Story by SSgt Rachel Hammes on 03/30/2018The 625th Strategic Operations Squadron at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, participated in an Air Force-wide all-female missile alert crew with the U.S.'s intercontinental ballistic missile bases March 25, 2018.
March 25 is the 32nd anniversary of the first all-female Minuteman crew, who stood alert at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, in 1986. At the time, Strategic Air Command enforced a gender-specific crew policy, which required either all-male or all-female alert intercontinental ballistic missile crews due to concerns over privacy and propriety.
Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana, Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota and F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming, all have 15 launch control centers, each of which require two launch control operators. Ultimately, an all-female alert crew requires 90 female missileers to fully staff the LCCs.
While the 625th STOS does not provide missileers to operate the LCCs at those bases, the squadron still contributed to the all-female alert crew this year.
"Among other roles, we provide a qualified missileer to operate the Airborne Launch Control System that provides the ability to launch the ICBMs from the air if the LCCs were down," said Lt. Col. Hayley James, commander of the 625th STOS.
Capt. Melissa Crenshaw, the only other female missileer in the 625th STOS apart from James, flew on the Navy's E-6B Mercury during her 7-day alert shift as the Airborne Launch Control System Intelligence Officer, providing intelligence updates to the flag officer on the jet, as well as commanding the ALCS crew.
"The ALCS provides an alternate, survivable command and control for the LCCs at Malmstrom, Minot and FE Warren," James said. "It complicates adversary targeting, because it deters our adversaries from striking a limited number of ground-based command and control nodes to disable the ICBM fleet. It forces our adversaries to think twice."
While Crenshaw was the only missileer in the 625th STOS to pull alert during the shift, other women aligned with either the 625th STOS or U.S. Strategic Command helped make the day a success.
Maj. Kellie Picinni, a nuclear current operations officer at STRATCOM J38, Nuclear Current Operations, works every day to ensure that the ICBMs meant to be on alert are operational. She also confirms that the execution system databases used are identical across the wings, guaranteeing that senior leaders have a clear understanding of force status.
Picinni said that when she last pulled alert in 2006, there weren't enough female missileers to support an entire alert shift.
"I've been a 13N nuclear person for my entire career," she said, referring to the Air Force specialty code denoting nuclear and missile operations. "Lt. Col. James and I were on crew together. When we were up at Malmstrom AFB, we wouldn't have been able to send and back then we had 20 LCCs 40 women out to pull alert."
Picinni thinks that the all-female alert day is important to recognize how far the field has come since women were first welcomed to the career.
"We aren't trying to say we're better, we're just saying, Hey, we have all these women who want to be in the military and serve, too, and they want to provide deterrence like men have been doing all of these years,'" she said.
Capt. Melissa Urbansky, an ICBM force employment planner with STRATCOM J5N5, Plans and Policies Directorate, said it's important for women to feel comfortable going into a male-dominated field, and that she believes the all-female alert day helps to make that happen.
"It's nice to think about the future for those women hopefully they all feel encouraged and empowered to be that light for all of those younger folks coming after them," she said. "That's always been the struggle who do we currently look up to if there aren't many senior ranking female leaders? There are some, but there aren't many. I just hope that doing things like this, to remind them that they're powerful and worth it, and we appreciate them, can kind of keep them going for those people coming after them."
The alert day takes place in March, which is Women's History Month a fact that Urbansky appreciates.
"We celebrate Women's History Month, so how can we honorably recognize it?" she asked. "It's not that we want to have a banquet and get out of work, it's that women want to come to work and fill all of those spaces."
James said events like this are important factors in building female mentorship networks, which could prove key in encouraging women to remain in the Air Force and in the nuclear career field.
"I think having more females and growing that female network allows them to have that, especially at the more senior levels," she said. "I think it's important for females to speak up and stick up for each other, too. It's important for them to advocate for each other."
Picinni echoed James' opinion, and hopes that the women who participated in the all-female alert day can be role models for those in and out of the military.
"I think it's awesome we've gotten more women in the military to be able to provide our perspective," she said. "I think it's cool that we have so many more women that are in operations doing that mission. I like to see positive female role models, and I think our kids need to see that."