The Department of Defense’s nuclear triad refers to the three components of the strategic nuclear arsenal: land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, strategic bombers and submarine-launched ballistic missiles.
Nuclear Airmen at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, secure, maintain and stand ready to launch B-52 Stratofortress bombers and ballistic missiles that provide a deterrent to any potential enemy who considers launching a first strike against the United States.
These Airmen are the heartbeat and muscle behind the Air Force’s nuclear mission. Despite subzero temperatures and an aging fleet, these maintainers, security personnel and operators ensure the President of the United States always has a dependable nuclear option and potential adversaries are aware the Air Force stands ready to strike back.
Rank and name: Staff Sgt. Christian B. Miller
Duty Title/Unit: Communications/navigations missions systems element chief, 5th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron/23rd Aircraft Maintenance Unit
Hometown: Chicago, Illinois
“The nuclear mission is the foundation of my career and has afforded me the opportunity to serve alongside some of the finest professionals the Air Force has to offer. It is truly humbling to be a part of something far greater than myself and seeing the impact our mission has is incredibly fulfilling.”
Rank and name: Master Sgt. Jason Eilo
Duty Title/Unit: Load standardization crew chief/5th Maintenance Squadron
Hometown: Hurley, Wisconsin
“While nuclear deterrence may not seem to be the most glamorous job in the Air Force, it is a very important one. Day in and day out I am in awe of the accomplishments that my fellow weapons loaders put forth to get the mission done despite long work hours, manning shortages and extreme weather conditions. When I enter the gate leading into the base and see the “ONLY THE BEST COME NORTH” sign, it triggers a sense of pride and motivation to put my best efforts into the day ahead.”
Senior Airman Colt J. Wiens
Duty title/Unit: Special missions aviator/54th Helicopter Squadron
Hometown: Hanford, California
“To be successful as a special mission aviator is a challenging task. There’s no such thing as normal and I remain flexible. One day you might be forced to fly through weather that’s well below freezing and the next you may be hanging outside a helicopter trying to save someone’s life.
Flexibility is the key to airpower and I believe the 54th HS aircrew members demonstrate this ability better than anyone else. Life as a career enlisted aviator is always subject to change and we get through each day by relying on our training and our crewmembers, knowing that our wingmen will always have our backs no matter the situation.
I was raised by my father and my grandmother with the same mentality. I credit them for giving me what I need and for teaching me how to succeed in life. They are the most selfless people I will ever know and I am proud to call them my family.
When I decided to join the Air Force, I could tell my father was overjoyed. He always took an interest in the military and I think that seeing me join gave him a feeling of great pride. My grandmother was at first apprehensive because she knew I would potentially be put in harm’s way, but she eventually agreed with my decision. Overall, my parents know that I am capable, responsible and selfless. They know me very well because these are the values that they taught me as a child.
To have a role in the United States Air Force’s most important mission is a privilege and a responsibility that I am fortunate enough to be a part of. Nuclear deterrence requires a degree of professionalism that is of the highest caliber, our Airman exemplify this quality on a daily basis. Make no mistake, this mission does not come without sacrifice, but to quote our late President John F. Kennedy, “The cost of freedom is always high – but Americans have always paid it.”
Rank and name: Airman 1st Class Michael Claus
Duty Title/Unit: Missile maintenance technician, 705th Munitions Squadron
Hometown: Midlothian, Texas
“I’m an airman 1st class and I play a big part in the Air Force mission from my perspective. For me, being a part of the nuclear mission is an amazing feeling given the fact that we are not (only) deterring for our nation, but the entire globe. Hearing other nations talk about the caliber of our deterrent force and highlighting the fact that we have enlisted members working on nuclear weapons, gives me a sense of pride. How many people in the world can say that they are 21 years old and working directly with a key component of the nuclear triad?
I’m a lot further away from home than my parents expected me to be. When I first joined the military, I thought I would be assigned much closer to home, but it’s all working out now. My parents still push me and provide the biggest support for me. My mom will give me those small pushes when I need them; that could be a simple phone call, but they come when I need them most. Being that our mission is important, I can say that our push is a behind-the-scenes push protecting America.”
Rank and name: Senior Airman Josh Serafin
Duty Title/Unit: B-52 Stratofortress crew chief/5th Aircraft Maintenance Unit
“Often times the job is very difficult and you have to look at the broader importance. I specifically remember being caught in temperatures so cold, and winds so strong, that I literally thought I was going to freeze to death – it had to of been around negative 40. The wind was cutting through every layer of my clothing, but I knew we needed to launch the jet. Times like those you never forget, because you remember everything you did to make the mission a success. I come from a close knit family and I know my strength lies between my family and God.”
Rank and name: Staff Sgt. Samuel L. Herring
Duty Title/Unit: Aerospace Ground Equipment craftsman/ 5th Maintenance Squadron
Hometown: currently, Raleigh, North Carolina; born in England
“When I was deployed in 2011 at Kirkuk Air Base, (Iraq) a mortar flew over our dorm and hit the dining facility area. Immediately, the worst day became one of my best days as I watched countless Airmen come together to support one another and make sure everyone was safe. I didn’t know what I was in for when I decided to follow in my father’s footsteps in joining the Air Force at age 27. That’s a little older than most brand new Airmen, but I was born overseas as a military dependent and I knew could get along with anybody. I still talk up stories about having a dual citizenship with the Queen’s official stamp on it.
I wouldn’t change any of my experiences so far because each of them has shaped my life and my service.
It is amazing to be a part of something so large. One of the experiences that really made me love my job was being able to experience history in the making when I was in Guam. We had the B-1 Lancer, B-2 (Spirt) stealth bomber and the B-52 (Stratofortress) long-range bomber all present at the same time protecting the Pacific region. This just reiterates that we are the tip of the spear. Being a nuclear Airman is nothing short of amazing.”
Senior Airman Christian Beauchamp
Duty title/Unit: Response Force leader/ 791st Missile Security Forces Squadron
Hometown: Saint Augustine, Florida
“Being a part of the nuclear mission as a defender at Minot Air Force Base, (North Dakota), is a tremendous responsibility. It means being a professional no matter what the job or the elements throw your way. This particular mission demands Airmen who are subject matter experts in every aspect of their job, because defending our nation’s most powerful arsenal expects nothing less. The day-in, day-out dedication that nuclear Airmen showcase is a true testament to our selfless commitment to our nation and allies.”
Rank and name: 1st Lt. Bhudpaul Dharamraj
Duty Title/Unit: Missile Combat Crew commander, 741st Missile Squadron
Hometown: Brooklyn, NY
“The luckiest thing that’s ever happened to me was my family and I are able to live in America. I was born in the developing country of Guyana, in South America. My father worked at the local market selling goods, and my mother stayed home taking care of me, and tending some animals and crops. Life growing up was not dreadful, but many of the comforts that we know today (e.g. television, phones, and cars) were next to near non-existent to me. In 1996, my grandfather who immigrated to America applied for a visa for my family and we got accepted. I still vividly remember arriving to America and the feeling of the cool wind hitting me that I now equate to opportunity. Since arriving I’ve been blessed in countless ways. I’ve received a free education all the way through college, I’ve lived in the greatest city in the world and I’ve met countless friends and mentors who have pushed me down a path of success. My decision to join the Air Force was twofold – I wanted to give back to the country that had welcomed me with open arms and had given me so much, and I also wanted to broaden my own life by doing something very few people would ever do. Becoming an Air Force officer responsible for nuclear weapons completely contrasts my beginnings as a boy in a rural developing country. I am grateful every day that I do the job that I do. I’ve come a long way and I have to thank America for accepting me as one of her own and allowing me to serve.”
Rank and name: Capt. Jon Gabriel
Duty Title/Unit: B-52 aircraft commander, 5th Operations Support Squadron
Hometown: Rosemount, Minnesota
“When I was in second grade, I became really interested in space and wanted to become an astronaut. I was told the best way to chase that dream was to join the Air Force. As I got older, I didn’t want to be an astronaut anymore, but the desire to join the Air Force and work in aviation stayed with me. I joined AFROTC at Iowa State University and got my pilot slot and the rest is history.
My challenges change every day. My first duty is being an aircraft commander and making sure I am ready for whatever comes up in the nuclear and conventional realm. As a flight scheduler, I need to take inputs from maintenance, the bomb squadrons and several other agencies off base to be able to create something that works for all of them. It can be challenging at times, but you create great cross-organizational relationships and each day is different. At the end of the day, it feels rewarding to know you got through the challenges and you look forward to the next ones.
Understanding deterrence on a global scale can be overwhelming and difficult to comprehend since there are so many moving parts that all come together to contribute to the mission. To be a part of that invokes a strong sense of pride in myself and this country. You have to hold yourself and others accountable at all times in order to ensure the mission is carried out — there is no room for error. It brings on a huge responsibility, but to see the world, see the effects and ultimately contribute to maintaining our national security, it makes the mission less daunting and something I enjoy being a part of.”
Rank and name: Senior Airman Daniel Hancock
Duty Title/Unit: Assistant dedicated crew chief, 5th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron
Hometown: Goreville, Illinois
“Three years ago I never would have thought that I’d be working on something of such importance and with some of the most powerful weapons mankind has ever created. Being a part of a mission that continuously deters our enemies and assures our allies safety, is nothing short of amazing. It’s unbelievable how our actions here in Minot can make such a big difference across the globe. Every time I see these BUFFs (B-52, Big Ugly Fat Fellows) take off, I really do fight off the goosebumps.”