Minuteman at Grand Forks Air Force Base
Established on August 20, 1956, Grand Forks AFB formed part of the nation's air defense network, hosting a Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) center. The base's primary mission changed dramatically on July 1, 1963, when Aerospace Defense Command (ADC) transferred the base to the Strategic Air Command (SAC) in anticipation of the arrival of the 321st Strategic Missile Wing.
The search for a location to place "Wing VI" began in January 1961. Based on military and engineering recommendations, the Department of Defense selected a 6,500 square mile region around Grand Forks in February 1963.
A year later, the Air Force announced that Grand Forks AFB would be first to deploy the Minuteman II missile. On February 28, 1963, it was announced that Morrison-Knudsen and Associates, which had submitted a bid of just over $128 million, would serve as the primary contractor. During the following month, construction began on the first flight of missile silos. Excavations presented relatively few problems. Flooding during the winter and spring of 1964 and 1965 proved to be an exception. Many flooded components, such as diesel generators, had to be returned to the factory for rehabilitation.
Labor-management relations were exemplary. There were only two work stoppages. A Missile Site Labor Relations Committee met twice monthly to act on existing or potential problems. Seven fatalities were associated with this project.
On November 1, 1964, the 321st SMW was activated. As personnel began to report to the 321st, the wing trained for the day when the Minuteman II missile would be placed on alert status.
In March 1965, wing Headquarters found a permanent home in building 306. The 75 foot high blockhouse formerly served as a SAGE Direction Center for the ADC. Later that year, the "LE-4" missile procedures trainer was installed within the Headquarters building.
As the Headquarters staff settled into their new home, construction continued on 150 underground silos and 15 launch control facilities, spread out over territory comparable in size to the state of New Jersey. During 1965, the wing's three missile squadrons were activated and crew training and certification began at Vandenberg AFB, California.
In August 1965, the base received its first Minuteman II missile, shipped by train from assembly plant 77 at Hill AFB, Utah. During the following March, the base received the first Minuteman II to be shipped via aircraft, an Air Force first.
On April 25, 1966, the 447th Strategic Missile Squadron and its 50 Minuteman II missiles were declared operational. Additional flights came on line throughout 1966. On December 7, 1966, the 321st Strategic Missile Wing, with its component 446th, 447th, and 448th Strategic Missile Squadrons, became fully operational.
As the first base to deploy Minuteman II missiles, Grand Forks AFB hosted "Project Long Life II," a unique reliability test in which modified Minuteman missiles were fueled to travel a few hundred yards. The first launch from a Grand Forks silo occurred on October 19, 1966 and was declared unsuccessful. Nine days later, a second attempt also failed. A third attempt under "Project Giant Boost" occurred in August 1968 and again proved unsuccessful.
Crews from the 321st SMW competed in SAC's first Missile Combat Competition held at Vandenberg AFB from April 2 through April 7, 1967. Later that month, members from the wing launched its first Minuteman II from Vandenberg.
Despite the wing's relative youth, it quickly established a reputation for excellence by winning numerous honors during its first few years. For example, in 1969, the unit received numerous significant honors, including the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award, and SAC Outstanding Missile Wing Award. Throughout the next two decades, the unit would score additional triumphs at Olympic Arena missile competitions and receive numerous "best" accolades.
From December 1971 to March 1973, the wing converted to Minuteman III missiles. These missiles represented a significant technological advancement, having multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs). Coordinating the missile changeover required complex planning and execution. In 1972 alone, 250 separate nuclear weapon convoys motored over the roads of North Dakota.
Modifications continued that enhanced readiness and improved survivability. For instance, about mid-August 1975, "Wing Six Integrated Program" (WSIP) was implemented. WSIP included a silo upgrade that improved the missile suspension system to withstand greater blast-shock and provided the 321st with a remote targeting capability.
The wing underwent continual readiness inspections and participated in numerous training exercises on base and at Vandenberg. Training improved with the expansion of on-base simulator facilities. For example, in 1970, wing crews conducted tests using "Modified Operational Missiles" which enabled them to exercise all aspects of a missile launch except igniting the engine.
Often nature threatened wing readiness. The organizational history referred to "the Great Blizzard of '66," " the storm of '75 that caused $10,000 in damages," and "one of the harshest winters (1977) which 'hampered maintenance efforts' and had 'ice storms snapping power lines'." When the heavy snows melted, floods occasionally resulted. A quick thaw in April 1979 created one of the most devastating floods within the Red River valley basin during this century. In addition to protecting the silos from flood waters, wing personnel volunteered to join the mostly successful 2-week struggle to keep Grand Forks and East Grand Forks dry. This effort was repeated in April 1989.
With the restructuring of the Air Force in the early 1990s the wing first came under Air Combat Command and then Air Force Space Command jurisdiction. In March 1995, the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission selected the 321st Strategic Missile Wing for deactivation. Grand Forks Realignment
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