Missileer recalls stand down of 351st

  • Published
  • By By Airman 1st Class Torey Griffith
  • 509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
Whiteman Air Force Base and its associate units have a rich history of providing pivotal blows to America's enemies.

From the WACO Gliders of WWI that silently flew troops and supplies behind enemy lines, to the cutting edge of stealth bomber technology, the B-2, Whiteman's revolutionary missions have made it more than a dot on a map in Missouri, rather than an invaluable resource for the country's leaders as a first line for deterrence or a last resort for annihilation.

One such resource was the 351st Strategic Missile Wing, which called Whiteman home from Feb. 1, 1963, to July 31, 1995. During the last days of the Cold War, a lieutenant named Rick Milligan drove through the gates of Whiteman, on his first assignment as a missileer.

Now sporting birds on his collar, Col. Rick Milligan, 509th Mission Support Group commander, finds himself again at Whiteman, again supporting a deterrent mission, but in a much different way.

"I got here in April of 1990," said the colonel. "The Berlin Wall had fallen, but the Soviet Union was still intact."

On Sept. 27, 1991, shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union, the 351st SMW's mission changed. President George H.W. Bush announced on national television a dramatic
"plan for peace," designed to end the Cold War. His plan called for the withdrawal from alert of all 450 Minuteman II intercontinental ballistic missiles.

"When the President came on the television and said we were shutting the silos down, it was a Friday evening, and I was at home in Warrensburg," Colonel Milligan said. "He said effective immediately, all Minuteman II weapons systems will be shut down.

"I called out to the India site, out by Holden, which I was responsible for, and said, 'Guys, what's going on?' The Strategic Air Command digital integrated network, the same system we monitor today, was sending out messages to clear the launch codes out of the systems, essentially breaking the missiles, so they could not be flown."
The missileers were stunned.

"It was unprecedented," Colonel Milligan said. "It was something none of us thought would ever happen. When President Bush announced it, we were not expecting it. That next day, whether they had an alert or not, the entire wing showed up for the pre-departure briefing, because they wanted to know what was going on. The leadership was up there briefing, saying our mission and our alert status has changed. Things changed immensely after that, and we turned into a recovery crew.

The crews, whose job had been to put a constant threat on targets in Russia, now began the process of disarming and destroying the sites that had been ready to defend America for the last 30 years.

"We knew it was a sign of the times," the colonel said.

On July 31, 1995, the 351st SMW officially deactivated.

"As we started to shut things down, there became an excess of missile launch officers," said Colonel Milligan. "I cross trained into the B-2 site activation task force here at Whiteman. I helped bring in the flight simulators and worked a lot with Northrop-Grumman, setting up the back shops and support equipment. We also brought in the technical data. The library to support the B-2 is immense."

The colonel moved to Shaw AFB, SC, to do logistics planning for the 9th Air Force, and then to Aviano AB, Italy, to devise exercise support plans for the 16th Air Force.
After 15 years at other assignments, including a three-year stint at the Pentagon, the Milligan family is excited to be back at Whiteman.

"Whiteman has changed so much from when I was here in '95. It's a growing base with new missions on the horizon," Colonel Milligan said. "It's like coming home for us. I met my wife here, my first child was born here. My son is a star quarter back at Knob Noster, and his grandparents get to see him play. It's good to be back."