The shield of the Strategic Air Command depicts an armored fist from which springs an olive branch and three red lightning bolts. Above some greenery, a large sign on a stone wall reads:


In the distance, a vehicle passes by. At an entrance gate, numerous vehicles -- trucks, cars, etc. -- enter and exit the base. A couple of guards -- in green uniforms and red berets -- smile and smartly salute at the vehicles passing through. Inside the base, a model of a missile stands at one end of a busy street lined with flagpoles. On a building, a sign reads:

Welcome to

A helicopter flies over. We pan down to an undistinguished-looking white building.


Inside the building, Colonel Jim Ryan, a pleasant, avuncular man with a touch of gray in his sideburns, stands in front of a gorgeous color photograph of a missile, silhouetted against the sun, in flight over an ocean. The Colonel, at the front of the room, casually leans on a lectern, and addresses a group of trainees who sit at desks, listening politely.

THE COLONEL: Good morning. I'm Colonel Jim Ryan. I'm the commander of the 4315th Combat Group Training Squadron and I want to welcome you to Vandenberg Air Force Base and to initial qualification and training for the Minuteman Improved Launch Control System at Whiteman Air Force Base and Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana. I want to welcome you to one of the most challenging careers in the United States Air Force, the land-based ICBM. You know, our theory of nuclear deterrence -- which we're gonna talk about a lot tomorrow, by the way, when we have our [PRAPS?] which is our Professional Responsibility Seminar. I'm gonna talk a lot about your responsibilities, the awesome responsibility that you're gonna have as crew members when you go down deep into the bowels of the earth...

The trainees, some of whom we will come to know later, listen with subdued faces and varying degrees of attentiveness.

THE COLONEL: ... and are responsible for ten missiles, each with one nuclear warhead on 'em -- and you could be responsible for your whole squadron's missiles of fifty nuclear weapons, fifty missiles with nuclear weapons on each one. Anyway, I want to welcome you to this. And you're part of the strategic triad which consists of land-based ICBMs, sub-launched ballistic missiles and then bombers. But the bulk of the deterrent force is carried by the land-based ICBM because we maintain 98% alert rates. They don't maintain near that in the sub-launched ballistic missile force or the bomber force. Mainly because it's prohibitively expensive. So, the day-to-day nuclear deterrence of this country is carried on by a land-based ICBM force. And you're gonna be a part of that. Before you are, though, you're gonna go through a tough program here. This is considered to be one of the toughest schools in the United States Air Force. We've had folks here who have come in from pilot training -- they didn't make it in pilot training because they got airsick or whatever -- and they come through missile training and they'll tell me that this is ten times tougher than pilot training, the course. Mainly because we compress into fourteen weeks, you know, a very, very complex weapons system. And you're going to learn that weapons system from stem to stern, if I can say that, use that Navy term. You're gonna know all the systems, you're gonna know all the command and control. You're gonna know all the safety systems, and all the security requirements and so forth. And we do that in fourteen weeks. So, it's a big plateful.

While the others look on quietly, one of the trainees, Shawn, rocks back and forth in his chair and yawns.


Some more undistinguished-looking white buildings. A car on the street waiting for oncoming traffic to pass so that it can make a left turn. Other cars must wait behind it. Roadside signs pointing to FAMILY SERVICE and the HOUSING OFFICE. What looks like a modern office building. A smaller white building with a sign on it that reads:



The next day. The room contains maps, mock-ups of warheads, etc. The Colonel sits at the front of the room addressing most of the same trainees as yesterday. Beside him sits the Chaplain, a balding man who grins a lot. Both hold Styrofoam cups, apparently drinking coffee. The trainees, most in shirt sleeves, sit at desks.

THE COLONEL: What we're gonna do today is talk about the awesome responsibilities that you're gonna have as crew members. And we're gonna have a little seminar and hopefully we'll get good dialogue going here on, you know, the moral responsibilities, and then at the end of this day, we're gonna ask you to sign a piece of paper that says that you have thought of all the moral implications about inserting launch keys and that you have no reservations that if the President of the United States deems that our way of life is threatened and that it's about to be over, that you have no hesitation once that you have authenticated the message, you know that it's the President talking, that you'll insert your launch keys and launch those missiles. And you know full well the consequences of launching those missiles which are equipped with nuclear warheads and the great devastation that that'll bring. And we want you to think about that. We don't want you to capriciously go through this program and be robots in inserting launch keys. We want you to fully comprehend the awesomeness of this responsibility. Now, to kind of begin this seminar, I'd like to just throw out a question. And I want to talk about the legality or illegality of orders. Is there such a thing as an illegal order? Anybody?

A trainee, virtually the only one in the room wearing a jacket, responds.

JACKETED TRAINEE: An order from authority that's not duly constituted. Perhaps the wing commander might tell you to fly your airplane somewhere that you know is not-- he's not empowered to be able to direct that.

THE COLONEL: Okay. Very good, [?]. You have... Yes, ma'am? Back there.

In the back of the room, a trainee named Margo responds.

MARGO: Isn't it just something that would be in conflict with a regulation or a directive?

THE COLONEL: Okay. Certainly. Yeah. We have regulations, obviously, that would prohibit me from ordering someone to go solicit prostitutes or something like that. Yeah, that's clearly illegal because it violates regulation. Okay, uh, let me make this a little bit tougher. Okay, how many remember the My Lai incident that occurred during the Vietnam War? Yeah? Can you just sort of summarize--? And remember, we don't want to cast moral judgment on Lieutenant Calley or any of the people involved but there's a purpose for kind of reviewing this. Would you kind of tell me a little about that incident?

MOUSTACHED TRAINEE: I don't know that much about it but I -- from what I remember -- Lieutenant Calley felt that he had been ordered to by his superiors to enter a village and basically take the village out. And that included killing women and children. And, of course, uh... In my opinion, it was an illegal order, but -- That's-that's basically all I know about it.

THE COLONEL: Okay. Anybody want to try and say a little bit more to put this thing in perspective? Okay, let me just say some things about that-that whole-- Yeah, did you have a point that you want to make?

A trainee shakes his head, No.

THE COLONEL: Okay... First of all, that war-- Warfare is becoming much more complex. Sometime back in history, you know, the combatants were clearly identified, they had lines of battle, and -- I don't mean to imply that warfare was ever pleasant or nice, because, you know, after the combatants were out there fighting then there was a rape and pillage that went on after that -- but, uh, at least, you know, you could tell who the enemy was. And, of course, in Vietnam it was very, very difficult because there were clearly the North Vietnamese regulars who wore a uniform such as we wore but there were also an enemy, the Viet Cong, who were in South Vietnam who were involved in sabotage and that sort of thing and they wore the same garb as peasants. And they weren't always men either. They were women and in some cases very young men who might be classified as children. So it made it very, very complex as to who the enemy was. But basically what happened at My Lai, as best that we can recount, was that Lieutenant Calley, he says, received some orders to waste some civilians. And there were some older men and women, supposedly, and some children and others. Okay. So, here he was, person on the spot, he received an order to waste and-- Is that an illegal or a legal order that he received? Anybody got any thoughts on that? And why? (pause) Okay? Yes, sir?

JACKETED TRAINEE: Well, sir, maybe he was being asked to violate the laws and those were not lawful combatants that he was-- They weren't armed perhaps. They weren't uniformed members of an opposing force. They posed no threat perhaps to his, er, his platoon.

THE COLONEL: Okay. That's a very good point. Okay. Basically, he's saying a measured response. Okay. Let's-let's just go back a little bit into a court of law. For example, when a person goes on trial in this country, murder is clearly illegal and immoral as well. Okay? But does that mean that killing is always illegal? Is killing someone always illegal? Now, when is it not illegal?

TRAINEE: Well, there's situations where it's justified. In self-defense or in prevention of a serious felony.

THE COLONEL: Okay. Absolutely. Yes, ma'am?

MARGO: Execution by the state.

THE COLONEL: Okay. Execution by the state. Okay. And that's under-- There're may people who have different views on that but, ah, clearly-- And even though there are those of certain religious persuasions that say that you really ought not kill even in self-defense, generally, our Judeo-Christian ethic would say that, you know, if you are seriously threatened, your life is threatened, that you have the right -- both the legal and moral right -- to defend yourself. (mimes a gun with his thumb and forefinger) Okay, but I want to talk about that measured response. Does that mean necessarily that if you're threatened that you can go for the jugular?

JACKETED TRAINEE: No, sir. Minimum force would be the object.

THE COLONEL: Yeah, minimum force required to repel the attacker. Okay. Okay, I hope all these things are starting to, you know, make a point here. Because we're talking about a measured response. Okay. Um... So, tough-- These are not easy questions. You know, there're not easy answers to these questions. Okay. Let me talk about the Holocaust a little bit. How many people remember the Holocaust? Or reading about the Holocaust? You don't remember it. I do. Yes, ma'am? Can you kind of summarize that one for us?

MARGO: Nazi Germany under Hitler, the decision was made at the higher levels that people of Jewish descent, people of Gypsy descent, a lot of Catholics, etc., were not necessarily as human as the Aryan race and they were put in concentration camps. And in death camps also. And, uh, a total of about seven million people, I believe, were killed during World War II, before and during World War II, during the Holocaust. Mostly Jewish, but also most of the Gypsies that were left in Europe.

THE COLONEL: Okay. What happened after World War II? Did any of those people come to trial that were responsible for this?

Margo nods, but another trainee answers.

ANOTHER TRAINEE: That'd be the Nuremberg trials.

THE COLONEL: Yeah. The Nuremberg trials. Okay. Who tried whom at the Nuremberg trials?

EDDIE: It was a contingent of the Allied countries, I think, over there that tried 'em at Nuremberg.

THE COLONEL: Okay. And what was the defense of most of those defendants?

MARGO: Following orders.

THE COLONEL: Following orders. And what basically was the view of those that were the ones that were conducting the trials? Yeah?

MOUSTACHED TRAINEE: There's a point -- that a person has to take responsibility for his own actions. He can't simply rotely follow orders. He's gotta think out a moral judgment. He's got to make a moral judgment and say 'I can only go so far. I can't take these orders any farther because they violate certain moral principles.'

THE COLONEL: Okay. Now what makes this world we're in very very complex is that as you go down into the bowels of the earth every night, you may not get an opportunity as such to evaluate the situation. Although you're going to be gettin' intelligence reports. You're not going to be working completely in a vacuum. You're not gonna get that Klaxon at night that says, 'Okay, our way of life is threatened, probably. Insert your keys and launch your weapons.' You're going to be getting the intelligence build-up and so forth that goes along with that. But the problem with our business is that, you know, we have to make certain assessments long before that Klaxon rings. And this is why we start right here. And all we're gonna do -- we're not gonna do very much in a half hour, forty-five minutes -- we're not gonna resolve these problems for you -- but what we're trying to do is to plant the seed so that you can talk about this. Because you have to, as you go through our program, decide in your own mind that -- that our way of life is such and that our command and control system and our weapon system is such that the President of the United States is not gonna ask you to insert those launch keys until, you know, there's just no other option, it's the final solution. And, you know, you have to -- It's important that you understand how all that works in order to understand that and believe that. It also is important that you understand -- and I guarantee you, you will when you finish our school -- that you understand all of the multi-layered systems that we have to insure that you're not going to get a spurious order or that some kook isn't gonna be sending the order down and you're gonna be launching in anger that is not authorized by the one person -- the one person, don't ever forget this -- who can authorize a launch and that's the President of the United States. Any other thoughts or reflections on this? Yes, ma'am?

MARGO: Just something that I've always thought. Again, I was stationed at Whiteman. If you look at military history -- and I think there are several history buffs here -- they can attest to the fact that normally a war is never started against a nation that's prepared for it. Whenever there has been a war in history, it's a surprise attack against a nation that is not armed as well as it could be. And as long as people are ready and people do continue to be ready, equipment-wise, the odds of our ever having to use the equipment are so low that they're almost non-existent. Because we are prepared.

THE COLONEL: Anybody else have anything they'd like to say? Yes?

MOUSTACHED TRAINEE: I spent six years as a police officer and I know I often, on a smaller scale, ran across the same questions, Why do you carry a gun? You know, there are certain police departments across the world that don't allow their officers, by and large, to carry weapons because they feel that it's an inhibiting factor. And I felt that I carried a weapon mainly to keep the peace and to protect myself because there are elements out there that do not have the same value structure that I have and do not consider life all that worthwhile and would be very very willing to kill me or someone else to achieve the aims that they really want to. And that's something that I remember as a young officer struggling with. And I came to grips with it, simply, in a situation where I did have to -- almost -- defend myself and I'm very happy that I had a weapon there because -- I didn't have to use it -- but it was an inhibiting factor in, you know -- that I think it helped deter any more violence.

The Colonel turns to the Chaplain.

THE COLONEL: Chaplain [?]...

THE CHAPLAIN: The first mission I ever flew as a combat-ready crew member was over Southeast Asia, dropping live bombs. There's some more stories that go along with that but the point of that story is to say that the first day that you're on-- um, you pull crew duty, the first day that you go down in a hole, the first day you sit in front of that console may be the day that you're gonna be asked to respond with the greatest integrity that you have. Now's the time to start preparing for that. You can't wait and say, 'Hey, I'll study all about these kinds of issues during some of my crew time or during my crew tours. I'll answer those questions later.' You may not have an opportunity to answer those questions. You may be asked the question before you're ready to respond if you try to wait.

THE COLONEL: In my judgment, as long as you people -- and I mean you people, because this is what you're gonna be doing -- as long as you're down there and you're highly-trained and you're capable and you have the will, you know, to respond to the President of this nation, that should our way of life be threatened, it's gonna be snuffed out, that you'll launch your weapons. So, deterrence really is two steps back from that. Deterrence is two steps back from that. That knowing that, the Soviet Union -- or anybody else who has the capability to bomb us back to the Dark Ages -- won't do it because the risks are unacceptable. That's what deterrence is all about. And it's tough. It's tough because you're down there and you have at your fingertips -- not really at your fingertips 'cause you've got a lot of command and control to go through -- but you have at your fingertips, you know, the power to launch the world into nuclear darkness. I want you to sort of remember this. What makes our nation great, and what makes our Air Force and our military forces so great, is that we respond to the American people. General [Doherty?] -- and you'll hear me talk about him a lot -- There's an article that I've asked you all to read that General [Doherty?] wrote and it's called "Ours is an Honorable Profession". I really want you to read that. I keep my copy -- it's dog-eared -- but it is an honorable profession. And someone asked him one time when he was at CINCSAC, he said, 'General, how secure are our bases?' in other words, you know -- the security policeman back there would understand this -- and General Dougherty answered this way: He said, 'Our bases are as secure as the American people want them to be.' Generally speaking, we don't want our bases to be armed camps. Our bases belong to the American people. We are servants of the American people and we do everything we can to let people come on our bases. Now, obviously, there are certain things that we've got to protect against that outer fringe out there that you have in any society, the nuts, but -- you know, who'd seek to come in and kill people and destroy property and that sort of thing -- but... We are the servants of the American people. They ask a great deal of us. They ask, you know, a commitment, a professionalism over and above what they ask of anybody else who might be working in some other walk of life. It's a tremendous charge to all of us. And you, who are going to be going down with this awesome responsibility have an even greater responsibility beyond that, beyond the normal Air Force officer. And, every once in a while, when you're down there on alert and, you know, when you've run your checks and done all those things and get a chance to reflect, please reflect on that. That the American people -- they really trust us. They trust us to protect them. They trust us to make good judgments. They trust us, you know, not to do something that would ever make them ashamed of us. This is a Professional Responsibility Seminar. And this is the first day before you get into some very intense training on a very complex weapons system. And when you finish here, you will understand the weapon system but you always need to reflect on your professional responsibilities.


The white SPACE AND MISSILE building. An airplane flies overhead. Various shots of cars driving through an intersection with a stoplight and around the base. A scale model of a missile in the distance. A one story white building. INT. CLASSROOM - FIREARM TRAINING

Inside the white building, Brooks, a young instructor with a small moustache, wears combat fatigues and leads the packed class. Virtually everyone wears green.

BROOKS: Never point a weapon at anything unless you intend to shoot it. A lot of people out on the firing line, something goes wrong with their weapon, they forget they have a pistol in their hand -- malfunction, somethin's wrong -- they start looking for an instructor and they start moving left and right, moving their body. (he picks up a pistol and demonstrates) Where's the barrel pointing? Well, usually, it's pointed at the shooter next to 'em or the instructor, something like that. Well, I really didn't think they were gonna shoot that person, so... Make sure that you always keep your weapon pointed straight and level or at your target but always treat every weapon as if it was loaded.

A trainee sets an unloaded gun on the desk in front of him next to some bullets.

BROOKS: Too many times a lot of people think it's not loaded up with any ammunition, they'll pick the weapons up and -- might be a mental lapse or whatever -- and they'll just start pullin' the trigger. I've even seen it as far as instructors sometimes or shooters who have used guns for many a length of time. They'll just start firing this weapon or dry firing it, not realizing that sometimes there is a round in the chambers and therefore -- boom -- it goes off, 'kay? Many, many times it has happened. A good friend of mine, he went home, he -- shotgun, thought it was cleared after last time he went out huntin' -- and he pointed it. He was pointin' it at his wife. He was pointin' it at his kids. Really dumb. And then he pointed it at his TV and pulled the trigger and blew his TV all apart, you know? So, he just got through pointin' it at his wife, just got through pointin' it at his kids, he didn't know it. And then he went into the shake factor for a little bit because of what he could have done. So, do make sure -- especially today, the instructors'll be checking the weapons -- but when you're firin' 'em, when you get done shooting, make sure that the weapon is clear. Okay? And then before you pick it up, always treat it as if it was loaded. Okay?

An absurdly oversized mock-up of a gun, mounted for display, on a wheeled cart.

BROOKS: First off, as you can look at it, it's an M-15 Smith and Wesson Combat Masterpiece. That's the name that the Air Force places on this weapon, Combat Masterpiece, okay? Supposedly, sometimes, you will -- Supposedly gonna use it in combat. Okay? M-15 Smith and Wesson Combat Masterpiece, 'kay? And it fires six shots, okay? It's a six cylinder weapon. It fires in two modes -- and you will be using both modes of fire. Now if you can see my good mock-up, the one that I take over to [?] anytime I want free food...

Brooks wheels the giant gun so that the class can get a good view of it.

BROOKS: ... and they do give me free food whenever I wheel this in there and say 'Cheeseburgers' or whatever. Two modes of fire. Single action and double action. 'Kay? Most of the time, you should be using single action. And single action is nothing more but...

Using two hands, Brooks cocks the gun's oversized hammer.

BROOKS: ... reaching up -- you're not gonna have to use two hands -- but reaching up and cocking the hammer, just like that. For a person to shoot 'expert', you must use this mode of fire most of the time during the course. You will have to use the other type later on. But most of the time you should use single action -- if you want to shoot good today. That's nothing more but reaching up and cocking the hammer. When you're ready to fire...

Brooks pulls the trigger and the hammer strikes.

BROOKS: Pull the trigger and it's gonna fire. Okay? That's single action. Double action, the other mode of firing is nothing more but pulling the...

Using two hands, Brooks tries to pull the trigger but the cylinder jams. He fixes it and grins.

BROOKS: Pulling the trigger ...

Brooks pulls the trigger and the hammer strikes.

BROOKS: ...till it fires. Just like so. 'Kay? And that's the other mode of firing that you will be using. So, there's two modes of firing you will use called single action and double action. Okay?

Brooks continues to lecture, walking up and down the aisle among the trainees.

BROOKS: The maximum effective range is fifty yards. Now, fifty yards. Think about it. Maximum effective. That's what me and you as an average shooter can consistently hit a man-sized target. Fifty yards. Meaning, you should pick up a weapon, eight rounds out of ten, you should place it pretty good on a target. Okay, a man-sized target.


A large group of trainees stand waiting to shoot at targets.

A SHOOTER: I think I'd better wear my shoes.

A trainer in a nearby booth addresses them over a public address system.

TRAINER IN BOOTH: Shooters, headsets on. Move forward and lay down.

The trainees put their headsets on, move forward, and lay down next to their weapons.

TRAINER IN BOOTH: Once you lay down, reach over and grab five rounds. Once you have five rounds in your hand, load and lock.

The trainees insert bullets into the cylinders of the guns and close them. Long shot of a lengthy line of guns being loaded and pointed at the targets.

TRAINER IN BOOTH: Remember whatever the instructors have been telling you. Some of you might have to listen up. Quit doin' the things that you did on the previous ten rounds. Listen to your instructors. Some of you are gonna have to listen up a little bit harder.

The trainer in the booth surveys the scene and speaks into his microphone.

TRAINER IN BOOTH: All these rounds from here on out are for qualification scores. Two forty-five or better to qualify. It's gonna be six rounds, prone position. Get in a good position. We will not start the time limit until the very first round goes off. So the time limit does not start when I say, 'Commence fire' but it starts when I hear that first round go off. Plenty of time. Forty-five seconds for six rounds. Instructors! Is the line ready?! The line is ready! Shooters! Commence fire!

A brief pause and then the first round goes off. Then everyone starts firing. As the trainees pull the triggers and the hammers strike, the guns jerk slightly upward in their hands. One trainee's gun seems to jam. Finally, a buzzer sounds to indicate the time limit is up.


One last gunshot is heard.


At the targets, the trainees stand with their instructors discussing the results. One instructor in a beret talks with a trainee, their headsets still around their necks.

INSTRUCTOR: ... counter-clockwise, to the left.

TRAINEE: To the left?


TRAINEE: To the left?

INSTRUCTOR: I'd bring it up two clicks. To the left, two clicks.

TRAINEE: Left two clicks?

INSTRUCTOR: Yeah. 'Cause that's a fair bet. You might even want to come right two clicks, too.

TRAINEE: I'll go left.

INSTRUCTOR (off the holes in the target): 'Cuz you've got a good group.

TRAINEE: I'll go left.

INSTRUCTOR: Well, no. Go left on your top screw, bring it up.


INSTRUCTOR: And then go right on your side screw to bring it to the right.

TRAINEE: How many on the right?

INSTRUCTOR: 'Cause the one on the side is for windage. I'd go two clicks both ways.


INSTRUCTOR: Two clicks up, two clicks right. 'Cause you've got a real good group here. (points to holes in the target) But this is good here. All right, these count for ten. Right here. If you nick that line, once you nick that line that's gonna give you ten points. You're lookin' good, lookin' real good.

TRAINEE: Thank you.

INSTRUCTOR: Lookin' real good.

The instructor turns to the next trainee.

INSTRUCTOR: You're all over the target. He's dead.


INSTRUCTOR: You definitely got him. (off another instructor) Did he give you site correction?

ANOTHER TRAINEE: No. He said it was okay.

INSTRUCTOR: Yeah, 'cause you're all over the place and there's no real correction you can make on it. Don't jerk the trigger.

Someone puts black tape over the bullet holes in the black target.

INSTRUCTOR: Huh? It's dead. The gun should surprise you when it goes off.


INSTRUCTOR: That means then you are -- you are squeezin' the trigger.

ANOTHER TRAINEE: And I'm not breathing, so tell me something else.

INSTRUCTOR: You're not turning blue yet.

ANOTHER TRAINEE: I don't breathe.

INSTRUCTOR: We don't have to pick you up off the range, though.

ANOTHER TRAINEE: And when I do this with this site, I don't breathe till after it's gone.

INSTRUCTOR: You got four on the ten right here. 'Cause, remember all's it has to do is nick the line. Once it tears that line there, that's ten. That's ten. You're shootin' good. Just keep away from this six ring.


An airplane flies slowly overhead. A truck drives past a yellow school building. A sign out front reads:

4315th CCTS

Some people enter the building, its green doors shutting behind them.


Inside the building, it's the first day of class. The trainees sit at tables with open books before them. A captain sits with them and leads the class.

CAPTAIN: As far as background information, of course, I came from Whiteman. I was at Whiteman for four years. During my four years there, I was two years on line, two years in the shop. I was a [?] board evaluator. Then I came out here to instruct. I've been out here two years this month. As far as where I went to school, I went to the Air Force Academy. So I don't have an extensive military background. But to help me out as far as gettin' to know you guys, I need to go around the room and find out a little bit about each one of you. We'll start over here.

EDDIE: I graduated from Kent State University in Kent, Ohio. I majored in pre-law. I requested to go to Whiteman 'cause I wanted to get my masters in history there at the University of [Central?] Missouri. I got accepted there for the Fall of '86. And I'm looking forward to being in the missile program. I wanted to get this slot. Everything's worked out so well for me to this point.

GARY: I graduated from the University of Kansas, May 1985, and I'm Bachelor of Science, computer science. Also requested Whiteman for the possibility of getting an [?] in computer science or an MBA.

MATT: I also went to the University of Kansas. I majored in Communications. And I put in Whiteman as base of choice. I've waited as long as possible to get back around the area I'm familiar with. Lookin' forward to goin' back there.


MARGO: I've been in the Air Force for a little over six years now. I've been stationed at Whiteman for the last year and a half in DO22 as the intelligence officer. And I'm assigned to the five-eighth, going back to it, and my husband is also in the five-eighth out at Whiteman.

CAPTAIN: His name Bruce?

MARGO: No. Michael.

CAPTAIN: Michael?

MARGO: He got there after you left.


CHUCK: I graduated from the State University of New York with a Bachelor's degree in business and public management with a minor in electrical technology.

UNIDENTIFIED TRAINEE: I volunteered for missiles and since Whiteman was the only place there was any females, I volunteered for Whiteman.

CAPTAIN: Where were you at before?

UNIDENTIFIED TRAINEE: Wright-Patterson Air Force base. I worked for FTD.

CAPTAIN: I'll talk to you later.

ANOTHER UNIDENTIFIED TRAINEE: Graduated from the University of Missouri, Columbia, Missouri, 1980. I've been stationed at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. Keflavik Naval Air Station, Iceland. And Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona as 702.

YET ANOTHER UNIDENTIFIED TRAINEE: I graduated from Bentley College in, it's in Massachusetts. I went to OTS and then I went right to Tinker as a contracting officer and I've been there three and a half years. And I wanted to get into missiles because I really want to do something operational before I get, you know, too, too old. So...


SHAWN: Well, uh... Couple years ago I graduated from the University of Louisville with a history major and then I went to Glickham and I just came back from [?] Belgium over there.

CAPTAIN: I hear it's nice over there.

SHAWN: Well, it has its advantages.

CAPTAIN: You couldn't extend?

SHAWN: Well, actually, they said they wanted me to come back to SAC and get experience in both systems.

CAPTAIN: Mmm. Too bad.

Shawn grins. Class gets underway.

CAPTAIN: What is the mission of the Minuteman weapon system?

MARGO: The mission, on page one-dash-three, states, "The mission of the Minuteman hardened and dispersed weapon system is to deliver thermonuclear warheads against strategic targets from hardened underground launchers in the continental United States."

CAPTAIN: When the time comes to launch the missiles against targets as designated by higher authorities. Did anybody find that [?] as far as the mission? Page one-dash-three. Gary, you got a question?

GARY: No, sir.

CAPTAIN: Okay. Uh, the thing about the Minuteman weapon system. It's supposed to be a highly reliable system, requiring minimum maintenance time, maximum operational time. As far as reaction time, once we get the word to launch, it should not take that long to launch missiles. As opposed to Titans. Titan is, in a word, a volatile system. You drop a wrench, you could launch a missile, something like that. No. I'm just kidding. But it's very dangerous working with liquid fuels. Okay? Whereas we've got a solid-propellant missile. It's not a very dangerous system with respect to workin' on it. Very safe system. As far as the system's concerned, command and control system that you have to monitor the missiles, that will let you know if something goes wrong with one of your missiles, you get [full?] status indications inside the Launch Control Center, sayin', 'Okay, something is wrong with this missile and needs to be worked on' and then when they actually go out and work on it, it doesn't take 'em that long to get a missile ready. Actually workin' on it itself. Okay. Not very much maintenance. Not very long to launch it. And it is highly reliable. The nice aspects of the system itself. As far as survival of the system is concerned, the missile system is dispersed. Like that one of [?] I showed you already as far as... We're not right next to a missile. Our missile is at least three nautical miles away from us. No closer than that. So you need a lot of area as far as the missile wing is concerned. Whiteman is a three squadron wing. Malmstrom is a four squadron wing. As far as configuration of a flight, you have one Launch Control Center and ten missiles per flight. As far as the squadron, you've got five Launch Control Centers and fifty missiles. So for Whiteman you have a hundred and fifty missiles total. Questions about that?


The trainees loiter in the hall waiting for the next class.

TRAINEE: Bonita. Bonita. Bonita. When's our next trainer gonna arrive?


Class is underway. A handsome young captain we haven't seen before sits down at the front of the room.

CAPTAIN HANDSOME: Emergency LCC evacuation is required any time personal safety is in jeopardy. Means if you have any fear for your life, you get out of there. So what? That's only equipment downstairs. We can only put so many crew bearers through this course at a given time, you know. Crew bearers are valuable. Ask yourself.


CAPTAIN HANDSOME: Ask SAC? Yes. They love crew bearers, they're not gonna let you go. They're gonna hold on to you.


Virtually empty now. Classes are in session.


Thin, folksy Captain Greenhill stands at the front of the room, leading a class on Codes Training.

CAPT. GREENHILL: The launch control panel. Located at the launch control console, commander's position. (picks up an actual control panel to demonstrate) Launch control panel... has three switches on the front. You have your key switch, your launch key switch. You have another switch in the center which is not used, says War Plan A and B on it -- it's not even connected inside. Then you have your inhibit switch. These two switches on each end are connected to your Mechanical Code Units, once again, located in the back of the launch control panel. The two here, MCUs A and B, are for your launch code. Your complete launch code. Located in these two MCUs. The third MCU is your inhibit code. These MCUs, once they're coded, are code components. When they're dissipated and the code is no longer in 'em, they are a critical component. They are always a critical component. So, we have our launch MCUs, our inhibit MCUs. The panel then becomes a code component with the MCUs in it. Without the MCUs in it, it's a hunk o' iron. The launch control panel.

Greenhill sets the panel down.

CAPT. GREENHILL: Now, by activating this key switch down to the launch position, we activate those two MCUs. Those two MCUs being activated will then generate a launch vote. But it can't go out until the continuity loop through the deputy's key switch on the launch verification panel is turned also. The two switches have to be turned simultaneously and held for approximately two seconds. At the same time. So you gotta have both of 'em down in the activated position to generate your launch vote. Now, one launch vote per one capsule. No matter how many times you initiate a launch vote from your capsule, the missiles recognize that as being a launch vote from your capsule only. It takes two launch votes to launch a missile. So, that'll involve at least two separate capsules. Doesn't matter if they're primary, secondary, auxiliary or anything like that. It will always involve two separate capsules. Now, we have the capability to stop that launch when there's one launch vote in. Once there's two launch votes, we can wave bye to that missile, go upstairs and watch it launch. (waves and grins) So it takes two launch votes. It's gonna take two launch control panels. If we had only one capsule up and running we could put a launch vote in with this launch control panel, pull that launch control panel out, put another one in -- it's got another set of MCUs in it -- and do another launch vote. And that would be recognized as two separate launch votes. So we can do that with only one capsule up and operating. We can launch. But it'll always take two separate launch votes.


The trainees file into a classroom at the end of the hall, their figures in silhouette.


The handsome young captain talks to the class.

CAPTAIN HANDSOME: Well, it's surprising the way some of these people will say, 'I'm waiting for some feedback.' This individual that I went through solo, he launched a missile when he wasn't authorized to. We're talkin' big error there, right? The three bagger, a critical error. He gave a very valid reason why he launched it. I was riding the front seat. He said he looked in the mirror and he saw it in my eyes that I wanted him to turn keys.

The class laughs.

TRAINEE: Are you serious?

CAPTAIN: Yeah, I'm serious.

TRAINEE: What kind of look did you give him?

CAPTAIN: Blank look.

TRAINEE: No kidding.

CAPTAIN: I've been practicing that for years. I'm gettin' pretty good at it.

TRAINEE: They must send all instructors to school for that.

The class laughs even harder.

CAPTAIN: It comes naturally. Comes naturally. He was looking for feedback. He was looking for his strong crew partner to help him out. I just sat there in the front seat, lookin' in the mirror, I saw him and he was lookin' at me. He said, 'Well, why don't we turn keys on it?' Said, Okay, I agree. And as soon as he turned keys on it, he says, 'I shouldn't have done that, but I could tell you wanted me to.' Fine. Whatever. Make up the excuses that you want.

TRAINEE: Did he make it through the program?

CAPTAIN: Barely. He got his stuff together about ten days before graduation. And he started doin' well from then on. 'Cause he got scared.

TRAINEE: That's frightening.

CAPTAIN: It is frightening. To get almost through the end of the course and then you're threatened with elimination because you're not doing as well as you should. The guy finally buckled down and he said, 'These people are not playing games with me.'


Three quick shots: a truck; a jet plane; a car; all rushing off. A uniformed man slowly enters the building that houses the Missile Procedures Trainers. An MPT is an actual size copy of a Launch Control Center capsule with all systems either present or fully simulated.


Someone pushes a cart down the hall. A red light blinks in the distance. Muzak drones from speakers.


An instructor addresses two trainees. All three sit around a desk.

INSTRUCTOR: As an [?] student, you're gonna spend a hundred and ten hours in MPT believe it or not. And applying the information that you learned in the classroom, both academics and [?], okay? And MPT is where you're gonna integrate, you know, what you learned in the classroom. Hopefully, it'll come a lot easier when you're MPT, you know. We'll talk about it in the classroom, you know, it's great to talk about it and, you know, say this or that, but it's -- when you apply it that's when it finally, you know, comes together, meshes. So hopefully that'll happen. Okay, you're gonna be working with your crew partner as a team in what is now an alien environment to you guys, okay? And my philosophy, as far as the trainer, you guys are a team, okay? And just like any-- like a football team or a basketball team, you know, it takes teamwork to win the game and the game is get through your [?] evaluations so if you guys just work as a team, you know, so, like I say, if one guy makes an error, I usually end up giving the error to both guys 'cause I think that, you know, you're a team and you're both down there you should be able to see what the other guy's doin', you know, and catch him. Make sure he initiates right and make sure, maybe he's doing somethin, you know, and if you don't talk to each other, you know, don't let each other know what's going on then you both are gonna get the error, okay? That's my philosophy, okay? A lot of people use their philosophies, you know, as far as: 'Well, he did it and he was there by himself, he knew what he was doin'' -- but no. I want you guys to work as a team. Okay? So that's-that's the way we're gonna grade.


Over a closed door, a red light blinks. Muzak drones on from the speakers. A sign outside the door reads:


A small yellow light which reads:



A trainer is showing the basics to two crew partners, Shawn and another unidentified trainee. He's buckled into a chair demonstrating the safety straps.

TRAINER: Okay, how do you release [?] straps?

SHAWN: [Probably?] just twist it.

TRAINER: Just twist. Just twist it. Twist it, they all come loose. Okay. Any questions on the chair and how you operate the chair?

TRAINEE: No, sir.

TRAINER: Okay. The next thing you want to look at, just briefly, is, uh, one thing that's very important to crew members and that's how to read the Launch Control Center clock.

The trainer rises and crosses to the clock. The trainees follow.

SHAWN: All right.

TRAINER: Basically, the Launch Control Center clock. We read the clock, it's Zulu time. On this particular clock, what time is it now?

SHAWN: It is...

TRAINEE: Four hundred.

SHAWN: Oh-four-hundred.

TRAINER: Oh-four-hundred. Okay.

The trainer resets the clock.

TRAINER: What time is it now?

SHAWN: It's oh-four-thirty-six. And forty seconds.

TRAINER: Okay. So it's very important that you understand how to read a clock, not only by hours, minutes, also by seconds. All right.

The trainer resets the clock.

TRAINER: Uh, let's go ahead and run it out. 'Kay? Hold the clock. Stop it. Tell me what time it is. Time is it now?

SHAWN: Okay. It's eleven-thirty.

TRAINER: Seconds is what?

SHAWN: Basically, thirteen seconds. Oh, I'm sorry sixteen seconds.

TRAINER: Sixteen seconds.

The trainer resets the clock.

TRAINER: Okay, time is it now?

TRAINEE: Eleven...

SHAWN: Eleven-forty and sixteen seconds.

TRAINEE: Eleven-forty...

TRAINER: Eleven-forty and sixteen seconds. So, again, it's very important to know how to read it.


Virtually empty. Blinking red light. Muzak.


A helicopter appears from behind the MPT building, flies overhead, and disappears behind a tree. A car drives past the yellow school building.


Greenhill stands at the front of the room, leading class.

CAPT. GREENHILL: And then you'll find some other items down here, just going through, to insure that they meet the Weapon System Safety Standards set up by the Department of Defense. And these are -- you see 'em down under C -- one, positive measures to prevent nuclear weapons from producing a nuclear yield when they're not directed to do so. That's the first one. Two, it's a positive measure to prevent -- and here's these little key word phrases -- deliberate or inadvertent, pre-arming, arming, launching, firing or releasing of nuclear weapons. When you get to the wing, you're gonna have to do a certification in front of the wing commander. And this is one of the things you're gonna talk about are Weapon System Safety Rules and you're gonna need to be able to roll that right off your tongue and be able to explain what it means. To prevent the deliberate or inadvertent, pre-arming, arming, launching, firing or releasing of a nuclear weapon. You see how those code components we talked about that one day fit into that? That's their job. That's their job. Unless those actions are directed by a competent authority or upon execution of the Emergency War Order. That's the only time that a deliberate release is authorized. When we have received emergency war orders that are authorizing the releasing of nuclear weapons from a competent authority, then that's when we'll be able to do it.


A car drives by a building. A Bekins moving truck drives down the road with a line of cars trying to pass it on the left. A fast moving jet flies in and out of view.


About a half a dozen picnic tables on the grass just outside a building. A friendly man banters with the small crowd of trainees and instructors as he cooks burgers for them on a hot grill. There's quite a crowd either sitting at the tables or waiting for their food.

FRIENDLY MAN: You wouldn't by chance work with Colonel [Z?], would ya?


FRIENDLY MAN (laughs): I was gonna say. Heh! All right, what can I do for you?

FRIENDLY MAN: Got your bread?


FRIENDLY MAN: All right. Hey, L.T., what can we do for you?

TRAINEE: Potato burger.

FRIENDLY MAN: Oh, yeah. I beg your pardon. Potato burger? Comin' at ya.

A captain stands next to an attractive woman who appears to be his wife and takes his bun off the grill and puts it on his plate. The wife puts mustard on her burger, the husband puts ketchup on his. Snatches of conversation are heard as everyone sits and eats.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Throw the frisbee.

FRIENDLY MAN: All right.

FRIENDLY MAN: Free beer? Where?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I sure wouldn't mind havin' some.

FRIENDLY MAN: Just call me Chef Gucci.



Two cars drive down a tree-lined road. The sign outside the yellow school building still reads:

4315th CCTS


Greenhill stands at the front of the room, leading class.

CAPT. GREENHILL: Now, the two man concept is another area that falls under this Weapon System Safety Rules. The two man concept, Air Force reg one twenty-two-dash-four, in the Personnel Reliability Program. PRP. Now, PRP... We can design all of our weapon systems and everything so that all the mechanics of the weapon system keep us from violating Weapon System Safety Rules: the codes, the seals, everything like that. Okay. But what's PRP for?

TRAINEE: The people.

CAPT. GREENHILL: The people. Right. To ensure that anybody involved with nuclear weapons is reliable and you can trust them and you can work with them. PRP is what keeps us from doing things like going down to the store and buying Contac cold medicine. If you're drowsy on alert, you see, then you're violating Weapon System Safety Rules because you have to be constantly in control. So, PRP-- The same type o' thing applies to pilots. We have what's called Duty Not Involving Alert -- DNIA. You get sick, they gotta give you medication that may make you drowsy, you go DNIA and you can't go on alert because that would violate PRP. Pilots, DNIF -- Duty Not Involving Flying -- same exact concept. They can't trust ya because of medication, then you're not gonna be out there working with this weapon system. So two-man concept applies all the time in Minuteman. PRP applies and then the PES seals -- Positive Enable System Seals -- we use to detect tampering with the equipment. To detect tampering.


The sky is cloudy and overcast above the yellow school building. A stiff breeze blows through the trees. A yellow fire truck with its siren wailing drives by in the distance. A man in a gray sweat suit jogs by. A car drives through an intersection. A tree shakes in the wind in front of a pleasant looking building, apparently living quarters for the trainees.


Seated around a table are Shawn, Gary, Chuck, Matt, and an unidentified trainee.

SHAWN: You need the scenario to actually play one...

MATT: There's only gonna be five questions on it.

GARY: What? On anti-jams?

UNIDENTIFIED TRAINEE: We only have a ten question test tomorrow?

MATT: Yeah, that's how they're gettin' all the [?]. I mean, five on anti-jam and five on blast valves.


MATT: I know. That means, two and you're gone. Huh, Chuck?


MATT: We know all about that.

UNIDENTIFIED TRAINEE: I thought he said a twenty question test tomorrow.

[?]: You guys are gonna start studyin' for the test big time, right?

MATT: There is a twenty question test.


MATT: Five of it's on inhibit anti-jam, five of it's on blast valves, and ten of it's on WSSRs.

UNIDENTIFIED TRAINEE: Did you ask him that?

MATT: Yeah. I've got in my notes.

UNIDENTIFIED TRAINEE: I say -- I say, to simplify the time, we should go to LCC blast valves just to get comfortable with it a little bit more.

MATT: Okay.

GARY: We can do that.

UNIDENTIFIED TRAINEE: Thank you. I knew you would comply to my standards.

MATT: What are the three ways that you can, uh, that you can close the blast valves [?]?

UNIDENTIFIED TRAINEE: One way is with the DC power on and the hydraulic pressure unit workin'... somethin' like that.

MATT: Hydraulic control unit.

UNIDENTIFIED TRAINEE: You got pressure there. Yeah, hydraulic control unit.

MATT: Where's the hydraulic control unit?

UNIDENTIFIED TRAINEE: It's outside the, uh, the blast door. Yeah, LCC blast door.

SHAWN: No, it's not.

MATT: No. No, there's the HCU and ...

UNIDENTIFIED TRAINEE: And the hydraulic pumping unit is in the LCC.


[?]: Which one you talkin' 'bout?

MATT: That's right. Well, that's what I was trying to get him to say.

UNIDENTIFIED TRAINEE: The hydraulic control unit is outside the door of the LCC.

GARY: No, it isn't. It's in the acoustical enclosure.

UNIDENTIFIED TRAINEE: It's outside the other door, right?

GARY: Acoustical enclosure.

SHAWN: No, no, the door is here and then the enclosure is out-- And so it's right outside--

UNIDENTIFIED TRAINEE: It's outside the door.

SHAWN: It's outside a little door. That's not the blast door.

MATT: Right.

SHAWN: The blast door's the big one that--

GARY: Outside in the acoustical enclosure.

UNIDENTIFIED TRAINEE: Outside in the acoustical enclosure.

SHAWN: Okay.

UNIDENTIFIED TRAINEE: All right. Outside in the eggshell, in other words, right?

CHUCK: Yeah.

GARY: Yeah.


An orange sun sets as cars drive by with their lights on. At the base's entrance gate, the guards stand in silhouette as they smartly salute the numerous cars that pass through. A sign above the entrance reads:



A white car with its headlights on turns a corner by the MPT building.


A trainee named Kathleen is in the training capsule. The phone rings. Kathleen takes the call.

KATHLEEN: Bravo capsule. This is Kathleen. May I help you?

MAN'S VOICE ON THE PHONE: Yeah, is this Bravo capsule?


VOICE ON THE PHONE: I've just put a bomb on one of your LFs.

Kathleen immediately grabs a notebook and starts taking notes.

KATHLEEN: Okay. Which LF did you put it on?

VOICE ON THE PHONE: I put it on that one, B-zero-nine.

KATHLEEN: On nine? Why'd you want put one on nine?

VOICE ON THE PHONE: Just call me a modern day freedom fighter.

KATHLEEN: Freedom fighter, huh? (grins) Okay, well, what kind of bomb is it?

VOICE ON THE PHONE: I don't know. I wrapped about twenty-five sticks of dynamite together.

KATHLEEN: Twenty-five sticks, huh?


KATHLEEN: Okay. When'd you set this to go off?

VOICE ON THE PHONE: It should be goin' off in about forty seconds.

KATHLEEN: Okay. Is it, uh, is it, uh, you know, is it in a box?

VOICE ON THE PHONE: It's just forty sticks of dynamite strapped together with, uh, a belt.

KATHLEEN: With a belt. Uh, okay. Is it, uh, you said 'bout forty-five seconds?

VOICE ON THE PHONE: I meant forty-five minutes.

Kathleen grins.

VOICE ON THE PHONE: I'm nervous, you know. It's the first bomb I've ever put on a LF.

KATHLEEN: Well, you know, you say you're a freedom fighter...

VOICE ON THE PHONE: Well, I had dream last night. They said put a bomb on one of these missile sites. You know, I figured I'd [give the news?].


VOICE ON THE PHONE: I gotta go 'cause I know what you're trying to do. You're trying to trace me.

KATHLEEN: Well, why don't you tell me your name, sir...?

But the caller has hung up. Kathleen turns to her off screen crew partner.

KATHLEEN: Okay. Lost him. I'm not hanging up.

Kathleen sets the phone down.

PARTNER: Okay, I already...


Darkened. Empty. Blinking red light. Muzak -- playing the same tune as earlier, it seems. Two people relax in an adjacent break room.


The MPT building in daylight. A sanitation worker gets in a garbage truck which pulls away. Another truck drives by the yellow school building.


Greenhill is at the chalkboard at the front of the room leading a class in Target Concepts.

CAPT. GREENHILL: Remote weather. The weather biasing concept. The big thing about weather is that -- I say, Kentucky windage. And that's really what we're talking about. We're just improving the accuracy of the missile by accounting for the atmospheric conditions that exist at the target. At the target. Now, our missile has a Mark Eleven-C Reentry Vehicle and it has a specific shape...

Margo, Shawn, Chuck, Matt, and others busily take notes or listen with varying degrees of attentiveness.

CAPT. GREENHILL: ... to that vehicle for its angle of reentry into the atmosphere. There is a possible skipping effect with any reentry vehicle that comes into the atmosphere, depending upon the angle. Remember when you looked at your trajectory, back on Day One, of a typical mission profile? Well, that angle that the reentry vehicle is coming into the atmosphere -- The steeper the angle can be, the more accurate you can be. The less the angle, the less the heating on the reentry vehicle, such as, you know, when the Shuttle comes in, it comes in real shallow -- but it still has to come in. So, reentry vehicle's coming in, the steeper it comes in, the more accurate but the more heat. And thus possible damage to the reentry vehicle. But the steeper the angle, the less it will be affected by the different layers and densities of the atmosphere.

Greenhill draws three parallel horizontal lines on the chalkboard to indicate the layers of the atmosphere.

CAPT. GREENHILL: If we had a real dense layer of the atmosphere and a reentry vehicle's coming in, it's liable to change its trajectory going through there. It's like, you know, anybody ever try and shoot into water with an arrow or something, like at a fish, or anything like that? It's never where you shoot, is it? Because there's a difference in the densities and the refraction and everything. Same type o' thing here. It's going in. It's going to be refracted through there.

Greenhill draws a descending line through the 'atmosphere' which changes course slightly as it passes through.

CAPT. GREENHILL: So we have to account for that. If we want to hit this spot...

Greenhill draws an X on the chalkboard below the three lines.

CAPT. GREENHILL: ...we can't aim right at it. Because we can't get there through this layer. We've got to account for the atmospheric conditions and that's what the Remote Weather Command is all about. It accounts for the winds and the atmospheric conditions so that we come in here...

Greenhill draws another descending line through the 'atmosphere.'

CAPT. GREENHILL: ... we move over like this...

The line changes course slightly and hits the X.

CAPT. GREENHILL: ... and nail our target. Okay?


Brief shots of streets and buildings around the base. A man walks into the MPT building.


Blinking red light. Muzak.


Two crew partners are in training. The trainee deputy listens while the trainee commander slowly reads from an instruction manual.

TRAINEE COMMANDER (reads): Charlie nine is in strategic alert. Time. Check crew log, job control, or on-site maintenance team as necessary to determine that thirty minutes has elapsed since previous missile test has [commenced?]. We do not have any maintenance online. And... We have checked the crew log, job control. We don't have any on-site maintenance teams.

TRAINEE DEPUTY: Not at this time. [?]

TRAINEE COMMANDER: Okay, I'll get hold of job control to ensure that no one else has performed a missile test on Charlie nine.

The commander slowly makes a phone call. The trainer looks on.

SERGEANT (on phone): Jobs. Sergeant Wilson.

TRAINEE COMMANDER: Yes, Sergeant Wilson, this is Captain [W?] in Charlie capsule. Uh, want to check in with you and see if anybody has performed a missile test on Charlie nine in the squadron.

SERGEANT (on phone): Uh, not that we know of, sir.

TRAINEE COMMANDER: Okay. Thank you very much. We'll be doin' it.

SERGEANT (on phone): Okay, thank you.

TRAINEE COMMANDER: All right. Bye. The commander hangs up. TRAINEE COMMANDER (to Trainee Deputy): Okay, I have checked. No one has in the last the last thirty seco-- thirty minutes. No one has.

The trainer instructs the two trainees at the console.

TRAINER: When you look at a 'Stand-By, No Go' you need to say, Is that sortie launch-capable? Why? Because, you know... When you get into the EWO part of the job, that's the job. Launching missiles is your job. And what we're building towards is: if you get in a situation, you need to be able to look visually and determine: Is that sortie going to launch if I need to launch it? Yes or no? No, it won't -- if it's one of these. (points) Yes, it will -- if it's an [?] fault, Why? 'Cause there's nothing wrong with the missile. It's a minor ground fault problem. (points) This is a big problem. (points) This is a big problem. And the 'Stand-By, No Go' -- because it's not launch-capable -- is a big problem. Okay? And asking yourself is it launch-capable is the question that you need to know. That's one of the things you want to ask yourself.


Darkened. Same Muzak. Same blinking red light. Same two guys in break room.


A man leaves the MPT building. A minivan turns a corner. A flatbed truck --carrying what looks like the giant nose cone of a missile -- drives by. A helicopter flies overhead. A car drives past the yellow school building.


The handsome young captain sits and talks to his class.

CAPTAIN HANDSOME: I wish everyone in here could get some solo rides now and then. Solo rides are great. They isolate you. You can't sit there... One of my students went through with a very strong partner. But he was very weak. Just rides on the coat tails. Until the instructor starts saying, 'I'm gonna isolate this guy.' We get into EWO and we'd get a message and the strong guy -- he'd write 'Invalid' on the message and he was about to turn around and tell his crew partner. I say 'Shut up. Just be quiet. I know you're a crew and you should work together. But I want to see if this other guy can figure it out by himself.' See, you're not gonna let the one strong guy pull the weak person through. Because it doesn't do the weak person any good. They get out on alert and their crew partner's asleep and they really don't know what they're doin' -- you don't want that person out there. You have to force that person to know their job. They don't know their job, they have no business being out there. So, those of you who are going through the solo rides, you may feel you get picked on or you get scrutinized a little bit better. But it's gonna make you know your job better.


The yellow school building. Two pick-up trucks, an ancient white blue one and a more contemporary white one, drive through an intersection. A building with a sign in front of it. Two uniformed people walk past the sign which reads:



Colonel Jim Ryan, the commander, and his officers are in a meeting.

THE COLONEL: We may have to do a little resolution with AFSCO. AFSCO calls on one of our students and says, Okay, there's a problem with security clearance, may go into adjudication. That's fine. That's what they're supposed to do. And the point that I'm gonna try to make with AFSCO is that, you know, you tell me what the problem is and why it's in adjudication and I'll make the decision whether or not he gets pulled from training. There seems to be this feeling that when AFSCO calls that automatically we pull 'em from training and I -- and that's not true. In this particular case, it's a young man who, before he went off to college, you know, was sometimes employed and sometimes not employed and he ran up some debts. And he is, in my judgment, uh, you know, making restitution on those debts and doin' it fine. But there was background investigation, some creditor says, Hey, so-and-so owes me some money, uh... But anyway. The point is I would like to be the one to make the decision because if you take a guy, let's say, out of training for four or five days while we try to get this thing resolved and then resolve it -- and then you try to put him back in, he's lost four or five days. And in our system that's-that's just too tough. So, I made the decision based on what I know in this case to leave him in training. And then we'll resolve the other issues. And he's helping us there. He's going to do some things like write to his creditors and say, Hey, I'm gonna be able to pay ya so much per month. Because if you're a person who's never been in debt, you will be someday -- especially when it comes time to send your kids to college, I can tell you that.


One of the officers (Colonel Jim?) gets on a bicycle and pedals away.


An airplane flies over. Trees gently sway in the wind by the yellow school building.


A captain, apparently the one who put ketchup on his hamburger, in a blue sweater, sits and leads a classroom full of trainers.

SWEATERED CAPTAIN: Fraternization. I guess everybody knows the, uh-- what fraternization is or have a vague idea. But just be assured that, you know, it's something that the Air Force doesn't like and won't tolerate and we'll be professional as we've always been. And we've not accused anyone of fraternization. And you can be, you know-- with the women on board, everybody's being extra cautious about this thing with fraternization. And just be assured-- I mean, be careful that you don't do anything that presents the image of fraternization or fraternizing. And, uh, we're not saying don't be friends with your students and don't, you know, meet the guys at the O Club or whatever we've always done for the last twenty years. But just don't get it to the point where people start thinkin' that something's going on. Now, of course, a lot of times, people overreact in a situation where there are females and males...

The trainers listen. All of them are male.

SWEATERED CAPTAIN: ... and don't get paranoid to the fact-- I mean, to the point you're not really being effective whether someone's gonna say you're fraternizin'. So we're not going to get paranoid to that point because it's not worth it but we do want to make sure that we always be professional.


The yellow school building. Two cars drive down a road. Two signs, one reads:

1369th AVS

and the other reads:


The white building that serves as headquarters.


Colonel Jim Ryan and his officers conduct trainee review.

OFFICER: We have one student placed on [?] as a result of academic performance. He's failed five ACOs with an academic average of 875 which for ILCS is low.


OFFICER: He's the same student who came in about three days into the class and stated he wasn't sure he was gonna make it through the program himself and didn't feel comfortable with being at missiles. We sent him to the flight surgeon. Flight surgeon report came back that he was normal with self-doubt, no emotional problems, mental or abnormal stress, and they did not refer him to Mental Health and told him to stick with the program. We've got him scheduled the eleventh of February for a test taking technique...


OFFICER: ... program at training science. Personally, my observation of him -- and I've talked with him on several occasions -- is: he's trying hard. He's got a 2.95 GPA at the University of Florida in Mechanized Agriculture. And-- he wants to do it. He really does. I think he wants to do it. I think he's just feeling a little bit of apprehension here for some reason.



A man walks past the sign outside headquarters. The MPT building. A sign on the building says:


with some artwork of a vertical missile over a globe. A horizontal key behind the missile.


Empty. Muzak. Red light.


As a trainer looks on, a trainee seated at the commander's position slowly reads from a training manual.

TRAINEE COMMANDER (reads): Be sure Program Select switch is in off position and reinitiate key turn. Switch is off. [?] position. Reinitiate key turn. During [?] lock-up, monitor message [?] indicator on launch verification panel. If indicator fail to illume, release switch and repeat.

TRAINER: Okay. I'm gonna give you a time. At which time I want you to turn keys.

The trainee at the deputy's position nods in agreement.

TRAINER: Okay? What you want to do is-- (to the Trainee Commander) You will watch the clock. As the clock sweeps through the time that you're gonna key turn on -- for example, if we were key turning at the zero-zero mark right now --

The red second hand of the capsule clock is nearing the zero-zero mark at the top of the dial.

TRAINER (to the Trainee Commander): ... I want you to say 'Hands on keys, key turn on my mark, three, two, one, mark.' You watch the clock for ten seconds waiting for him to say, 'Light on, light off' verifying that the command has been sent out. Okay? I want you to key turn on the next minute which will be the next zero-zero mark. At ten seconds prior to, you'll say 'Hands on keys' (to Trainee Deputy) and your response will be 'Hands on keys.'

TRAINEE DEPUTY: Hands on keys.

TRAINER (to Trainee Commander): Then you will say 'I will watch the clock, you watch the lights.' (points) You're lookin' for that light and -- out of the corner of your eye -- this light to illuminate.

The trainer points out the lights.

TRAINER (to Trainee Deputy): When they do, you say 'Light on, light off.' Keep both keys down (to Trainee Commander) until you hear 'Light on, light off'-- when you hear that, you say 'Release keys.' Okay, starting at the ten second mark. Go ahead and take it from there.


TRAINEE DEPUTY: Hands on keys.

TRAINEE COMMANDER: Initiate on my mark. Five... Initiate, be ready to initiate, five, two, one, now. I'll watch the clock.

TRAINEE DEPUTY: I got lights. Light on, light off.


TRAINEE DEPUTY: Key released. [?] accomplished, sir?

TRAINEE COMMANDER: Okay, launch switch code used.


Bell rings. The Trainee Commander shuts it off. Lights begin to illume on the commander's console.

TRAINER: Okay, you are receiving, now, launch indications. That was a little rough but it wasn't bad for the first time. (to Trainee Deputy) Now, I want you to come on up here for a minute.

The Trainee Deputy joins the trainer and the Trainee Commander at the console.

CAPTAIN: What we're gonna look at is what happens when you key turn or you issue one launch vote.

TRAINEE DEPUTY: Okay. TRAINER: When one crew key turns -- which you guys just did -- nothing will launch because you need a follow-on vote from another LCC. So what we're looking at here, right now is the proper indications from one Launch Control Center to the squadron sorties. The sorties will enter the launch-commanded mode. Okay? What are we waiting for? What do we need to launch this sortie? We need another vote from another LCC, right? Now, to kind of get back to what we were talking about before, (points) this sortie's not gonna launch, this sortie's not gonna launch. That's the importance of knowing what's gonna launch and what won't launch. This sortie, when we put in the other vote, will launch when it turns to Strategic Alert. It's in Stand-By now. When it comes out of Stand-By, it'll go to Strategic Alert and when that happens the sortie will launch. Okay, I just want you to watch what happens when the sortie launches. (to an unidentified person offscreen) Put in the vote number two, please.

The Trainee Commander points to something on the console.

TRAINER: That sortie's not executed.

The bell rings. A console light goes on. The trainer points it out.

CAPTAIN: Okay, we have got launch indications. You have a launch in process here on this sortie. That means that someone else has key-turned on this sortie, okay, along with you. It's not launch-commanded, this one's Launch in Process. This one should go Launch in Process all the way across the board. The next indication you'll get is Missile Away. The thing you want to do is get your key turn in when you're supposed to. And to do that, it needs to be very rudimentized, very structured, you don't want to let anything bother ya, just get the task done, and leave it at that. Get a successful launch. And take care of any other problems that happen afterwards.


The MPT building. Traffic on a street. A building burns in the distance. A couple of people stand near the building as it's engulfed in flames. A jogger runs by, the smoking building visible behind him. An airplane flies low over the base. The green door of the yellow school building closes behind someone.


Class is over but Greenhill and a couple of puzzled students stand by the chalkboard which is covered with Greenhill's notes.

CAPT. GREENHILL: The only time you're gonna be sendin' PLCAs is when you go to war.

TRAINEE: I was gonna say, in reality, it's not really gonna be done that much.

CAPT. GREENHILL: No. Just put in the day-to-day PLCA and we leave 'em. Sortie goes down for maintenance, comes back up and we have to reconfigure it, we run a PLCB to it. Would a PLCA do the same thing?


CAPT. GREENHILL: The day-to-day PLCA would do the same thing.

TRAINEE: 'Cause that's where you want it.

CAPT. GREENHILL: Yeah. But we run a PLCB 'cause it's only one sortie. So we only run a PLCB for one sortie only. All right?

TRAINEE: So, when we go to war, we're gonna be actually sending a lot of these.

CAPT. GREENHILL: Yeah. You'll be sending a PLCA out and -- (turns to notes on chalkboard) Like this, PLCA 76. It tells Alpha 6 to launch against target one with a three minute delay time. But it tells Alpha 5, "Go to target one, or two, or whatever, with an infinite delay time," so Alpha 5 will sit on the ground. Now, we can launch it later, maybe using PLCA 82. And that tells Alpha 5, "All right, go to target one with a zero-zero delay." All in accordance with Single Integrated Operational Plans, SIOP.

TRAINEE: Got it. I think I understand.

CAPT. GREENHILL: Okay. (points) Do you care what these numbers are?

TRAINEE: No. Not really.

CAPT. GREENHILL: No. (points) Do you care what's in here?


CAPT. GREENHILL: No. The planners care... that came up with "PLCA 76 means this for Alpha 6, this for Alpha 5, this for Alpha 4," on down. They care. But all we do is-- They tell us to send this, we send it. What happens? They'll either launch when we key turn on 'em or they won't launch. One or the other.


CAPT. GREENHILL: We have no determination on what kind of war we'll fight. It's all based upon what they tell us and how we respond to it. All right? Okay. Good enough.

The trainees start to leave. Greenhill starts to erase the board.

CAPT. GREENHILL: Be doin' that homework. If you got somethin', just give me a call, okay?

TRAINEE: I gotta go get grilled by [DIS?] about my sordid past.

Greenhill laughs as he continues erasing the chalkboard until it's virtually blank. INT. HALLWAY

A nearly empty hallway in the school building.


A group of trainees stand in what appears to be a break room. Shawn is showing photographs taken in Europe to Eddie and Matt. He has a stack of them in a Kodak envelope.

EDDIE: Did you guys see this?

SHAWN (to Matt): Not today. Rifle and bayonet. Obviously, three helmets. Gas mask case. And, uh, mess kit that they had over there.

EDDIE: You dug this stuff up?

SHAWN: Uh huh. These all came from Bastogne. This is a restored one. Actually, it's that one right there, after takin' the rust off of it and cleaning it up.

MATT: You brought these home or you put 'em in a museum over there?

SHAWN: Some are in a museum. Some of these I brought home.

MATT: What are those little bombs?

SHAWN: That one's on a colonel's desk somewhere. Hm?

MATT: What are those little things?

SHAWN: That's a mortar. That's a sixty millimeter mortar.

MATT: It's not... good, is it?

SHAWN: We de-armed this.

Matt and Eddie chuckle and grin in relief.

MATT: Oh, that's good. That's a good thing.

SHAWN (off a photo): Potato masher.

MATT: Oh, yeah, yeah. Just like in the movies.

SHAWN: Another gas mask case. Some American hand grenades.

One of the photos depicts Shawn grinning into the camera as he kneels beside a gravestone -- the stone is shaped like a cross and has three names on it.

SHAWN: I found that guy's helmet, that's why I'm there. His name was in it.

MATT: You went and looked for his grave?

SHAWN: Yeah.

MATT: Is that the one that had four bullet holes in it?

SHAWN: As a matter of fact, yes.

[?]: Oh, wow. How coincidental.

EDDIE: Let me see this.

Eddie takes the photo.

SHAWN: Uh, I've got another helmet with another picture. I found another guy's grave, they were both buried in Bastogne.

MATT: Where'd you find their helmets?

SHAWN: Out in the woods. As a matter of fact, I've got detailed maps, like archaeologists' notes about where all this stuff is.

MATT: Which guy is it?

EDDIE: This guy, [Wallingford?]?

SHAWN: Yeah, uh, no. It's Emil [Blome?].

MATT: Why is there three names on this stone?

SHAWN: There's six people to a grave. Three on one side, three on the other.

MATT: They're stacked up?

SHAWN: Mm hm.

MATT: I didn't know that. Let me see that.

SHAWN: Sure.

Matt takes the photo.

MATT: How long did it take to find the guy's gravestone?

SHAWN: Not too long, because they have a guest registration book, you know, in the front there with all the names of the people. So that's where I went and looked. Since I found it in the woods and they had 9,000 people buried about two miles away from there, I figured the chances were...

MATT: This graveyard's two miles from where you found the helmet?

SHAWN: Yeah.

MATT: Well, that makes sense.

SHAWN: All the Americans, though... If you find anything with Americans, they've all been moved either to Luxembourg which is about a sixty mile trip--

Matt reacts to another photo.

MATT: Oh, there you go.

SHAWN: Yeah, there you go. So, we're out in the foxholes there. The baby went out.

Matt takes the photo which shows Shawn wearing a helmet, standing in a foxhole, holding a baby.

MATT: Oh, my... Doesn't look like she had a lot to say about that.

SHAWN: That thing on my head is a helmet I found out there. Still had the camouflage cover on it, a German paratrooper helmet. Here's something else too. Now, if you can get the size... That's an anthill. [?] anthills around in there.

Picture of a gigantic anthill.

MATT: I wouldn't be diggin' around in that.

SHAWN: No. We didn't.


Shawn, Matt and Eddie have moved out into the hall to join the other trainees awaiting their next class.

SHAWN: Well, I mean, I think, the battlefields should be, some of them should be considered memorials but they don't. You'll find that a lot of people come down and they dig up and they don't even put the dirt back in the holes after they've dug something up.

MATT: So, you weren't the first ones doin' this in a lot of those areas?

SHAWN: Oh, no. I mean, mine detectors, right? Bought a surplus mine detector, somebody'd been doin' that for forty years. The key is, everything close to the road has kind of been dug up. You're gonna have to go real deep into the woods. And I'm talkin' real deep. In '49, they cleared out 112,000 mines alone and five thousand tons of ammunition but 29 of the American engineers were killed doing it. So...

MATT: Great.

SHAWN: It's dangerous. Just before I left, an individual Belgian found a hundred and five millimeter shell, took it to his garage where he had his Mercedes stored, began to cut on it with an acetylene torch. Blew up the garage, the Mercedes, his house, and, of course, him.

UNIDENTIFIED TRAINEE: Did... It killed him?

SHAWN: Oh, yeah, yeah. Just blew him away.

MATT[?]: What year was this that they were pulling it out all these mines?

SHAWN: They pulled out 112,000 mines in 1949. Because, like I say, little kids go over there, pick up these things, and still get hurt with 'em. Like German hand grenades when they rust leave little things that look like Easter eggs and so kids, you know, pick these things up, and they're really volatile. Boom. And that's it.

MATT: And that still happens?

SHAWN: Oh, yeah. [?] They still find an average of five people a year from the wars over there who've been killed. 'Cause you know, people get killed and they crawl up into overhangs or rugged terrain...

MATT: So what, do they turn in their dogtags and...?

SHAWN: If they find 'em. While I was there, a guy found a German soldier but he didn't have any identification.

MATT: Is that the guy that his foot was missing?

SHAWN: No, that's an American. That's something I did. Like I say, the whole area is just a munitions dump and, uh... I think it'd be well worth it, you know, for the Americans to form an organization, you know, some universities, to go over there and start dealing with it and, you know, because by goin' out there and digging you can tell what they ate, when they ate, where they stored it, learn from fighting positions and stuff. We would go out there and look at their fighting positions to see how they were, uh, made to give us an idea of...

EDDIE: Military history.

SHAWN: Sure, sure.

MATT: Shoot, you could do a masters on that and be in charge of all it, Shawn.

SHAWN: That's what I want to do.

EDDIE: Is that what you want to do your masters on?

SHAWN: I'd really like to.

UNIDENTIFIED TRAINEE: I think he's gonna start.

Everyone starts to file into class.

SHAWN: Yeah, I'd really like to do that. As a matter of fact, those patches I have in there...


Greenhill stands at the front of the class, lecturing.

CAPT. GREENHILL: The inhibit switch generates the Inhibit Launch Command. ILC, the Inhibit Launch Command. If somehow, some way, somebody were able to enable our missiles, not authorized, we need some way to stop it. That's what the Inhibit Launch Command is for. An inhibit code is stored in that third MCU, third MCU right back here in your launch control panel. If you were to turn your launch control panel over and it'd match up exactly where the inhibit switch is on the front. So, the third MCU has the inhibit code. Coded up, again, back at the Codes Vault. All the code components will be coded at the Codes Vault. [D09?]. So the inhibit code is the third MCU, it is transmitted All Call just by flipping the switch, just like the launch code. Turn the switch, it goes out to all LFs in the squadron. The inhibit code is transmitted any time the crew detects an unauthorized enable or launch attempt. Any time.


The yellow school building. A pick up truck with lights on top makes its way around the base. It looks like it might be a repair or maintenance truck. Outside what appears to be a recreation building, a sign reads:

17 FEB 2 PM

A small white building.


A trainer and a trainee sit at a table.

TRAINER: Basically, from what you've told me, I can tailor this lesson plan now to what I think you might need or be useful to you. And, uh, the first thing I want to tell you is how we write our tests. We try real hard to follow the instructional systems approach at education here and what that means to you basically is unlike in college where you might have a professor come in and say, Well, read chapters 5 and 6 and tomorrow be prepared for a quiz, where there might be anywhere from a hundred to two hundred concepts in those two chapters and you'd have to know them all in order to chance guess which twenty he was gonna give you on the test, we don't do that. We tell you right up front, We want you to know this material, we spell it out in the objectives, and then when we write our tests, we write them so they mirror those objectives exactly. So, with that bit of information, uh, you should know-- you have in your possession, in your training guide, exactly what we're gonna test you on each day. In your objectives, okay? There's one other area I want to get into. And that is, this is a last ditch effort, when everything else fails, I'm gonna show you some techniques that you can look for in testing. I'm gonna hand you out a multiple choice question. These are not on any missile topic, they're just general topic questions. And I want you to read those aloud for me. And what I'm gonna show you here are just some simple testmanship techniques. I just came back from Alabama and there was a fellow there who's an expert in writing tests and how tests are written. He claims that he can any test, any topic, and do at least 70% just because he knows what to look for in how tests are constructed and so what I'm gonna do is give you some tips here. I want to emphasize, this is after everything else has failed, these are tips'll just improve your odds of guessing, okay? Can't overemphasize the importance of good preparation and testmanship. If everything else fails, try these techniques. Okay? Read the first one there.

TRAINEE (reads): A comedy is (A) a sad play, (B) a long book, (C) a work, especially a play, in which the characters undergo amusing distress and the action turns out well for the chief characters, (D) an epic.

TRAINER: Okay, do you know the answer right off the top of your head?


TRAINER: Okay, did you know that before you took this test?

TRAINEE: Yes, sir.

TRAINER: Okay. C is the right answer and the, uh, concept that I'm trying to get at here is that it's the longest answer. Okay? For some reason, psychologically, test writers make an error sometimes and they'll save the best answer for the longest answer. So, if you've got four choices and you just don't know, generally, the longer answer is the correct answer. Okay? Number two.

TRAINEE (reads): The mature human being has how many teeth? (A) 15, (B) 32, (C) 54, (D) 7.

TRAINER: Now, do you know the answer?


TRAINER: Did you know that?

TRAINEE: Yes, sir.

TRAINER: Okay. In this one we're talkin' about extremes of values. When you have values and you have value extremes, the extremes are usually wrong. Okay, so in this case, you can eliminate what?

TRAINEE: 54 and 7.

TRAINER: C and D. And that cuts your odds in guessing down to 1 in 2 instead of 1 in 4. Okay. Number three.

TRAINEE (reads): The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was ratified by Moscow because...

The trainee stumbles over the pronunciation of Brest-Litovsk.

TRAINER: You can just read that alternate silently.


TRAINER: You can just read the choices silently.


The trainee reads silently to himself.


White buildings. The sign outside headquarters.


The Colonel and his officers conduct trainee review.

OFFICER: I have the student information package being processed over to [branch?]. What happened was that we had the [?] people when we came back from SAC on that Thursday, the next day, we asked PRP. What they wanted was some additional training rides, some one-on-one training for academics. The deficiency was inside the MPT. I gave him Ride 16, he got a three on the ride, one significant error, however, that is the average for that ride, with the level of difficulty it is the max you usually get is two significant errors, so there was some optimism that we could get a direct [?]. However what happened was, he had an additional MPT session on Saturday, [failed?], he followed the next week with Rides 17, 18, and 19, straight ones. For an example, on Ride 18, the average is like three significant errors and he was receiving nine. And then on Ride 19 [?] he received another one. And so the criterion was to receive a satisfactory on three out of five graded MPT sessions during that period of time and, uh, as of, uh, Friday, he had already exceeded that average. He, uh, as of Ride 19, he had only passed forty-two per cent of graded MPT sessions up and including Ride 19. Forty-two per cent. So if you'd like to talk more about--

THE COLONEL: Okay, now, you say you did have a Student Progress Review Panel on him?

OFFICER: Yes, sir. Yes, sir. That was on the Thursday of the week I got back from SAC.

THE COLONEL: Okay. So you basically are recommending him for elimination.

OFFICER: Yes, sir. I am. And I talked with Major [Crook?] and Major [Delp?] on Friday on this and we reviewed his performance record just to get a feel as to-- you know, he's a very enjoyable person to be around but he's, uh-- he is satisfied he is trying his best and I'm satisfied with what the instructors have done for him. We've put in 107 hours of individualized training, of which about 51 have been individualized one-on-one.


OFFICER: And so he has failed ten out of seventeen graded MPT sessions.

THE COLONEL: Yeah. Well, that's one of those things. He's a fine troop, but in this business, you know, we gotta have... folks who can do this very tough job and it's not fair to the crew force to put somebody out there that can't hack it, that's all.


A softball diamond. Trainees and trainers play a game of softball. Kathleen stands at the plate and hits a single. Her teammates cheer her on. On the bleachers, spouses, children, and other family members watch the game. Players wearing baseball caps that say "4315" on them sit on top of the dugout and boo, chatter and drink soda ("Ah, Classic Coke. I love it."). Another person gets a hit. The crowd cheers. A shapely woman in an orange T-shirt that says MINUTEMAN stands at the plate playfully wiggling her butt as she takes up her batting stance. The players on the dugout watch a foul ball go over ("There it is again!"). Kathleen calls out encouragement to the woman at the plate ("Come on, Bev!"). A photographer takes pictures. Bev hits a single. A father holds a sleepy child in his arms ("You tired?"). The crowd chatters noisily and then...


A truck abruptly rockets by. After it passes, all is quiet. A direction sign points out:

-- 9th ST -->

Someone takes their hat off before entering the MPT building.


Empty. Muzak. Blinking red light.


A trainee makes a phone call.

CAPTAIN (on phone): Command post, Captain Morgan speaking.

TRAINEE: Yes, Captain Morgan, this is Lieutenant [M?] at Echo Capsule. Could you patch me through to Information Systems Job Control?

COMMAND POST (on phone): Stand by, please.

SERGEANT (on phone): Information Systems Job Control. Sergeant [Corwin?]

TRAINEE: Sergeant [Corwin?], this is Lieutenant [M?] at Echo Capsule. (reads from manual) I have Command Post on the line. I'd like to report to you that we had a fire in our [?] group. We electrically isolated the fire. There's light smoke damage to the equipment. We have lost our SATCOM capability. Are there any write-ups?

SERGEANT (on phone): Ah, we'll get back to you with write-ups [when we've researched it?].

TRAINEE: Okay. Any other information?

SERGEANT (on phone): No, sir. Thank you.

TRAINEE: Okay. Did you copy that, Command Post?

COMMAND POST (on phone): [?] copy, thank you.

TRAINEE: Initial.

COMMAND POST (on phone): [?]

TRAINEE: Thank you.

The trainee hangs up.


A large building. The yellow school building.


Greenhill lectures at the front of the class.

CAPT. GREENHILL: Weapon System Safety Rules -- or you'll hear me refer to them as WSSRs: W-S-S-R -- are of the utmost importance to us because, as you've heard me say before, violation of Weapon System Safety Rules is a biggie. This is one of those ones when the old career dissipation light comes on, okay? (grins) So, this is one of those times when you're really gonna be worried about what's going on. Now, if you've done everything right, in accordance with your technical order and something happens that violates Weapon System Safety Rules and you've done everything right and you make all the proper reports, you're not in trouble. You're not in trouble. Violating Weapon System Safety Rules intentionally or negligently will getcha into trouble. A lot of trouble. 'Cause we are dealing with these nuclear weapons. Now, the overall goals and standards that are associated with Weapon System Safety Rules. First of all, the whole big thing about Weapon System Safety Rules is to prevent a nuclear weapon that's involved in an accident or an incident or a deficiency or anything like that from generating a nuclear yield. The design of the weapon, the way we handle the weapons, the whole thing -- remember when we had that trajectory we showed back on Day One? When did the warhead arm? Do you remember?

TRAINEE: Right before the end.

ANOTHER TRAINEE: Before it hit.

CAPT. GREENHILL: Just before it gets there. All of that is designed so that we don't have a nuclear weapon detonate in an accident. We can have a fire on a plane carrying nuclear weapons and it's not gonna detonate the weapon. This is all concerned with Weapon System Safety Rules. They apply to all phases of operation for the Minuteman weapon system throughout the 'stockpile to target' sequence. That's a key phrase: 'stockpile to target.' The whole time we've got 'em, they apply. There is no point in a nuclear weapon's life when they do not apply.


A mock-up of a missile next to a building. A not very busy street. Headquarters.


The Colonel is in a meeting with his officers. He picks up a sheet of paper in front of him.

THE COLONEL: Now, I've got a bit of bad news. I got this letter from Sergeant [Manzanares?] over in RY Maintenance and, basically, our instructors are not taking care of the MPTs and they-- Maintenance asked me to just put out an edict that there be no more eating, drinking, or smoking in the cabs of the MPTs and, you know, this, to me, just seems unnecessary. Let me give you some specifics. (reads) "RY015 CDB. Smoldering cigarette left on equipment counter, Marlboros and Kents" -- he even knows what brand they are. Okay? "RY014 CDB and ILCS, footprints on equipment racks, doors and walls. And some pop cans around." All right? Okay? Okay. "RY011 [MOD?]. Half-eaten Twinkie left between the racks." Okay? "RY010 [MOD?]. Grease pencil smeared on floors. RY005 CDB and ILCS. There are some coffee spills." Okay. "Several MPTs. Felt-tip pens are allowed to be used on Plexiglass, almost impossible to wipe clean." Okay. Now. What I want to do on this-- I'm going to ask the maintenance people -- and apparently they've come to me because efforts, you know, working it at their level haven't helped so, um, this kinda is the last-- And, you know, I don't like this kind of unpleasantness. We've got professionals there that are just gettin' a little bit careless, so I expect your attention to this and give it one more try. And I'm gonna ask maintenance branch to let me know how well this goes come next week. I certainly don't wanna take away the privilege of taking snacks into the cabs because that's tough. That means they gotta come out of there every time they want to have a snack and, you know, with a six hour trainer ride, that's tough. Okay. Any questions?


Headquarters. A jet flies overhead. The MPT building.


An alarm sounds. A mechanical voice begins to drone. The two crew partners begin writing down the message, one letter at a time.

VOICE: Lima. Alpha. Uniform. November. Charlie. Stand by. Message follows. Lima. Alpha. Uniform. November. Charlie. Stand by. Message follows. Lima. Oscar. Uniform. November. Charlie. Hotel. Tango. X-ray. Sierra. Papa. Sierra. Victor. Two. Four. Three. Sierra. Foxtrot. Echo. One. Tango. Acknowledge. Out.

The trainee Commander speaks into a phone.


She hangs up.

TRAINEE COMMANDER (to Deputy): Okay, I see a valid message.


TRAINEE COMMANDER: Okay. Go on to Step One of the checklist. Launch keys inserted. Launch keys inserted.

Both partners rise and cross to a double-padlocked red box on the wall. Each partner unlocks a lock. They open the box, remove two launch keys and return to their positions.

TRAINEE COMMANDER: Okay, step one. Launch keys inserted [?]

The deputy's key won't go in.

TRAINEE DEPUTY: Yeah, hang on. It doesn't want to go in.

Finally, she turns the key right-side up and inserts it.


The commander inserts her key. Both partners strap themselves into their chairs. It takes what seems like a long time.



TRAINEE DEPUTY: Not yet. Ready.

The commander straps herself in, pulls her chair to the console, and consults her checklist.

TRAINEE COMMANDER: Okay. Ready. 'Kay. Step One: Launch keys inserted. Next step. Function Select Switch to off.

The deputy checks the switch.



Deputy flips a switch.


TRAINEE COMMANDER: [Flick?] 855 selected.

Deputy adjusts a control.

TRAINEE DEPUTY: [Flick?] 855.

TRAINEE COMMANDER: Initiate actuated clockwise.

Deputy turns a switch and holds it.

TRAINEE DEPUTY: Actuated clockwise. One thousand one.

Deputy releases the switch. A loud buzzer sounds.

TRAINEE COMMANDER: [?] the alarm.

TRAINEE DEPUTY: [?] Program Select switch to off.

Commander turns a switch.


TRAINEE DEPUTY: Flight Select switch to off.

Commander turns a switch.


TRAINEE DEPUTY: Launcher Select switch to off.

Commander checks the switch.

TRAINEE COMMANDER: Set. Unlock code. Required inserted. First element. Papa.

Deputy adjusts a control.


TRAINEE COMMANDER: Second element. Seven.

Deputy adjusts a control.


TRAINEE COMMANDER: Third element. Seven.


Deputy adjusts a control.

TRAINEE COMMANDER: Fourth element. Papa.

Deputy adjusts a control.


TRAINEE COMMANDER: Fifth element. Seven.

Deputy adjusts a control.


TRAINEE COMMANDER: Sixth element. Papa.

Deputy adjusts a control.


TRAINEE COMMANDER: Okay, read them back.

TRAINEE DEPUTY: Papa. Seven. Papa. Seven. Papa. Seven. Papa. Seven. Papa. Seven. Papa. Seven. Do you agree?

TRAINEE COMMANDER: Okay, I agree. Okay, Enable switch set to enable.

Deputy sets a switch.

TRAINEE DEPUTY: Enable switch, down and locked. Initiate switch actuated counterclockwise.

Commander turns a switch.

TRAINEE COMMANDER: Actuated counterclockwise. One thousand one. Release.

Commander releases the switch and reaches for the launch key.

TRAINEE COMMANDER: Key turn at commit time, on my mark, at the fifteen.

A bell rings.

TRAINEE COMMANDER: Hands on keys. Three, two, one. Mark.

They turn keys.

TRAINEE DEPUTY: Got my print.

A bell rings.

TRAINEE COMMANDER: Got the alarms. Okay.

They release the keys. A buzzer sounds. Lights go on on the commander's console. The lights are covered with Plexiglass so that as they illume the commander checks them off with a grease pencil.

TRAINEE COMMANDER: Okay, I've got Launch in Process on two sorties. Enabled Launch in Process.

The buzzer sounds again and again. Lights go on and are immediately checked with the grease pencil.

TRAINEE COMMANDER: Okay, I've got [?] missile away. Eleven's gone. Okay, Launch in Process on six. Okay, missile away on eight, nine, ten, four, five and three. They're all gone.

The bell rings one last time.

TRAINEE COMMANDER: Okay, they're all gone, deputy. That's it. That's all she wrote.


Kathleen and another woman, her crew partner, walk down the hallway. Pop music plays in the background. An unidentified man leads them to a room.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Have you got all your classified put away?

Kathleen and her partner enter the room.


Inside the room are several officers, two of whom greet the crew partners and lead them to a table.

1st OFFICER: Okay, commander and deputy. First thing we'd like to do is inform you that your evaluation resulted in a Highly Qualified rating, 5.0, no errors...

The crew partners let out a gasp.

1st OFFICER: And we'd like to ...

The crew partners shake hands and then embrace.


1st OFFICER: ...be the first to welcome you to the Minuteman crew force.

The officers shake hands with the crew partners.


KATHLEEN: Thank you.

1st OFFICER: Okay, congratulations.

2nd OFFICER: Congratulations.

KATHLEEN: Thank you.

1st OFFICER: Do you wanna have a seat, we'll go over a few things we'd like to discuss with you.

All four sit at the table. The crew partners try to suppress their emotion.

1st OFFICER: As mentioned, we have no, uh, no errors. I'd like to point out, too, that we, uh, felt that your performance was a very outstanding one and we awarded you an Outstanding Performance on the report. (to the 2nd Officer) Do you have any comments?

2nd OFFICER: Just to technique. When you're reading printouts, multiple printouts like the Inhibit test, one of the techniques to use is, you can use the [?] switches instead of writin' it down. Sometimes it's just easier just to pop those up and then you can see which ones are there and which ones aren't. That's just-- technique-wise.

KATHLEEN'S PARTNER: Talking about on the inhibits when she told me what we needed to check...?

2nd OFFICER: On the inhibits or any multiple printouts like that, that you're checkin' for, that's technique. The other overall comment I thought your crew coordination throughout the evaluation was outstanding. Checklist discipline especially. And that was evident in your Emergency War Order procedures once you got there. You can tell that you trained very hard to get to this state of readiness.

KATHLEEN: Thank you.

KATHLEEN'S PARTNER: Thank you. We put in a few hours.

1st OFFICER: To piggyback off of that is-- your checklist discipline, I feel, was well beyond the IQT level and I think that may be attributable to your prior experience in Titan...

KATHLEEN: We also had a good instructor.


1st OFFICER: Continue... Continue with that and, uh, pass that on to the people that you'll be dealing with. Now, you are gonna be under what I consider -- maybe it isn't -- but somewhat of a disadvantage is that when you all go on alert, you're not gonna have the advantage of being out there with somebody who's been pullin' alerts in the Minuteman system, so it's gonna be real incumbent upon you to ask a lot of questions, utilize those instructors and evaluators, especially when the instructor takes you out to the field to learn all those ins and outs and ropes and things, because what's comin' up in the next six months is gonna be that first recurring evaluation which will entail the field portion of the check.

KATHLEEN'S PARTNER: I don't think I can reduplicate the stress factor of this one. I just can't do it again.

1st OFFICER: I'm sure you can. But all I'm trying to get to here is [the unit's?] gonna be lookin' at you real hard they look for that first evaluation --


1st OFFICER: They look at everybody hard that way and it's gonna be real important that you all utilize your instructors and evaluators at the wing in preparation for that first recurring check.


1st OFFICER: You know from your Titan experience probably that -- you've learned all the contingencies and seen all the things that can go wrong -- but you're gonna go out there and find it's a very reliable system and it doesn't break very often and there's gonna be a tendency to not have anything to do so you might tend to not study. So, let's stay on the tech data and utilize your instructors and evaluators.

KATHLEEN: Yeah, I think we realize that we're really gonna have to do that because we don't have a, you know -- we're not going on crew with somebody who's been in the system for a year or two, so...

1st OFFICER: Right.

KATHLEEN'S PARTNER: I understand your [?] are much shorter than what we're used to. We'd have to keep in practice to be able to meet them.

1st OFFICER: Congratulations. Welcome to the Minuteman crew force.


KATHLEEN'S PARTNER: Oh, we appreciate it, very much.

All four rise and shake hands again.

1st OFFICER: Good luck. Drive careful, too.

KATHLEEN'S PARTNER: Thank you, will do.

KATHLEEN: Thank you.

The crew partners collect their things and start to leave.


A third officer approaches them, offers some barely audible words of congratulations and gives them each a hug.

KATHLEEN: Thank you.


3rd OFFICER: Good job.

The officer withdraws and the crew partners stand alone for a moment looking at each other. Kathleen's partner throws her arms up in the air.

KATHLEEN'S PARTNER: Let's go do something!

The crew partners embrace again. Finally, they head for the exit.

KATHLEEN: Oh, boy! Whew. Boy, that's a [?]


Other officers congratulate them as they leave the room.

KATHLEEN: Thank you.

AN OFFICER: Congratulations.

The crew partners exit while the officers clean up some details.

OFFICER: [?] forgot to put the score on, you know, put the score on the [?]


Two people exit the MPT building and go their separate ways. A street. Air Force personnel chatting with a bearded man, possibly a civilian. Another street. A church.


The place is packed. A service is progress. The chaplain stands at a podium delivering a sermon to the congregation. The colonel and others sit on the stage beside him.

THE CHAPLAIN: It was a week ago when our President addressed us as a nation. In that address, he quoted from a poem that's familiar to many of us who wear the blue suit. It was a poem by John Magee, written many, many years ago. The last few lines of that poem read:

And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

It seems like those words are able to transcend the time and the place in which they were written and speak to each of us in our moment of need. The first recipient of those words was a father who had sent his son off to go to war a long time ago. World War I. His son was an aviator who flew biplanes in open cockpits. He received this poem shortly after he had received the notification of his son's death. And the first public reading of it was at the funeral of his son. It seems to me that these words are able to transcend the time of open cockpits and move right into the time when I need to hear words of comfort, of time when I need to hear of space, of flight, in conjunction with the witness of my god. They seem to transcend that limited timeliness and speak to me forever. They ignore the technology of one moment and move beyond that. Let us pray together. O God, who gave us birth, you are ever more ready to hear than we are to pray. You know our needs before we ask. You know where our souls and spirits have been wounded.

The congregation listens attentively. A child, held in his father's arms, picks his nose.

THE CHAPLAIN: You know where the hopes and promises of the future have been crushed within us. You know the pain and the anger, frustration and loss we felt on Tuesday and continue to feel this day. Help us, O God. Give to us now your grace that as we shrink before the mystery of death, we may see the light of eternity. Speak to us once more your solemn message of life and of death. Help us to live as those who have faced death and who are prepared both to live and to die. Eternal God, we give you thanks for the lives of the astronauts who this day we mourn. We praise you for their spirit that leads us into the frontiers of space. We thank you that they were willing to risk their lives in order that we might gain a better life. O God, we pray for one another in need. O God, may the grief of us all be lessened through your ever-present love. For those who are weak, give strength. For those with doubt, give light. And for all who sorrow in every place and at all times, bestow upon them your peace.

The colonel leads the congregation in singing a hymn. He doesn't quite manage all the notes, but the performance is heartfelt.

THE COLONEL (sings):
O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Remain our God, thy light shall last
And our eternal home.

The colonel returns to his seat and stands beside it along with the others. Everyone in the church is standing. A bugler plays "Taps" while a color guard displays its flags.


The mournful music continues over the usual shots of various streets around the base. The music ends by the time we come to a shot of a building labeled:



The trainees' graduation. A room full of people sitting and listening as an Air Force general delivers a commencement speech. Kathleen and her crew partner sit in the front row with the other trainees.

THE GENERAL: I finish forty years of service to our country this year. And not only am I a parachutist as a young soldier in the United States Army, early in my career, I'm a gliderist, I'm a missileer, in fact, I probably have helped now in the last five years launch more missiles than many other generals in the Air Force today. I'm a space commander. I've commanded space organizations where we're responsible for on orbit satellites. I also, this year, and I was modestly pleased that my colleagues noted with me that I finished ten years of alert duty in the Strategic Air Command. I've been flying the Airborne Command Post now for ten years. And I'm proud of that. I'm proud of it to the extent that it says being on alert in the Strategic Air Command is so important to our country that we all perform that duty knowing that it's the most important thing that we do. The generals in our command pull alert just like the crew members do. And I just finished performing ten years of that with the prospects of doing it for some time yet to come. I have over five hundred flights in the Airborne Command Post. Some thirty-eight hundred hours of flying time. If you divide that by eight it ought to come out to five hundred and some. But I've spent a lot of time in the air, like some of you have already underground and like some of you will begin to do. And with that interesting look at my background, as I try to tie that in to tell you how vital the alert force is to us, let me humbly remind you now that for some forty years, over forty years now since the end of World War II, we in the armed forces, following out the guidance and instructions of our fellow citizens as we are members of an armed force and do what our elected leaders tell us to do have helped to keep our country free. Every day we keep our country free, we give men and women in other professions more time to solve the problems confronting the world. Every time we perform alert, we give confidence to our national leaders so that they can carry on their responsibilities in leading this great nation of ours. But I want to submit to you today -- and I make this point often -- that as we give confidence to our national leaders that we can do what our country wants us to do and provide them an effective deterrent force, we also by being on alert remind the leadership in the Soviet Union or, frankly, any nation that would seek to threaten our country with the use of terrorism, let alone the use of military force, that we're not a nation to be treated lightly and I often remind myself that there's a Soviet general somewhere who has forty years' service and he's a paratrooper and he's a gliderist and a master missileer and a space commander and all those things that I am because that's also his profession and his job every day as he leads and contributes somehow to decision-making in the Soviet Union is to know that men and women like you and I are on alert all the time with the wherewithal to provide our country with a very, very strong deterrent force and I need him every day to remember, in the words of General [Power?] who said his job was to make sure that the Soviet leadership, as they looked at the Strategic Air Command forces every day, turned to the other senior leadership and said to them, 'Not today, comrades. Frankly, not today, not tomorrow, not next month, not ever.' And you and I as people on alert have to remember someplace over there, we have a counterpart and our job is to make sure not only are our fellow Americans confident that we're providing a defense -- and it's vital and it's important -- but also our counterparts in the Soviet Union absolutely never misunderstand that. I'm proud of you. I'm proud of what we do. Don't ever forget, our country needs us to do just what we're doing. We need people on alert. We need people on alert at the missiles and the airplanes. And, frankly, if we don't need that kind of a deterrent force, they don't need us. And today, they need us -- for the future -- as far as I can see until there's some dramatic change made in arms control and disarmament -- our country is still going to need us. And there'll be people who will question that but you have to have the personal satisfaction of knowing that what you're doing is right. And I do. After forty years, I still will never, ever misunderstand the need for me to perform alert aboard the Airborne Command Post. There's great gravity associated with what you're gonna be doing. But when I tell others about us, I tell them that we're, by and large, people who are representatives of the society from which we come. And we are. If I'd asked you for a show of hands, it would be like ... a microcosm of our great society. We have people from all walks of life here in our armed forces. We are representatives of the society from which we come. I think, by and large, we're men and women who are interested in our communities and not just the base community but a community that we all serve, at or near the military installations where we're assigned. I'm always overwhelmed by the participation just in this area here. I have so many friends who are on United Way boards, they serve with the Boy Scouts, on and off base, but-- community involvement is a hallmark of us and I think we encourage that among one another. We're also people who I think are devoted fathers and mothers. And, uh, if you don't have children, I'll tell ya, that most of us will, and we are concerned about our children just like people are in any communities and watch the schools they go to and concerned about PTAs. I think, too, and I repeat this often, we're people who are concerned about our god...


The Vandenberg Center. A sign reads:


An empty green school bus drives by. An orange safety cone sits in the middle of street. The green school bus drives through a green stoplight. And continues down the road.