TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. --
It was on Oct. 16, 1962, that photographs were revealed to the administration of President John F. Kennedy that the Soviet Union was constructing sites for long- and short-range nuclear missiles in Cuba.
This revelation sparked what would become known as the Cuban Missile Crisis and represented some of the darkest hours in the tense relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. The Navy sent 180 ships to the Caribbean as a part of a blockade of Cuba while the B-52 bomber force, armed with atomic weapons, was ordered to stay in the air in the event of war.
While all attention was focused on the small island just 110 miles from Florida’s coast, Strategic Air Command assets were dispersed to civilian landing fields around the country in case of an attack and military installations across the nation were in a state of readiness for a potential nuclear war.
One of the installations that played a significant role in the conflict was the Oklahoma City Air Force Station, a separate installation at the time of the Crisis, but now home to the 38th Cyberspace Engineering Installation Group.
Bldg. 4029 on the installation was the location of the Combat Control Station, where all military air traffic for the southern United States was directed out of the building’s command room.
“There would’ve been colonels lined up at telephones with hotlines to different places,” said Carroll Dobbs, 38th Engineering Squadron director. “You can just imagine them manning the phones, with them mapping out movements on the board much like they do with the crisis action center we have on base now.”
During the Cuban Missile Crisis, the station was operated by the 746th Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron, who worked to direct much of the strategic air traffic related to the crisis by means of what they called the “cab” located in the middle of the Combat Control Center.
A Plexiglass planning table surrounded on three sides by Plexiglass walls, the cab, was where the 746th ACWS manually tracked aircraft movement using grease-pencils and aircraft silhouettes. The base also housed the 32nd Air Division, one of the bomber squadrons tasked with preparing a defense strategy to receive any incoming offensive aircraft and missiles in the event of a Cuban attack on the United States, according to Dobbs.
Despite its significance, the role played by Bldg. 4029 and the 746th ACWS are details that remain relatively unknown on base, even among the members of the 38th CEIG. The control room that previously served as one of the primary communication centers for the missile crisis is now associated with engineering projects and training sessions, according to Dobbs.
“When I started here in 1978, there was no mention of the Cuban Missile Crisis in relation to the command room,” Dobbs said. “At that time this was, and still is, the headquarters of the Engineering and Installation community. They had a squadron that tracked projects around the world and at that time this was the southern communications area, which tracked construction projects at air force bases all around the world.”
To ensure the historic role played here is not lost to history, a physical timeline is being created that will highlight historically significant moments in the history of Bldg. 4029 and the installation, including the work done there during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
“It’s sad that knowledge of this building has kind of gone by the wayside,” said Jenell Conley, management analyst with the 38th Operations Support Squadron and point of contact for the installation’s historical information. “Something like this would let more people know what happened here.”