Behind an eight-ton blast door and about 100 feet underground in Cascade County is what is known as the first “Ace in the Hole,” one of Malmstrom Air Force Base's many nuclear missile control centers.
The Ace in the Hole was part of President John Kennedy’s nuclear force during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The work that goes on here and the airmen who do the work there were highlighted on Wednesday as part of Women's History Month.
The 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom operates and maintains 150 Minuteman III nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles. The missiles are located in silos across north and central Montana.
Captain Marie Blair and 2nd Lieutenant Allison Dickerson are two of the airmen who sit at the controls of nuclear missiles at what is known as a Missile Alert Facility (MAF).
Dickerson noted, "24-7, 365 days a year, a nuclear launch control center is manned.”
Blair said becoming a missiler wasn't an immediate decision when she joined the Air Force, but she's not complaining.
"When you sign up to join a part of the armed forces, whether that's the Air Force or other branch of service, you say, 'Regardless of what I'm given to do, I am willing to serve my country.' So initially I didn't raise my hand and say I want to be a missileer but I think that ultimately this was the right job choice for me personally and I'm happier, I think, here than I would have been elsewhere,” Blair said.
It takes more than two Airmen, however, to run the Missile Alert Facilities.
Senior Airman Jenny Riddick is a MAF chef: “We basically prepare all individual meals for each personnel on this MAF.”
And those meals aren’t just for the missileers — it’s for everyone who serves at a Malmstrom, including security forces and maintenance personnel.
The Malmstrom team was visited by Brigadier General Stacy Jo Huser and an entourage of other female guests on Wednesday. They were all there to visit with the all-female crew at the facility assembled in honor of Women's History Month.
Huser was assigned to Malmstrom early in her career; she now serves as the Principal Assistant Deputy Administrator for Military Application in the National Nuclear Security Administration.
"I feel appreciated being out here during Women's (History) Month. It's nice to be recognized and be told you're really useful, helpful," SrA Riddick said.
"I think it's amazing. It's a celebration of how far women have come within the military, within the Air Force, especially in this career field. We have a lot of women leadership,” said Lt. Dickerson.
"It is humbling, too, because as a general there's so many things she has going on in her life, so many things that she's in charge of. For her to say 'This is important enough for me to show up and show my support to' really instills the importance to us as well,” said Capt. Blair.
As for their advice for young women trying to decide what they want to do with their lives?
“For me, a lot of it is just not be afraid to go out of your comfort zone; having the confidence to really follow what you want to do,” Lt. Dickerson said.
“Take your time. There’s no need to rush because I still don’t know what I want to after my military career is over,” SrA Riddick said. “Life taught me one thing: you can take it at your own pace.”
According to the Air Force Personnel Center, as of February 2022 more than 21% of the Air Force is female.