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I live in the Florida Keys. I've been in the military and worked inside the Beltway. I've had 22 technical books and two novels published. I fly, boat, dive, shoot, and swim pretty damn well.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

NOW! I Know What I Did in 1969.. and WHY!

I was a promotable Captain (meaning a First Lt. on the promotion list) working at the SAGE 28th Air Defense Division in Great Falls, Montana in 1969. In October, we were called in for a high level alert. This wasn't unusual. We had practice alerts practically every month.

During these alerts we'd scramble in and run a practice war with the SAGE computers in simulation mode for a few hours. Then, we'd go home, get some sleep, and resume a normal schedule.

But, during this alert we were ordered to put the radar sites on the highest sensitivity and pattern of frequency diversity and to load the interceptors with "war shots"... real missiles.

It was my understanding that some interceptors were loaded with missiles armed with nuclear warheads.

And, then we sat. Cocked and loaded with no place to go. The TV news didn't show any international problems. But, this was much different from what we did on regular alerts. After about 18 hours, we were allowed to send a small percentage of the "Combat Crew" home for six hours with an immediate recall.

Things REALLY got interesting when the Canadians on our crews "stood down" from the high level of alert. We had about 20% of our crew as NORAD Canadians. They went on a regular work schedule while the rest of us continued with Port and Starboard manning.

I remember that the F-106s, sitting on the ramps all loaded and fueled, were going off ready status like crazy. These things are meant to FLY, not sit fat and bloated. They leaked and creaked. The effort to maintain security around "cocked and loaded" birds was immense in terms of manpower. As I remember, one Fighter Squadron squadron commander got into his 106 and flew supersonic to Malmstrom to find out "what the hell is going on."

After a little more than 3 days, we stood down the force and went back to regular peacetime status. Once, I heard a rumor that a Soviet submarine had been "surfaced" in San Francisco Bay and that's why we were on alert. That was never confirmed.

Well, FINALLY, in WIRED Magazine, I got the story.

According to WIRED's Jeremi Suri,

"Codenamed Giant Lance, Nixon's plan was the culmination of a strategy of premeditated madness he had developed with national security adviser Henry Kissinger. The details of this episode remained secret for 35 years and have never been fully told. Now, thanks to documents released through the Freedom of Information Act, it's clear that Giant Lance was the leading example of what historians came to call the "madman theory": Nixon's notion that faked, finger-on-the-button rage could bring the Soviets to heel.
Nixon and Kissinger put the plan in motion on October 10, sending the US military's Strategic Air Command an urgent order to prepare for a possible confrontation: They wanted the most powerful thermonuclear weapons in the US arsenal readied for immediate use against the Soviet Union. The mission was so secretive that even senior military officers following the orders — including the SAC commander himself — were not informed of its true purpose."

That was it. Now, 40 years later I know. We had F-106s locked and loaded with defensive nuclear missiles.... and sitting on the ramp leaking... while the B-52s were doing orbits near Russian airspace.

And... you THINK our system of checks and balances could prevent this kind of thing.

A very interesting read! -- FJD

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