HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah – President Theodore Roosevelt said, “Speak softly and carry a big stick”; for the United States, the triad of air, sea and land based nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles is that big stick and requires round the clock professionals to operate and maintain.
Being in charge of keeping two-thirds of the nuclear triad operational is no small feat and for the 309th Missile Maintenance Group at Hill Air Force Base, one they pride themselves on no matter what the obstacle.
Currently that obstacle comes in the form of the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19 and the worldwide pandemic it has caused.
As part of the Ogden Air Logistics Complex, the mission of the 309th MMXG is to be a global leader providing quality depot maintenance, modification and manufacturing for a wide array of nuclear enterprise equipment and strategic ground support systems for intercontinental ballistic missiles and air launched cruise missiles in addition to a wide variety of conventional weapon systems.
Their mission spans seven states and five Air Force bases around the country where fulfilling their mission now requires a new look and many new procedures, most notable of those is the wearing of a face covering and being social distanced from other unit members that number over 750 strong.
Col. Kenneth Benton, 309 Missile Maintenance Group commander, answered several questions regarding the ways the Group is adjusting to complete their mission as part of the Defense Industrial Base.
About performing their duties, Benton said, “Several changes have allowed the Group to strike a balance; teleworking has been the primary change. Prior to COVID-19 only a few teammates were being able to telework, ultimately that number grew to more than 17% of the group," Benton said. "In addition to teleworking, we have implemented staggered start times for some shift workers as well as more visible mitigation actions like wearing masks and cleaning routines in accordance with CDC guidance.”
About how long these changes will last: “The staggered shifts and mitigation actions will last as long as COVID-19 is a safety concern for our workforce and teleworking may be here to stay. The workforce is incredibly resilient and has adapted well to the changes. This team understands all too well the critical nature of their mission and their dedication to duty is no match for even a crisis of this magnitude.”
The Missile Maintenance Group has a large geographically separated workforce and are having to make adjustments as well, “The changes experienced by the GSUs were the most dynamic in the Group. Our depot field teams interact with the operational ICBM wings on a daily basis. As a result, not only did they adopt mitigation strategies directed by the Air Force Sustainment Center, but they also adapted to new ways of doing business directed by Air Force Global Strike Command. One example of this was the decision to follow AFGSC’s lead and leave one DFT at each GSU home on disciplined quarantine in order to have a spare team available in the event of losing one due to illness.”
“Recognizing the potential for long-term telework capabilities is a positive result. Beyond that, facing and prevailing over a difficult challenge brings teams closer together and the MMXG is no exception. The Group is a stronger more cohesive organization as it looks toward returning to full capacity,” Benton said.
The men and women of the Missile Maintenance Group are poised to keep the big stick ready if the call ever comes, no matter what might try to stop them, large or microscopic.