Minot Air Force Base Main Gate
In the early 1950s, as the tensions of the Cold War were beginning to increase, military leaders in the United States started to engage in dialogue regarding the fear of the potential threat of a northern attack on North America by enemy bombers. At this point in time, Air Force leaders started to explore possible sites for air bases in the northern United States.
The city of Minot, North Dakota was able to convince the Air Force to chose Minot as the site to establish a new Air Force base in 1954. A year later Minot businessmen and citizens donated approximately $50,000.00 to buy the first portions of land to be used for the base. July 12, 1955 marked the ground breaking ceremony, with construction on the base beginning shortly thereafter.
Minot Air Force Base Front Gate
The base at Minot started out as a Air Defense Command Base and the first unit assigned was the 32nd Fighter Group that activated on February 8, 1957. From that point forward, Minot AFB was quite busy with subsequent additions to the base. In 1958 the Air Defense Command established a Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) sector at the base. This consisted of construction of a huge, windowless blast resistant concrete building. IBM was given a contract to have its engineers install two very large, 275 ton computers in the basement of the building.
June 1961 marked the activation of the SAGE facility, which was tasked with air surveillance information, which then sent this data to Air Defense Command units. A refueling squadron was activated at Minot, along with a number of other fighter groups and squadrons.
Minot AFB continued to be a very busy place with Strategic Air Command coordinating a number of assets coming to Minot. 1961 also saw the Air Force stepping forward and selecting land around the Minot AFB for a new Minuteman I missile complex. Shortly after the land was selected for the Launch Facilities and Launch Control Centers, construction in the field started in January 1962.
The Corps of Engineers Ballistic Missile Construction Office (CEBMCO) oversaw the entire construction project responsible for the construction of the 150 Launch Facilities and 15 Launch Control Facilities covering over a 12,000 square mile area. The primary contractor who was awarded the contract for the field construction was the Peter Kiewit Sons Company. They were given the contract on December 22, 1961, with the winning bid of $67.8 million.
At the height of the construction project, Kiewit brought in 6000 men with approximately 1100 vehicles and 115 cranes, with the focus of completing their contract on time.
Strategic Air Command activated the 455th Strategic Missile Wing in November 1962, and 10 months later on September 9, 1963 the first Minuteman IB missile arrived from Hill AFB, in Utah. Upon receiving that first missile, Minot AFB was able to have that missile emplaced in the Alpha-02 Launch Facility that same day. Fast forward 28 months later, the 455th SMW had all 150 Minuteman IB missiles emplaced and on strategic alert in April 1964.
Minot AFB continued to go through a number of changes and additions to its base, and in mid 1968 the 455th Strategic Missile Wing was replaced by the 91st SMW. A few short years later, with the Force Modernization program implemented, the Air Force selected the 91st SMW to become the first missile wing to receive the new Minuteman III missile. The 741st Strategic Missile Squadron was given the honor of being the first operational Minuteman III squadron in December 1970, and by December 1971 the entire wing, (the 740th SMS, 741st SMS and 742nd SMS) were placed on strategic alert with 150 Minuteman III missiles. Each missile carried 3 warheads, which tripled the striking power of the Strategic Air Command's deterrent force.
Each of the 3 Strategic Missile Squadrons at the 91st Missile Wing had nicknames. The 740th SMS was nicknamed "Vulgar Vultures", the 741st SMS was nicknamed "Gravelhaulers", and the 742nd SMS was nicknamed "Wolf Pack."
The 455th Strategic Missile Wing became the 91st Strategic Missile Wing as the result of moving the 91st Bombardment Wing (BW) at Glasgow Air Force Base in Montana, to the 455th SMW at Minot AFB. The 91st BW was equipped with the B-52C and D bombers, as well as KC-135 tankers. The 91st BW was deployed to the Pacific twice, in 1966 and a second time in 1968, to fly bombing and refueling missions over Southeast Asia.
During the second deployment of the B-52 bombers and KC-135 tankers in 1968, the Air Force opted to shut down the Glasgow AFB and move the 91st BW to Minot AFB. In moving the 91st to Minot, the 455th Strategic Missile Wing was inactivated and the 91st BW became the 91st Strategic Missile Wing based at Minot AFB
The wing was redesignated the 91st Missile Wing in 1991, due to the inactivation of the Strategic Air Command, which became the Air Combat Command later that year. July 1, 1993 saw the wing's command change once again when the Air Force changed the wing at Minot to the Air Force Space Command. In the summer of 1994, Air Force Space Command redesignated the wing as the 91st Missile Group, and 18 months later it moved it back to wing status.
With the Air Force restructuring to an air and space force, the 91st was once again redesignated to the 91st Space Wing in February 1996. As a result of a number of serious problems and issues associated with the Minuteman missile and its weapon system unfolding over the years, the Air Force was forced to take a step back and reassess itself. The Air Force came to the realization that it had lost its focus on the importance of the Minuteman missile and the essential role that it plays in providing a nuclear deterrence.
July 1, 2008 marked the date that the 91st Space Wing was redesignated the 91st Missile Wing. On December 1, 2009 the missile wing officially transferred from Air Force Space Command to the Air Force's newest major command establishing the much needed focus on the nation's nuclear enterprise, this new command is now a part of the Air Force Global Strike Command, AFGSC.
One event at Minot AFB regarding the B-52 Stratofortress bomber occurred in June 1968, when the 91st BW at Glasgow, Montana was inactivated and transferred to Minot AFB. At this time the B-52H Stratofortess was deployed at Minot AFB, and became a part of the 5th Bomb Wing.
One characteristic about Minot AFB is truly difficult to put into words to accurately convey what it is like to work and live at Minot Air Force Base. This author has lived in Miles City, Montana many years ago, and the winters there are cold. Many a day walking to school the temperature would drop to 20 below zero. That was quite common. Minot has a definite drawback in that given Miles City gets cold, Minot AFB can get REALLY cold.
One of the biggest challenges that Minot AFB faces in operating not only a Strategic Missile Wing responsible for 150 Minuteman missiles incorporating 15 Launch Control Facilities, but Minot AFB is also responsible for one of only two remaining bomber wings incorporating the B-52H Stratofortress bomber. The winters in north eastern North Dakota are brutal, to say the least. Unrelenting severe cold, combined with snow that just does not stop falling. Maintaining a wing of B-52H bombers in these conditions takes highly skilled women and men. Maintaining a squadron of 150 Minuteman III missiles, with their 15 Launch Control Facilities (Missile Alert Facilities) requires equally dedicated and skilled women and men. Thus the motto you can see on the main gate as you enter into Minot AFB, "Only The Best Come North."
For further information about Minot Air Force Base, follow the link below to their website.