The Scariest Night in Minot Or How I Learned to Stop Being a Snot Nosed Little Shit Around Nuclear Weapons and Learned to Love the Bomb How does every great aviator story start?
Duh da duh da da, TITS!
Just kidding. No, not really. That's usually how we start stories at roll call. And, it occurs to me, that there are many a good story that can be found in roll call. All stories are at least ten percent true and some even almost ninety percent true! So why keep the stories confined to roll call? Why not let some of the funnier ones out of the bag, into the light of day?
This one is at least ninety percent true and the story of one the scariest nights I've even had on the ground with a B-52.
So there I was...
A young, dumb, and invincible new Electronic Warfare Officer (EWO) in the mighty B-52 Stratofortress. I was then the kind of lieutenant I fear now: young enough to think I was invincible and too dumb to know the difference between being in a little trouble (being called to the carpet and scolded by my Squadron Commander) and being in big trouble (paperwork, court martial, and possibly being thrown out). Both of these facts will play a factor in my tale.
Being brand new and only having just finished my nuclear certification a few weeks prior, I found myself in one of the shittier jobs of the nuclear bomber community: demonstrating nuclear weapons procedures for the myriad inspections and evaluations that plagued the B-52 community at the time. Only a few months prior a crew had inadvertently transferred nuclear weapons without authorization. Read: one person could have been a hero and found that the bird was loaded with nukes and saved the day, but alas, they did not. That's all I have to say about the crew. The aftermath was that Minot AFB, ND was no longer a "fun" place to be, if it ever was.
Our tale begins one lovely and chilly November night. When I say chilly, what I mean is it was barely 20F; a single layer of long johns and a snorkel parka was no longer sufficient, a fact I found out much too late. We also shouldn't have been out so damn late. The jet should have been ready at around 2 pm but due to freezing temps, moderate wind (>35 knots), and maintainers terrified to fuck up again, we were just a little delayed.
So, at 11 pm on a Thursday night, I finally get called to go into work to demonstrate my newly learned nuclear weapons acceptance procedures. I, being a true southerner, layer up in everything I think is reasonable: long johns, a thermal top, thick fuzzy socks, a flightsuits, and snorkel parka all layered over a lacy bra and thong because fuck you, I'm a girl, and I do what I want. Again, this might come into play later. I also slide a knife into my boot, a multi-tool into my chest pocket, and another knife into my flight bag. Because I like knives. That's why.
Confident in my clothing selection I hop in my car and drive to the base, relieved to finally be off standby and going to do my job. Upon arriving at the squadron, I meet my crew. The boys and I proceed to the vault for our gear doing what all good crewdogs do: bitch about everything. It's too late. It's too cold. What the fuck are we doing another inspection for? Needless to say, by the time we had our gear, most of us were in a bit of a snit. With a chorus of eye rolls, we go to our trusty steed for the night, a busted-ass blue steely diesel truck.
Now comes the ticklish part. Five armed crewdogs plus gear has to go from the squadron to a B-52 on the flightline. Not just any B-52, but a nuclear loaded B-52. And not just any flightline, but the heavily guarded, cordoned off, flightline around a nuclear loaded B-52. Just remember kids, it might be an exercise or inspection for you, but it's fucking game time for Security Forces because those are real nukes, and they have real guns. This might be important later.
So, due the ticklish and delicate nature of our job for the night, we get an armed escort from the building to the entrance. I, being the young snot-nosed little shit that I was, felt that such things were beneath me. I, therefore, decide that now, roughly thirty minutes past midnight, is the time to fuck around with the cops. Once the crew and gear are loaded into the mighty Blue Steely, I gun the fucker, leaving our escort in the dust. Knowing that they sure as fuck won't pull me over because they can't risk us stopping between the building and the jet, I go roaring down the road as fast as the mighty Blue Steely will go. The cops hit the lights and give us a merry chase all the way to the entrance to the flightline.
By the time we arrive, moments later, I'm laughing my head off, my aircraft commander (and boss for the night) is irked, and the Security Forces boys are furious. Fortunately, we're at the gates for the line and there isn't much they can do to me now. Or so I think.
The next part is the hairy part. One has to get into the heavily guarded flightline, with all one's crew and gear. This means a Santa Clause like procedure where there check their list, check it twice, finding out if you're naughty, nice, or eating pavement for not being on the goddamn list. Guess which one I was? If you guessed "naughty" you'd be right. If you guessed "eating pavement" you'd be close.
We approach the gate slowly with our gear and hand off various forms of ID, blood, urine, firstborns if we're misfortunately enough to have them, and attempt to gain access. All the while, Security Forces requests that we remove any weapons we're carrying Do you remember that scene from the first Matrix movie where Neo is pulling weapons out of everywhere? Yeah, it's a little light that.
Fuck you, we're military. We like our fucking guns and knives. We cuddle up to them at night. They're our spouses and significant others until we marry. Then, they're a side bae we see every chance we get.
So, there are now five M9 9mm Berettas, six multi-tools (don't ask, someone brought a spare I think), and more knives that I can count in a glance. We also have to remove our parkas so we can be wanded(handheld metal detector). While we're disarming and disrobing, our Security Forces friends are muttering. I can only imagine that they're slightly perturbed by my Blue Steely sleigh ride through the Minot snow. Once the names are verified, we, one at a time go through to get wanded by a nice young man with an M4 slung across his chest. That M4 is quite the popular accessory since all the young man's friends seem to be sporting them too.
The Copilot, who will remain unnamed as he is currently serving time in Leavenworth for "conduct unbecoming" during another incident, steps up, gets wanded, and goes through the fence to a holding area where our weapons and parkas are. No problems, after donning his parka, he begins picking his gun and knives out of the pile.
By the way, it's now pushing 2 am and the mercury has dipped to a charming 15F. Those of us on the outside are shaking, shivering, and getting more annoyed by the minute.
Next up, my Navigator, a short, shaved bald, and cranky little shit goes through, shivering as the cop wands him. He's deemed clean and proceeds into the holding area.
I'm on deck with my Pilot and Radar Navigator in the bullpen, both "veterans" with a whole year longer on station than me. This means they're smarter than I am. It also means that when I open my mouth, they realize the danger I've just placed us in.
As I drop my parka and, shivering, step up to get wanded, I idly ask, "So, what are you looking for anyway?"
I'm pretty sure the Pilot and Radar Navigators stopped moving, like a gazelle on the Serengeti sensing lions in their midst.
"We're looking for weapons, ma'am," the nice young kid tells me. He's probably a whole three years younger than me. Young Punk.
My eyebrows must have shot to my hairline as I asked, "You mean like those?" and pointed at the massive pile of weapons my Navigator was now pawing through.