 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. They are the most responsive leg of the nuclear triad and are the cornerstone of the security structure of the free world.

Normally, teams of Airmen from various squadrons would deploy in pairs to the missile complex, however, recent concepts have been implemented to make a change.

"Throughout the entire history of ICBM operations, missile crews have performed alert duty on an 'Alert - Travel - Off' schedule," said Lt. Col. Dustin Harmon, 490th Missile Squadron commander.

The ATO schedule refers to one day of alert - or 24 hours underground, the day teams travel back to base, then a day off.

That day off wasn't guaranteed nor protected due to training, commanders calls or other reasons.

"Squadron deployments were born out of a desire to provide reliable stability along with protected recovery time, return of squadron cohesion and integration, improved training opportunities, and leadership team visibility to the organization," said Harmon.

When COVID-19 first hit, the deployment rotations throughout Malmstrom Air Force Base changed drastically - affecting security forces squadrons that posted to the field, as well as the missile squadrons.

In order to maintain readiness while the COVID-19 threat was increasing, a 14-day deployment rotation for missile field deployers was established to correlate with the incubation period of the virus and to monitor Airmen for symptoms.

Eventually, the rotation returned to it's previous 7-day schedule.

"By using a 7-day rotation, each missile squadron is able to deploy to all launch control centers in the wing," said Harmon. "Then, they are relieved by the next missile squadron in the rotation, and so on."

Thus, ICBM crews post for a week, get several days off and then have a week dedicated to training, squadron events and mission planning.

With this missile squadron deployment concept, Airmen would be guaranteed protected time off - no interruptions from training or simulator sessions.

"Feedback from crew members has been great," said Harmon. "They really seem to appreciate being able to get together as a squadron. Morale and unit cohesion are a big win for this.

With this new schedule comes stability where squadron members will be able to expect when they will deploy to the field this time next year. This allows for families to plan vacations and schedule important events, which weren't always guaranteed before.

"I am impressed with the innovative thinking behind this missile squadron deployment concept and excited for the predictability it will provide missile field deployers and families," said Col. Anita Feugate Opperman, 341st MW commander.

"We've run several rotations since the 490th led the way with the first squadron rotation in August, and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive," she added. "This is a great example of innovative ideas that come from our Airmen to increase our readiness to perform the mission while simultaneously caring for Airmen and families."