Sunday, June 9, 2013


Alpha 5

During the Cuban Missile Crisis, John F. Kennedy called the 10 Minuteman missiles of the Alpha Flight Launch Control Facility (LCF) his “Ace in the Hole.”  The Strategic Air Command (SAC) stationed the nation’s first Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM) at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana. My introduction to the Air Force begins here.

USAF Security Two Man Camper Team
Among the members of the 341st Missile Wing Alpha 5 was famous, because it was haunted.  The story goes that Alpha 5 was built on an old Indian burial ground. In building the site they had separated the body of an Indian warrior and his wife. This of course results in the restless spirit of the warrior to always be up to some sort of mischief. One incident (totally unconfirmed but universally believed) is that a Camper Team member was in the back of the camper sleeping when the door suddenly blew open…and standing there was an Indian fully decked out in war paint.  The Camper blew holes all in his camper in an attempt to kill that dead Indian.  So the story goes. My story is set on a very rainy night in the early 80’s.

I was on the way to Alpha-5 with my team leader driving the camper.  Alpha-5s security system would not reset. So we would spend at least one night providing personal security for the site. 
Google Earth Belt Mountains
The rain was not an ordinary rain…it was monsoonal…add to that the snow melt…and all the rivers in the area were overflowing their banks.  Belt creek, which flowed out of the Little Belt Mountains, had already swallowed the small town of Belt.  As we followed the hard pavement deep into the mountains we could occasionally see the swollen river.  We made our turn off the hard pavement onto the long dirt road that led to Alpha-5.

The small mountain stream that ran along side the road looked like a raging river; I have never seen so much water moving so fast.  We came upon our first bridge…or where the bridge should be…instead there was a nice amount of water flowing over the bridge.  My team leader did not want to cross it, but our Security Controllers at base ordered us to try.  We did, and moments later they closed the bridge behind us…we were now stuck with no way back. 
Bridge and Alpha-5 

We arrived at the site and after going through the entry procedures my team leader and I set about trying to reset the alarm system…this included highly technical methods.  We beat the banjos with out rifle butts. We even went so far as to massage it with turtle wax. We called that “Waxing the Banjo.” Sometimes it worked, most often it did not.  And it was very unauthorized. 

My team leader was a 4 year vet. He had his 3 stripes, but something happened that kept him from making “Buck Sergeant.”  Something always happens.  It was also his last tour of duty.  In the next few days he would be leaving the service forever…and being stuck on Alpha-5 did not make him happy.  It would end up not making me happy either.
The Banjo

For me, everything in the Air Force was an adventure, few days were the same. There was always some new mission or challenge.  But for my leader the shine had gone from the apple, he was done and just wanted to go home.  I took the night shift, it was my favorite time, the team leader settled down to sleep, or so I thought.

It was not long until he was back up front with me in the camper, and he was in full complaint mode. All night long I listened to his list of things he hated…he was totally ruining any chance of my seeing an Indian ghost.

Missile Site with old Banjo System.
When the sun came up he looked at me and said, “Hey, why don’t you call the base and tell them I am sick?”

I asked, “What is wrong with you?”

He must have been a mind reader, he started to breathe deeply and grasp at his chest.  Then he said, “I am having a hard time breathing, and my chest hurts.”

I was young, but not stupid.  This guy was playing a dangerous game, but I was really getting tired of the theatre. So I radioed our security control and told them what my leader had said.  In the military we take people seriously, and they responded that way.  The security controllers asked the typical questions, does he have a fever, has he puked, etc…

Security control informed us that the roads between the base and us were closed.  To me that settled the issue.  We would just have to wait.  That did not set well with my team leader.  He began to have new and increasingly serious symptoms. I relayed them to the base as they came up.  Frankly, I was expecting him to have me tell the controllers he had passed out. 

There was only one alternative left for the Security Controllers. They would need to send out a helicopter to relieve us. Alpha-5 posed a serious risk to flying.  It is high in the mountains, and in a very narrow valley.  Winds in that area were unpredictable; the pilot told me later that Alpha-5 was a restricted flight area…the pilots did not like flying there.

Amazingly, when the team leader learned a chopper was on the way, he felt much better.

The pilot gently nudge his ship down onto the site and we were extracted.  We flew from Alpha-5 to several other sites to pick up similarly stranded Cops.  The site of the city of Belt is one that stays with me to this day…it looked like it was completely underwater.  The other sites we flew to were nearly underwater. 

Well that is my Alpha-5 story.  Never did get to see a ghost, but it was an adventure all the same.

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