Recently, I read Command and Control, Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety by Eric Schlosser. I was most interested in his writings about the explosion at Titan II missile complex 374-7 near Damascus, Arkansas in September 1980. Both Mr. Scott and I were working in Titan when this disaster occurred. Schlosser’s detailed account of the events of that night brought home just how much I’d forgotten and also how much I never knew about the disaster. It also reminded me of the profound love that those of us who serve have for each other.
I don’t talk a lot about my first job in the military. As one of my friends told me the other day, “That was soooo last century, girl!” He’s right – it was a long damn time ago. I joined the military in 1978 and became a Propellant Transfer System (PTS) specialist on the Titan II ICBM (big ass missile for you civilians), and I was assigned to the 390th Strategic Missile Wing at Davis-Monthan AFB, Tucson, Arizona. There weren’t a lot of us who held the title – probably less than 250 on active duty at any given time. We were divided between the three operational Titan II wings at Little Rock, McConnell, and Davis-Monthan, the tech school (it was at Chanute AFB when I attended), and the 3901st Strategic Missile Evaluation Squadron in California. Even if we didn’t all know each other personally, we were aware of each other by name and reputation.
Our primary job was to load and unload the propellants utilized by the Titan II, and handle any issues involving those propellants or the equipment. In a nutshell, we were the gas passers.
Those are PTS troops in the suits and while that red cloud looks cool – it was freaking lethal. We joked about the BFRCs – Big F***ing Red Clouds created when we spilled a little oxidizer, but that was the nature of the job. Every day, we worked with some of the most dangerous stuff in the world. There were two main components: Fuel – Aerozine 50 was a 50/50 blend of hydrazine and unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine (UDMH) and Oxidizer – nitrogen tetroxide (NTO to some N2O4 to us). They are hypergolic – that means you don’t have to light a fuse; they ignite from contact with each other. If properly maintained the propellants were stable and could be stored in the missile tanks long term
I’d arrived at Davis-Monthan AFB less than a month before the 24 August 1978 accident at complex 533-7 near Rock, Kansas. While loading the oxidizer tank, a Teflon O-ring became lodged in the poppet valve mechanism and the valve wouldn’t close. When the team disconnected from the missile, the valve remained open and the missile downloaded itself into the silo. That accident cost two PTS troops their lives and permanently disabled another. Most documents state that Staff Sergeant Robert J. Thomas and Airman 1st Class Erby Hepstall lost their lives because the oxidizer penetrated their protective clothing through tears and design flaws.
We PTS troops know the real reason they died – it was because SSgt Thomas and A1C Hepstall went into a dirty hole and did everything they could to save the missile and their injured teammate. They got the more important of the two things done – they saved their teammate.
As happens after every major accident, fingers were pointed, blame was assigned, and crap rolled downhill. But good thing also come of these events. In this case, mechanical changes occurred, safety procedures were adjusted, and the suits were repaired and theoretically upgraded. But at the end of the day, the hazards associated with our job didn’t really change. We worked daily on a weapons system that was archaic, utilizing equipment that was older than most of the people operating it, and we wore protective gear that, due to its age and design, may or may not function when you most needed it to. We also worked for Strategic Air Command who’s informal motto was “To err is human – to forgive is not SAC policy.” All of us knew the risks – every day that a team dispatched to a missile site was a crap shoot, but we never considered not going. It was our job.
Eric Schlosser author of Command and Control… described us as a group:
“The PTS guys were a different breed. Outside of work they had a reputation for being rowdy and wild. They had one of the most dangerous jobs in the Air Force – and at the end of the day they liked to blow off steam, drinking and partying harder than just about anyone else at the base. They were more likely to ride motorcycles, ignore speed limits, violate curfews, and toss a commanding officer into a shower fully clothed after consuming too much alcohol. They called the missiles “birds,” and they were attached to them and proud of them in the same way that good automobile mechanics care about cars. The danger of the oxidizer and the fuel wasn’t theoretical. It was part of the job. The daily risks often inspired a defiant, cavalier attitude among the PTS guys. Some of them had been known to fill a Ping-Pong ball with oxidizer and toss it into a bucket of fuel. The destruction of the steel bucket, accompanied by flames, was a good reminder of what they were working with. And if you were afraid of the propellants, as most people would be, you needed to find a different line of work.”
Were we really that way? Sometimes. I specifically recall that PTS troops had a real thing for mooning each other and anyone in authority – not that I ever did that.
It wasn’t just our view of ourselves. Others perceived us as a bit of a wild bunch. I knew several security policemen at Davis Monthan who rated PTS troops in the same category of crazy as the explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) guys. What I can tell you is that we were one of the few career fields (along with EOD, pararescue, and tactical air combat controllers) to receive hazardous duty pay for the work we did. Fewer than 5,000 people in the entire Air Force qualified to receive haz pay and even firefighters didn’t have it until 2005. I think Schlosser pretty much nailed us as a group. We were damn proud of what we did and our “bad boy” reputation was just a part of that.
I don’t think any of us ever forgot what had happened at 3-7, but I know we didn’t dwell on it. When you work with hazardous materials, you have to completely focus on what you’re doing when you’re doing it.
Schlosser writes in detail about the accident that occurred near Damascus, Arkansas in September 1980. At complex 374-7, a PTS troop dropped a heavy socket while working in the launch duct. The socket took a bad bounce and instead of hitting the wall or landing harmlessly in the bottom of the launch duct, the tool pierced the stage one fuel tank. The missile immediately began to download itself into the bottom of the silo. This was an operational missile with a full load of fuel and oxidizer as well as a nuclear warhead. The combined weight of the materials on what would soon be an empty fuel tank would cause the airframe to collapse and rupture the oxidizer tanks. Almost eight hours later, Senior Airman David Livingston and Staff Sergeant Jeff Kennedy went onto the complex in an attempt to gather critical information for the command staff. While they were on the site, the missile exploded, destroying the launch complex and blowing the nuclear warhead out of the silo. Sra Livingston died several hours later from the injuries resulting from the blast and the toxic cloud of vapor from the oxidizer that didn’t burn off. Amazingly, SSgt Kennedy survived. Twenty-one people were injured either in the explosion or during the rescue efforts that followed.
When almost everyone else fled the scene, the surviving PTS troops stayed behind to try to find their brothers. They weren’t leaving without them. And they didn’t.
Every person has a moment when they realize they are mortal. The explosion at 4-7 was my moment. I wasn’t there in person, but I felt the loss and the horror, just as every PTS troop did. Suddenly the earlier deaths of SSgt Thomas and A1C Hepstall had new meaning. Three men were dead, and all they’d been doing was the same job that I went and did every day. I’m also positive that every PTS troop had the feeling – “There but for the grace of God, go I.”
The men and women of PTS are still a small, tightly-knit community. We’ve been reaching out to each other and thanks to a Facebook group, we’re all reconnecting and the war stories have been flying. It’s been a lot of fun, but more importantly, it’s been healing for many of us.
There’s an unbreakable bond that occurs between the people who do work this dangerous. The title brother or sister has true meaning to those of us who use it amongst ourselves. Placing your life in the hands of your team members is an act of faith – our faith is based on the absolute and certain knowledge that no one would ever be left behind.
Nothing has changed. My brothers and sisters will always be there.
To read more about these mishaps I suggest you purchase Command and Control by Eric Schlosser available in Kindle or print from Amazon
Online summaries of the events at:
Complex 533-7 at Rock, Kansas
Complex 374-7 at Damascus, Arkansas
And get off your butts and visit the Titan II Missile Museum at Complex 5717 in Green Valley, Arizona.
Dan McNally says
I was in PTS at 308 MIMS from 67 through Oct 69, when I cross trained. I ended up doing over 25 years in the USAF, and in all those years, in all the jobs I held, none came close to the spirit of family and brotherhood I experienced as one of those crazy PTS troops.
Roger Moore says
PTS, 01/1963-07/66, Little Rock 308th MIMS. People never knew the dangers of the propellants on sites. The RFHPCO was so to get the fumes in. Some don’t realize we had to remove 53 bodies from 373-4, although it wasn’t fuel related.
Daniel Lloyd Davis says
Please contact me! Lots to catch up on,
Dan Davis (Dave) LRAFB PTS 62-66
Bill Scott says
I guess you had to be there to really understand the risks of the job. Nobody ever thought much about going to the Missile Sites, and having a Major Accident occur. But it sure opened a lot of eye’s and souls when the ones at Kansas and Little Rock happened. I was working in Job Control the night the site at Little Rock Blew up. We were listening to the SAC emergency Com Net, which consisted of all three of the Titan II bases and SAC headquarters. The builders of the missile, Martin Marietta, and even 3901st in Vandenberg were also on the line that night. Everyone was trying to brain storm, and figure out a way to save the site, or to neutralize the hazard, and minimize the damage. All of a sudden, the line went silent. Everyone kind of knew what happened, but nobody said a word for what seemed like a very long time. I’m sure it was only around 15 or so seconds, but it felt like forever. Now to me, that was a real “Eye Opener” into the jobs we did. No one knew what would ever happen if one of our sites blew-up, but everyone used to wonder what might happen, but after this night, nobody ever had to wonder about it again. Not too long after this accident, it was decided by the powers to be, that the Titan II Missile System would be “DEACTIVATED” !!!
Earl halmon says
I was in PTS at McConnell AFB Ks Grad from Chanute Jan74 McConnell-78. Accident 16 Sept 76 Oxidizer pump room. Spent 19 days in the critical condition. Total lung falure .Crosstrained 78 became a Electrical Powerlineman retired 93 (Red Horse) troop. PTS was the most dangerous job I had in the military. PTS we were trained to be Second to None. We were trained that the job came first!! No matter what. It took me 2 years to crosstrain even after the Mental Health Docs says crosstrain SAC say No!! twice. Still having problems today . And fighting the VA just saying.
And yet, no matter how many times the SAC or VA system fails, we never stopped caring about the people we worked with. Never stop fighting for the rights you earned by being one of the elite. I hope things improve for you, brother.
Ronald Gamble says
I have heard of the challenges and champions of the PTS experts. I met Earl Halmon in 1982, and I was immediately impressed. We served honoring our fellow active duty and veterans who gave ‘the last full measure of devotion’ and I will say definitely, that Earl Halmon exudes the greatness of military dedication and service. I greatly respect his career contributions and hold him in the highest regard as a friend, and military brother. Thank you Earl for the years of your contributions and the invaluable and immeasurable sacrifices that you have given. Love you my uniformed brother. You have my endless support. God Bless.
Thank you for letting us know, Ronald. It’s always great to hear such nice things about my PTS brothers. I’ve made sure to let Earl know you posted.
Earl Halmon says
Thank you for posting the great comment from a great friend and fellow vetern. Thank You for all you have done. We did the best we know how. It is a honor to serve with you and the Keepers of Peace . Titan II ( PTS/PC&E)
Earl Halmon says
It was a Honor to have served as a Propellant Transfer System (PTS) airman. We are a special group of airman that did a job that was not heard of. Our special way of keeping the peace during the cold war. I was a very young airman at that time . And very proud of my Sisters and Brothers I served with. We were on duty 24/7 keeping the peace. By keeping our (missiles) Titans II ready at All Cost. I mean at All Cost. Some gave All they could. We are the Titan II (PTS /PC&E) Airman doing our part Keeping the Peace.
381 MIMS (PTS/PC&E)
McConnell AFB Ks
robert ouellette says
hello i am robert ouellette is was at davis monthan at the 390th pts shop from 1978-1987 deactivated 18 sites after the deactivation it went to 308 little rock pts group and deactivated the 17 sites there my son became the titan 2 baby he arrived in this world during the last close out of the titan 2 parade he went into the titan 2 history books. after the deactivation i was hand picked to join the folks at patrick air force base–cape canaveral air force station –i was a space launch operation controller and facility manager of various spots at c.c.a.f.s. and then i retired and moved on still live in flordia truly enjoyed my job .e-mail email@example.com
Shawn Hanson says
My father is Mike Hanson and was in Damascus Arkansas. And has many problems and we are fighting VA.
I hope he continues to fight and demand the rights he earned. These are uphill battles, but we are not people who give up or quit.
Greg Devlin says
I worked with your dad, and was out there the night of the explosion. My PTS partner that night was Rex Hukle. He and I were the first ones to enter the site (Cutting the fence, breaking into the “portal” door) that night. Man, I would love talk with your dad! My phone number is 321-223-3685 (Cell) and my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
I live down here in Florida (near the Kennedy Space Center) along with some of the other PTS Brothers (Jim Heaps- Davis Monthan, Mike Gardner, Glen Downs, Doug Dipascale, Scott Pfeil, Larry Wallace, “Clyde” Poore (Little Rock AFB) and many others who’ve lived in Florida and moved away (Rick Willinghurst, Dan Fox and others). Heck, I think even Lenny D. Estelle is down here somewhere…..lol
In any case, if you get this message have your dad call my phone number twice. Normally if don’t recognize a number I let it go to voicemail but if you call twice from the same number I know it’s someone that I know.
John “GREG” Devlin
Jimmy Schmig says
I have a friend that lives by Okeechobee and a Buddy of his was Dan Fox, he passed a little time ago. Same guy?
kary shumate says
Shawn, Mike was one of my dearest friends while stationed at little Rock. I even lived with you, Rusty and your mom for awhile. I would love to hear from you. Kary 478-213-3093
Annette Sherman says
You always know how to describe things perfectly. Being one of the few PTS sisters ,I am grateful that you capture what we did so eloquently. It’s hard to describe it to people who think their clerical jobs are stressful.
Thank you, Annette. We all went out and did our jobs with little thought for ourselves. I don’t recall worrying so much about myself as I do worrying about not letting anyone else down. I look forward to meeting you some day. I hope you’ll make a PTS reunion – there aren’t a ton of PTS people out there and only a handful of us gals.
Jon Muckey says
Thanks Lynne for a great story and review. Apparently I was a little distracted when your original story came out but the story brought back a lot of memories. While I was only a lowly HVAC Titan II troop and married to a PTS troop at the time, I can attest to the impact and intense sadness these accidents had on the entire Titan II community as a whole, and especially on the PTS troops. It was a time for mourning and a time of learning, but we all continued to stand the wall and do our duty day-in and day-out. Thanks for the memories and may God bless all soldiers wherever you are – thanks for your service.
Thank you, Jon. When things like this happen, all we have is our pride in our duty, a willingness to stand our ground, and the need to do our job for the sake of our brothers in arms. The danger of what we did sank in that night, but the next day, we all showed up. None of us were willing to be the one who wasn’t there for the rest of the team. Thanks for always being there and standing with us.
Howard (Jack) Jackson says
Thanks Lynn for the story you must have been the class directly after mine at Chanute. I arrived at Little Rock PTS shop May 1978 an worked as a PTS team member for over nine years and one of those years was as Team Chief. I was at Lamaze class with my wife the evening my team members were called to respond to Damascus. By the time I received word that we were called out I had already been replaced by another PTS member. Like so many others I deactivated LRAFB and remained in the Air Force until the end of 2002. I cannot tell the story of that night and the following days without getting choked up. Tears rolled down my checks as I read Command and Control realizing that we were just like family then. Many of my brothers I have reconnected with on FB. Thanks again for the story.
Hello Jack. I remember you. I came to Little Rock in ’84 after shutting down DM. I was in the shop for about a month before being pulled up to P&S to take over the plans section for deactivation since I’d done it for DM. I think I only dispatched about four times before going up to plans. The Little Rock folks were terrific to me when I arrived – Ron Beaudry remains a good friend. I hope you’ll make the PTS reunion in April out in Tucson.
Greg Devlin says
Hi Howard / “Jack”
You were one of the AWESOME guys to work with. You came in and were a hard worker, a nice guy and a blast to hang out with. No where in my life have I EVER had as close of a relationship with my co-workers as I had while serving with guys and girls of PTS. What was amazing was that when my wife and I, along with some other PTS troops and their wives showed up in Little Rock for the reunion, I think we thought we’d be hanging out together and may not really be involved too much with the “other years” PTS troops whom we’ve never met before. WE WERE SO WRONG. It was so powerful to see how close everyone there was to each other. WE ALL LEFT THERE thinking we had just been with “family” members and we looked forward to the next PTS reunion. As you can imagine, we’ll be at the upcoming Tucson AZ get together and will be anxious to go down into the Titan II Silo with our family members. Take Care Brother! I look forward to seeing you again in the future (whenever that is 🙂
Greg Devlin (LRAFB 1977-1981)
Kimber Woods says
Great article and extremely weell written. I was honored to be part of this fine group of Air Force personnel who daily exposed themselves to untold dangers to support the Titan II missile system. I finished tech school at Chanute AFB in Illionis in May 63 and was assigned to the 381st MIMS at McConnelll AFB arriving there as the 381St SMW was becoming operational. I believe our first operational site was 533-8 during August 63.
Later groups were more fortunate than we were in that Haz Duty pay was unheard of during the early operational days of Titan 11. We were fortunate to be supplied with box lunches from the mess hall as we left base many times to only return sometimes 12-15 hrs later. After much GI complaining about missed meals we were blessed to start receiving pay for separate rations. We were so thrilled.
I enjoy so very much the postings of PTS personnel and being able to relate to many of the of the situations they write about. We were and I believe we still are a culture a bit apart from those who never served as we did and were never exposed to all the dangers we were on a regular basis.
Blessings to all.
Thank you, Kimber. And thank you for your service, brother.
Frank Cousino says
Great article Lynn. I was at Chanute June/July 76. Assigned to 381st MIMS at McConnell from 1 Sept 76 -28 Aug 86. Crosstrained after McConnell deact into Logistics. Enjoyed Logistics, but never had the family feeling as I had while in PTS. Great group of people.
Frank “Cuz” Cousino
Larry Mersberg says
I concur with Woody, I believe I was in the 2nd group of PTS’ ers at 381st (March of 64 through December of 67. I remember the box lunches. Although we had hardships l wouldn’t have wanted any other job in the Air Force. Working with the fine men of the 381st PTS was an honor. I salute all of those men and women that wore a RFHCO. Hope to see you all at those he reunion in April 2015.
Charles Jones says
I was an A1C assigned to the McConnell Hospital Emergency Room when the accident at Rock, KS occurred. I am the person that transported Thomas’ body to St. Joseph hospital. One of the pathologists on staff at St. Joseph was a Brigadier General in the USAFR and he was tasked to perform the autopsy. I was asked if I wanted to observe the autopsy and ended up spending several hours with the BG meticulously and methodically performing the autopsy procedures.
At that time, I was told when Nitrous Tetraoxide hits water it turned into nitric acid. They flooded the silo with water so they could pump the acid out. The concentration ate up the first set of pumps and they had to wait for Dow Chemical to send special pumps. They flooded the silo with an additional 100,000 gallons of water to dilute the concentration before pumping. I spent two weeks camped out as on-site medical support. When the air quality was given the green light, I got to accompany the team that went into the silo. The control room was an eerie site and looked like something from a movie set.
It was that experience that gave me an appreciation for the purpose of the DNIA program when missile troops were put on any medications. They were constantly working in a dangerous environment. My hat is off to anyone that was assigned to the silo jobs.
Ken Dz .... says
Great article — I am a retired. former crew commander in the 381st, was at 533-6, during the accident at 3-7. I live 12 miles south of the base . At McConnells Airman Leadership Education Center there is a room set aside that traces the history of Airmen since the AF inception. It is a nice well maintained collection of artifacts from all the wars , uniforms, books etc … It also has 3 curio cabinets set aside to recognize McConnell airmen that have died in various wars, Iraq, Afghan, Korea, VN and a corner with a big sign hanging from the ceiling that says MCCONNELL AFB HISTORY. No where is there any mention of the 381st, much less the accident at 3-7 that killed 2 airmen. Just this week I have contacted the Commandant to volunteer our resources to create an appropriate memorial. At our face book cage there are current pics of 3-7, and 2-1. As well as pics from various members — there are also FB pages for the DM and LR — as well as a general titan II page …
Beryle Farmer says
Great, great article, Lynne. I was on a Missile Crew at D-M for 12 years and always had a lot of respect for the PTS troops for the hazardous job they did so well.
Donald Dearborn says
PTS DMAFB 73 thru 76 and PROUD to have been part of that great crew known as the gas station attendants for a big A$$ bird. Somehow I know that when we all get together if someone said SUIT UP WE ALL would be in longjohns waiting for our backpacks ..THANK YOU ALL
Glenda Maxwell says
Smileyville Titan II Silo 533-6 SE of Douglas Kansas was right next to my grandparents farm . I spent my summers as a child in the 60.s and early 70’s never understanding the gravity of what was taking place less than a mile away ! Thanks for sharing this and for keeping us all safe !
Rich overton says
Lynne – I was a proud member of the PTS team at McConnell AFB. it has been 30 years since leaving the AF and I have avoided discussing my experiences with anyone, I have lived in Arizona for many years and have chosen to not visit the Titan Museum. My sister recently sent me a picture taken at Chanute which included my entire training class, I hadn’t seen the picture in nearly 35 years. Today I had a conversation with an 83 year old retired USAF Lt Colonel, he asked about my military experiences, that conversation brought me to the Internet and your article. I’m still not sure how I feel about the perception I had of the military viewing the PTS teams as irrelevant and expendable, I am glad to see that someone still views the teams as important and relevant. Thank You. Rich Overton, 381 MIMS. 1979-82.
Thanks for getting in touch Rich. Many of us were on the fence about visiting the site and attending a PTS reunion, but we’re feeling better for doing it. The bad stuff seems to disappear and only the good is left behind. We’ve started a PTS reunion group and are gathering names and putting friends in touch after all these years. The next reunion is actually in Wichita in 2017. We also have a PTS only Facebook page at TITAN II PTS Please contact me via email at email@example.com so I can pass on the current information.
John McNeilly says
Thank you all for having served and for having the courage and selflessness to do the job that somebody had to do.
My father was in from 60 to 64 with the Atlas missiles in Kansas. My eyesight prevented me from serving although the connection is still there to the people that have worked so hard to keep us safe. Again, I thank you for your great service to our country. God Bless.
Robert Thomas Bradley says
My uncle and the man I was named after was one of the three that passed away, Robert John Thomas. To anyone who served or currently is thank you for all your hard work!
Edward N Ryan Jr says
Your Uncle and I were good friends. I was crestfallen at his loss. I still think of him often. He was a great guy and a man if integrity and courage.
robert bradley says
Thank you for the kind words! His family is doing great and we even got a visit from My aunt in October. Nice keeping in touch with everyone after all these years. Ive heard nothing but good stories about him.
Jim Hendrix says
I arrived at LRAFB in Jan ’69 and worked in PTS (there and DM) until I retrained into Bioenvironmental Engineering in 1980. I spent many hours in PTEST in headquarters with the Wing King and all that brass that group. My main job was to use the weather information and plot where a BFRC would go from the site being worked on. I heard many comments from the Colonel on down about the respect they all had for the PTS troops that went out everyday to do their dangerous jobs. They knew I had been a PTS team chief and I was asked many questions about the PTS team members. I was very proud to tell them about the quality of the men and women that did their jobs with pride. One day when PTS was connecting up to the OX fill and drain , the safety officer, that I sat next to, said he was glad he didn’t have to do that !!
Eric Ayala says
I was a stationed in LRAFB from 1978 through 1982 as a proud PTS team member. A better bunch overall than any I have ever worked with. To this day have made friendships that I am proud to say are all my brothers and sisters. As far as Command and Control by Eric Schlosser goes, I believe it is truly just a skewed, to his agenda, anti nuke book and just taking advantage of a sad day in our lives. I was there in the beginning of that day until they practically arrested us and forced us to leave. This is the first time I’ve said anything about this except to my PTS brother Greg. I highlighted his book with completely false statements until I just gave up. When you write a book with an agenda in mind the truth will never truly come out. Rest in peace my brother Livy.
God bless all my PTS brothers and sisters and that you all live healthy strong lives. Press on but never forget.
Edward N Ryan Jr says
I’m not sure if you remember me, but I do recall you. Between 1970 -1977 I was an MMT / Propulsion Tech at Vandenberg (394th SMS – Titan Branch) and then 1977 -1985 at the 381 SMW. I did about a year with the crew chief shop and then went to maintenance training, (yeah…a wing position!!) Yes I plead guilty. I’m the turkey that came up with “recurring proficiency training,” 9 hours per quarter, and the training day concept. Between that and CTB it really helped. By the time closure was announced in 84 the tub file counts were cut by over 50% at all three bases. Even though we had two majors accidents, we were closing out on a higher note. From there I went to Grissom, Indiana for two years as the First Sgt for a flying communications squadron. I caught a lot of rides on EC-135’s back then. I retired in October 87 and was immediately hired at the Kennedy Space Center, in Base Operations Training. There, I trained base op’s people (including life support and fuel farm) in the art of Hazmat, PPE, facility safety, and numerous OSHA standards. The PPE part did include SCAPE (what we called RFHCO) a more updated version of the ratty old suits we used to wear. It surprised me how many of the old Titan guys were working there. Fuel Farm and Life Support was loaded with them. Every time they showed up in my classes it was like “going home.” By the time I retired, January 2013, I had supported over 350 unmanned and 110 manned launches. Yes, I actually did get to meet astronauts and the launch support teams. I trained 103 of the 135 total shuttle flight crews, (ground crew egress, fire suppression, bunker PPE, and operations.) Well, to make this long story short–er, my longevity overcame my stupidity, and in 2009, I was coronated as the Chief of Training for the Kennedy Space Center. So now I’m retired. Well, sort of. I’m still a badged employee and NASA calls on me a few times during the year to do some safety management training and consultations. The only thing different is the ridiculous amount of money I’m permitted to charge them for my services. 🙂 So, in October the wife and I are flying out to Arizona to do a little Grand Canyon thing on the Railroad out of Williams, and while we’re out there we are making the trip down to Duval Mine Rd. to the Titan site. For her, it will be the first time she has ever seen a site. For me, it will be a trip down memory lane. The first time I ever laid hands on Nancy 10, was 47 years ago at Sheppard. It will be good to see the old gal again.
Hi Ed. Make sure you check out the museum’s site and perhaps arrange around a behind the blast doors tour – you’ll need to reserve that in advance. It’s worth the extra time and money for us folks. 🙂 It was great to hear from you.
Shawn Crowley says
My father, John Crowley, was a Titan II silo commander at McConnell AFB in 1963 to about 1965. He was called away from home at one point due to an accident at the silo. He was gone for days but gave no explanation. Years later I heard that there had been deaths or serious injuries due to an oxidizer leak. My father was retired from the AF in 1969 due to medical problems the doctors attributed to exposure to the oxidizer. He died in 1984 due to his lungs deteriorating.
I would be grateful if anyone could provide me with any information about the accident. Thank you.
Daniel L. Davis Jr. says
I was at LRAFB from1962 until 1966 We were the first airmen to be trained as PTS and were taught most of what we knew from Martin techs. We also established many of the procedures in the tech. orders. I am still in touch with some of the old crew. On two occasions a team saved my life but at the time it just seemed like a normal day. We are all in our 70s and a few have gone but the PTS fraternaty seems to stay strong.
Daniel Davis says
I was among the first airmen to complete the PTS school at Chanute AFB in 1962. Stationed at LRAFB and started my real training with Martin Techs, We loaded the first Titan II at our location, and helped to write the TOs that would be used in future PTS operations for many years. I went TDY to Vandenburg AFB three times, and back to Illinois once. All of the Airmen who served from 1962-1966 are in our 70s now and some are gone, but the PTS fraternity seems to stay strong.
Kevin (Breity) Breithaupt says
OK.. OK … let’s not forget Wayne Spurlock, Danny Woods, Bubba Howard, Jackie Parker, Doug Cecil, Jimmy Freeman, Glen Reeves, Bobbie McCullum, Jay Cantrell, Pat Boylan, and me (Breity, from 1976 to 1986). We all are residents of the Space Coast Florida.. The Air Force made us family but after the accident, treated us like the worst red headed step child… wanting nothing more to do with some of us…. me they took my TSgt stripe because I was overweight with a normogram , My career was over at the half way mark…. pretty much a wash….
David Hundley says
the best friend I ever had was a titan ll missile maintenance personal station at McConnell AFB Wichita Ks. 1973-75. He died April 8 2017 of bone ,lung and brain cancer. I remember him telling me that him and his team spent all their time replacing seals that leaked. He was proud and always excited to go to work, he loved the air force. A Go-Fund-Account was set up to help but the goal was never reached. Google – Barry Womack Rockwall Texas for obituary.
Jonathan Dixon says
I will always remember my time in PTS @LRAFB. People may not know that the 308th would help communities after natural disaster. Right after I arrived at LR, Roseud AR, got hit by a tornado. All went there and helped clean up the town. How proud I was to be part of that organization. I will always remember the great people I worked with and associated with.
David L Winger says
In 1966, I was cross trained by SAC along with Gary Franzen, Dick Schut, and Danny McCurdy from conventional fuel system maintenance to PTS. It was a great change. I worked with some of the best brothers and sisters alive until retirement in 1981. Thank you all for being a great part of my life. Thanks to Sharon, Mike, and the other people that do so much to keep us connected.
It’s an honor to be a part of this group, Dave.
Tom , Robert Thomas, was one of my dearest friends. I was at LRAFB and he was at MAFB . We held the same responsibilities on our respected bases. Tom and I would spend many hours on the phone discussing personnel, technical and management concerns His untimely death took a part of me. To this day I think of him with great respect. All those that gave the ultimate sacrifice I salute . I believe through there sacrifices it made us better and stronger, I pledge never to forget them.
Rodney McGowan says
Thanks Lynne for the article,
I was PTS at DM from 82 until deactivation, then at LRAFB until its deactivation. I saw so many names of friends on this post. Too numerous to mention, they all know who they are. I even got a little choked up reading the names of all those folks I haven’t seen or heard from in a long time. You’re correct though, we were a breed apart that’s for sure. So to all my former PTS partners in crime I hope you are all doing well. I have been doing well. I couldn’t ask for much more.
Holy cow, Rod. Scotty and I have wondered where you were and how you were doing. We think of you so often. It’s usually one of those conversations about cars and spaghetti dinners at Scotty’s place. It’s wonderful to hear from you.
Glenn Haney says
I was PTS at LRAFB . Got there in early 1964. I got to see a lot of the guys at the last two reunions. Is there going to be one this year?
There isn’t one scheduled currently. The 390th group is scheduled for a Titan reunion in September in Tucson this year. If you aren’t a member of the “Titan II PTS” Facebook group you may want to join since that’s where these things happen.
Dan Fox says
Lynne. Dan Fox here. LR PTS 78 to 82. I’m looking for any information about a PTS reunion this year. I know the last one in 2019 in Fla. was one I wanted to go to and missed because of my daughters wedding. Would love to spend a week end with all my old PTS mates.
Hi Dan, I think the next one will probably be 2023 in Little Rock. We’ll keep folks informed on the PTS FB page.
Brian Roberts says
After conventional fuels school (631X0A) at Amarillo AFB in mid 1966, I attended unconventional fuels school (631X0B) at Chanute AFB in late 1966, graduating at the end of 1966 and was assigned to Vandenberg AFB for my entire four year career, being discharged as a SSGT in June, 1970. A very active base and worked with all the propellants for Bomarc, Thor, Agena, Atlas and Titan missiles. Mostly with cryogenics, but my assignments with both theTitan and Agena storage facilities as well as all the various missile sites, brought me in plenty of contact with their nasty propellants. I especially remember the time in RHFCO suits in the red cloud, and that they were aged, leaked and were patched with bicycle tube patches. Many looked like a case of the measles. I do remember the unsuccessful attempts to get hazardous duty pay. Think I remember that guys in motor pool that worked with battery acid received haz pay but not us.. Never figured out the logic. I do remember the box lunches and a couple of oxidizer leaks and subsequent partial evacuations. A couple of problems with drifting gas clouds after unsuccessful launches. We maintained the base storage facilities and transported propellants to the Missile sites. At Vandenberg the we had three Titan silos that were starting to be deactivated during my tenure. Worked at removing their propellants. Primarily the Titans were used for satellite launches and testing of warhead re-entry vehicles. The later variations of the Titans and with the use of strap on solid rocket boosters, provided the maximum thrust for large payloads. While at Vandenberg, we commenced the MOL Project to utilize a Titan II to launch a manned Gemini, two man capsule, as a spy platform. The project was cancelled before the launch on any USAF astronauts. I had an exciting, busy career, but did receive y share of exposure to the different toxics. I had cancer in 1970, and luckily survived the tough surgeries. I am happily retired in Sun City Grand in Surprise, AZ. I have visited the Titan Museum in Tucson, and enjoyed the memories it brought forward. I have enjoyed reading Command and Control and the documentary film. My heart goes out the those brave airmen who gave all, and those who survived their time, and are able to tell the story. I would be interested of learning of any internet or Facebook groups that correspond.
Tom Lose says
I was PTS from 9/77 – 5/79 at McConnell when accident happened I was not on site then but was on same team. I was recovering/healing from a accident on load truck earlier in summer lost part of right index finger in a t-handle on one of the doors. I have been kicking my self every day since wondering maybe would have been me down there just cannot stop running that through my head. Anyway you mentioned a Facebook group would love to connect.
The Facebook group is Titan II PTS. It’s a private group so you’ll need to answer the questions and be approved by a moderator.