Launch Control Officers (LCOs)


#1

LCOs are the guys who sit in bunkers 60 feet underground awaiting
instructions to fire our ICBMs. Their shenanigans have made the news
recently.

The news reminded me that some 40-45 years ago I heard a former LCO on
a talk show on a Washington DC station. He had written a humorous and
uncomplimentary memoir of his service as an LCO. He called up his old
bunker on the air. I didn’t pay a lot of attention. Does anyone
remember the title of the book? I’d like to read it now.

Donald Barthelme wrote a wickedly funny short story for the ‘New
Yorker’ about an LCO losing his mind. You can find it at


http://www.latexnet.org/~burnt/Game.html


#2

So…you want information on Launch Control Officers from a vehicle related forum? I guess you will go to a VW forum for questions about Rolls Royce or a sheep forum to find out about your cat. Bear in mind that a LCO has a very important job to do in the defense of this country. There are bad apples in every profession and the suicide rates for people in high stress positions are very high. Add to this the sensationalism thrown into every news article from all the media and you will never know the real truth behind the story. No…I’ve never been an LCO…all of my missiles were launched from an airborne platform.


#3

Brings to mind that for many years the launch codes were set to all zeros.
Curtis LeMay & company were worried it might take too much time getting permission from the president to start armageddon.
Lots of information about nukes here.


#4

Well, I imagine its not a job with a lot of personal fulfillment.

“I go to work and do NOTHING unless and until I get a call instructing me to end civilization as we know it.”


#5

I assume you’re quoting from the book.
But the goal was to PREVENT an end to civilization as WE know it… and to END the enemy’s civilization as THEY know it!


#6

@TSM: I’m not maligning the military in general…I’m just saying that the guy in charge of the Doomsday button has to reailze his job amounts to a lifetime of readiness drills with–potentially–one important call at the end of his (and everyone else’s) career.

I would imagine that weighs on you…

I know for a fact I’d be tempermentally unsuited for the job. I’d know that there’s no possible way launching ICBMs could not be a disaster…so I’d know, in advance, that I’d disobey the order…so I’d have to deal with the knowledge I was a “sleeper” every normal day…which would lead me to severe morale issues if I could not transfer to a more conventional detail within the military.

They must have some pretty interesting desired psych profiles for that job!


#7

I thought all those underground bunkers were abandoned years ago. Moved up to mobile rail launch systems.

And for some reasons there was a lot more rail activity that rattled the windows due to heavy loads while Bush was in office, as the line is usually primarily passenger, and no window rattle.

A friend recommended this book to me, I have not gotten to it yet but if you could give me the cliff notes I will like your post.

Now this guy is an apple guy (as in growing apples in an orchard) and he was telling me of a story of his uncle that so sounded like one of my fav’s, the harvester by Gene Stratton Porter, That I recommended it to him. He came back with “How Private George W. Peck Single-Handedly Won the Civil War” as one of his enjoyables,

Hoping random does not mind we are now a book post!


#8

Now it is not closed? Curious.


#9

It started out as a book post. When looking for the book I mentioned on Amazon I found ‘The Missilemen ; A Stirring Picture Story of a New Breed of Men’

There was a plan to move ICBMs from bunkers to rails in the Carter & Reagan era. The states in which it would have been based opposed it; Reagan eventually did. I don’t remember it ever getting implemented.


#10

USAF still has 450 Minuteman III’s in silos in Montana, North Dakota, and Wyoming.


#11

Meanjoe, I respect your candor and honesty.

Your comments weigh on me because it’s based on erroneous assumptions about what serving in the military is about. And I think it demeans military personnel, who sacrifice and serve to keep this country safe. Having been called a “baby burner” and many much more foul adjectives for having participated in the bombing of Hanoi, I know what military service is like, and I know how much derogatory comments can hurt those who are doing their best to serve our country honestly and honorably. I’m proud of my dad having served in WWII, and recognize that had he and millions of others not served there are many millions, perhaps billions, of people throughout who would not be free today. I’m proud of my service during Viet Nam, even though I may have mixed emotions about the war itself. And I’m proud of my son’s service in Afghanistan, even though I feel the war itself is Viet Nam all over again.

That “life of readiness drills” that you malign… readiness, alertness, and effectiveness ARE the job. And should we come under attack, we’d damn well BETTER be ready. Without constant training, drilling, preparation, and commitment, Seal Team Six would not have been able to carry out their missions that make us so proud. And, if we ever ARE attacked, that drilling and preparation, and the ORIs (war games) will all have been well worth it. It is the military’s primary responsibility to STAY constantly prepared in order to PREVENT war. The reason we were never attacked until 9/11 is because since WWII we’ve been the most powerful nation on earth. Yes, hearing someone malign the men and women who keep us that way weighs on me.

Yes, to answer your question directly, knowing that you may have to use weapons that might kill millions is a great weight. And those that maintain their readiness to do so have my utmost respect. And believe me, time in LCFs is not the relaxing vacation you think it is. It does all require a very special ability to live with the responsibility and the stress. Serving in the military in any capacity has been repeatedly proven to be by far the most stressful career one can choose. I honor those that make a career doing it.

And yes, there are still underground missiles and LCFs. And there are still men and women making the great sacrifice of living always ready to go to war. And I personally guarantee that every one of them prays that they’ll never have to launch one of those missiles. But if they ever need to, I honor them and pray for them.


#12

@the_same_mountainbike that is the longest and most heartfelt post, thanks. Nothing is ever easy.


#13

Thanks for your comments TSM. I agree. My hats off to those serving and who served. Last week we watched “Saving Chance”, a true story of respect and sacrifice. I guess you had to live through the 50’s and 60’s and the Cuban missile crisis and the whole cold war thing to appreciate the importance of the missles as deterant, and appreciate those kids who have now volunteered to put their lives on the line. Like Ronnie said, it only takes one generation to lose your liberty and we should not be so quick to give our freedoms up.


#14

Sincere thanks guys. And I mean that from the heart.
TSM


#15

Wait. What did I say that was dove-ish?

I said that launching ICBMs against a nation capable of launching its own ICBMs is mutually assured destruction (per military doctrine). Knowing that doing your job equates to a global “goodnight, Irene” might tend to wear on you. It might also require STRINGENT psych testing to determine who exactly is sufficiently obedient to snuff humanity. …I would imagine few people are.

Also, they do serve a purpose…if en enemy had reason to suspect LCOs were apt to question orders with skepticism, they might be emboldened to strike first.


#16

LCOs do undergo extensive psych profiling, as well as in-depth security checks, and routine scheduled psych assessments during their service period. Many, even after qualifying for the job, wash out from the program during training before ever seeing a silo. It takes a very special man/woman to that job. And once on the job, they’re under constant monitoring and oversight.


#17

Speaking of Curtis LeMay and armageddon, when it was discovered that Russia had deployed nukes to
Cuba, General LeMay advised President Kennedy to attack the sites with air strikes, which could well have escalated into nuclear war. Kennedy consulted with Eisenhower, who said he didn’t think an attack would bring retaliation from Russia.

Fortunately Kennedy did not allow himself to be goaded into military action by LeMay et al. Otherwise many of us could have been on the receiving end of a Nagasaki or Hiroshima. At the time my parents lived near New York City, which would have been a prime target, and I was just about to be born.

"Robert McNamara told David Talbot in an interview for the book Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years about Curtis LeMay’s views on nuclear war. “LeMay’s view was very simple. He thought the West, and the U.S. in particular, was going to have to fight a nuclear war with the Soviet Union, and he was absolutely certain of that. Therefore, he believed that we should fight it sooner rather than later, when we had a greater advantage in nuclear power, and it would result in fewer casualties in the United States.”

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAlemay.htm

Scary guy. Thank God he was wrong.


#18

Yeah and vica versa too. Remember Nikita pounding his shoe on the podium saying he would bury us? Tough times back then and there were looneys on both sides. It seems like a lot of them have moved to the middle east now.


#19

Khruschev was quite sane and was not eager to see the USSR incinerated. He knew they would be on the losing end of a nuclear exchange. The shoe pounding and bluster were mere theater. Whereas LeMay believed the US would come out ahead in a nuclear exchange and thought the sooner, the better.

So Khruschev was the saner of the two, IMO. Anyway, the Cold War is over and restraint and wisdom prevailed.


#20

Mr. missileman: cartalk.com describes this forum as a place to discuss
all the topics of the day.

Reading Mr Barthelme’s story when it was published tipped me to
reading about LCOs. At the time (the '60s) the AF didn’t accept
volunteers, didn’t assign men (they were all men) with wives or
children, didn’t allow them to reënlist, didn’t assign men they
wanted to keep in the AF. We had a draft back then: the AF had enough
officer candidates to put some in dead-end jobs. It didn’t surprise
me that some of them didn’t take their duty seriously.

The AF had a college extension program: many LCOs spent their time
studying for advanced degrees, often an MBA.

An old lady in church told me her nephew had a really important job in
the AF: he launched the nuclear missiles! I kept my counsel.