Person

Al Hall

Older African American man in military jacket talks to a group
All Hall discusses the electronic control systems of the underground control center with a group.

NPS/Minuteman Missile National Historic Site

Quick Facts

Alonzo Hall was assigned to the 44th Missile Maintenance Squadron at Ellsworth Air Force Base in September, 1975 and worked in missile field operations up through the deactivation in the early 1990s. His first duty was as part of the Site Security Maintenance which maintained security systems on the missile sites. As a maintenance technician, Mr. Hall helped ensure that radar antennas and motion sensors at the sites worked properly. He was then assigned to the Team Training Branch which helped airmen gain practical knowledge to perform maintenance at the missile sites. Mr. Hall was then upgraded to a team which assisted technical engineers in learning field operations.

Mr. Hall was interviewed for the park's oral history program in 1999, 2015, and 2017. Below are several excerpts from his interviews.


Tell us about a day in the life of a Missile Maintainer.

Basically, since I was what we called a dispatching team, we covered all 13,500 square miles of western South Dakota. I’ve been to every silo more than once, I’ve been to every control center at least once. My specialty as a missile systems analyst basically had three types of career fields. We had electrical mechanical teams known as EMT. We had site security maintenance known as SMT teams. We had combat targeting teams. And I did the site security maintenance and I did the electrical mechanical for the better half of my career. So basically, as a young troop just coming out of technical school we go through additional training at the base before they pair us with more experienced team chiefs and we go to the missile field. Our schedule typically is fifteen days out of the month where we’re going to dispatch the missile field. And two days were reserved for training in a thirty-day period.

From the time, I show up at Ellsworth Air Force Base, we load up our truck and head out to the missile field to the time we get back has to occur within that sixteen hour window. If I cannot get back to the base within that sixteen hour window, we wind up in a situation we call a RON status – a Rest Over Night status. What that mean is that when we are at a point either completing our job or at a safe point to stop our job at a silo then would secure everything and then proceed on to the nearest launch control facility in this case let’s just use Delta One and then when we reach Delta One and we once we were cleared and get onsite, we would get our rooms and for the next nine hours we are in what we call crew rest status. After nine hours, what will happen is that if we are done with our maintenance at the launch facility then we would proceed back to base, turn in our equipment, our trucks and debrief and then the rest of the day is off. If our schedule is every other day then we would be coming back the day and twelve hours. 

So, it’s a great job if you like outdoors. I always tell folks this is still the only job in the Air Force where you have a person’s average age is about twenty-three years old, they have a top secret clearance, they are certified to work on nuclear weapons , and they do it unsupervised. You won’t find that anywhere else. Most of the time when people think of the Air Force, you think of working on a base, you have support facilities, you have an assistance area and parts. When you go to a launch facility to do work, you have got to make sure you have all the right parts and equipment. Otherwise, your clock is running and you’re waiting for those parts and pieces to come to the base and a lot of times they are really bulky items and they have to drive it out by truck. So if it takes you two hours to get to a silo it’s going to take two and half to three hours to get that part out to you and your clock is still running to the sixteen hour mark. Everybody’s goal is to get home the same day they left. That doesn’t always happen. Not only the goal but we are trying to get this missile back on alert. Okay, it’s a target that’s not being covered when it’s off alert. It’s that serious. A lot of people don’t understand that because when I was in we had 1000 Minutemen II’s and III’s operational. That means each one of those missile had a target to cover. Some people think that’s overkill but that’s not the case because not every single missile is going to be one hundred percent – maybe 95-98% reliability. They are sitting in the hole they are operating twenty-four hours a day and when the time comes for the President to execute the order – thank God it never came – they are going to go. And our job was to make sure they’re going to go. Bottom line.

Were there any specific times when you thought, “This could be it!”?

We were out in Hotel Flight, which is around Union Center. I was in the launcher with my partner I got this yell from upstairs. A guard says “Hey, get on the SEN line,” which is basically a communications network. I go up there. Because downstairs there’s no buzzer or bells or anything like that. So the guards say, get on the SEN line. So I get on the headset and I call, this is so and so. He says “This is Captain so and so, I need to authenticate.” So I get out my code page and I go in and authenticate, to verify 11 who I am. Then he goes “Okay look, I need you to prepare for EWOL launch.” I stood there, and I looked, I sat there for a second, I go, “You want to repeat that again?”

We’re going, “Okay,” and the old saying, You train like you fight, you fight like you train came into play. In preparing for EWOL launch, basically we moved everything that we had downstairs off the shop and on to the floor. Then, we secured everything else that was loose, and just before I looked at my partner who was at the access shaft to climb up the ladder, “Are we ready?” He goes, “Yeah.” So then I pulled the key out. The safety control switch is the only thing that keeps the missile from launching. I turn the key, pull the key out, and we start climbing up the ladder. I had told him what had gone on, which was, we got a call for an Emergency War Order. He kind of like looks at me and says, “This has got to be a drill.” I says, “I don’t think so.” Because normally you don’t do this kind of game with the capsule crew, calling them. So we started climbing up the ladder and told the guard what was going on and everything. Part of the procedure was to raise the secondary door up, not lock it, but just raise it up, lower the personal access hatch, and then drive off the site. Keep the site in view, about two thousand feet, upwind or cross wind if you can. And that’s just what we did. We drove off the main road, onto the dirt and got up to a little hill top to watch the site. We sat there and waited.

Well, I was thinking initially to make sure our check list procedures were done. It was kind of ridiculous, but we wanted to make sure we had all the check list procedures done. Yeah, we did. Then the next thing I was thinking about was my family. Well, that was before I got married, well, my girlfriend, future wife. Basically, I said, “Well if we go, they’re not going to get untouched. We’re going to hit them back. So we waited. We waited for about an hour and a half, and then we got a call over the radio from the Flight Security Controller to proceed back on the site. The guard authenticated with the Flight Security Controller to verify everything was good. So then we drove off the hilltop and back on to the site. I went into the soft support building and called the capsule up and authenticated with them. Him and I talked a little bit over it. He says, “Yeah,” then they finally let us know what was going on, that a little chip failure caused all this. That was the end of that! But on our way home we thought about it and says, “You know what? We did what we had to do.”

How did missile maintaners regard the missile combat crew officers?

Actually, I have a lot of respect for the launch crew. Not because they’re officers. Because of what they have to do. They go from sheer boredom to sheer panic. Anything and everything that happens in the missile field is their responsibility. If there is a maintenance team on their silo, it is their responsibility. From the sheer boredom standpoint, constantly running tests. Day in and day out. Running tests. 19 Every time you do a crew change, you run a test. Verify the system’s integrity. They constantly get message traffic. All the time. To me that would be very, very boring. At least I get to drive out to the countryside and see a change of seasons and see some interesting things going on out there, and meet some people. Maybe you’d stop at Wall or Belle Fourche. Or whatever. These guys, they’d get their crew brief in the morning. When I was in job control, I’d brief them what maintenance was going on in a certain flight area. Why it was. How it’s going to affect them. They’d get their kits and they’d go out and they’d drive and they’d do it. Go down in the hole and spend the next twenty-four hours in the hole. The only thing that changed it for them was they got a radio and a TV now, in the last couple of years. Before, there was none of that.
 

Can you give an example of how your work affected the security police teams?

When I was in Site Security Maintenance we were heroes. Because as I said, when a security system fails to operate the way it’s suppose to, cops have to sit on that site. Somebody has to sit on that site in the middle of nowhere. If it’s for a long-term, they have to park a camper out there. So you got two guys sitting out there watching the fence, making sure nobody comes in.

I remember one Christmas, snow was really high and there was five camper teams out there because they couldn’t get the outer zone, the radar system set up. Actually, they went off and they wouldn’t re-set. So I had to go out with my team. We volunteered to go out. We went out there. I was single at the time and my partner was single and we figured, “What the heck. We’ll go out there and do it.” So we drove out there and we worked on each site and on each site we worked on, we were able to get the camper team off. We actually had to penetrate the site, make the adjustments to the security system within the parameters given, and we were able to get the sites reset. What was kind of nice was, the last site we were at … camper teams are pretty neat because if you’re out there and they ask you, “Can you get us off of here?” “Yeah.” See, they have food. You’re going, “Okay. Food.” What better incentive? “Yeah, you give me a pizza and I’ll go ahead and make sure you get off this site.” We had to get out there anyway. We would have done it anyway, too, but the food adds a little flavor to it. So to speak!

We get the equipment going and up and running and then they’re able to get off and they’ll give us a pizza or whatever, already cooked. They’re cooking while we’re working. So I mean, everybody’s getting whatever they need to get done. But as I said, the Christmas one was kind of nice because when we got back to base, the camper team from one of the earlier sites we were at, him and his wife were there, with goodies for us. We didn’t expect that. In appreciation for what we had done, because we had volunteered to go out there to get these guys off the sites. I mean, it’s ridiculous to be out there during Christmas in a box. What was kind of nice about it is that the commander for the security police group recognized us too, a couple weeks down the road for doing that.
 

What’s your involvement been with the transition to a National Park Service interpretive site?

I was present when they did the handover process of Delta-09 and Delta-01 to the National Park Service. I think about a year or two after the actual hand over. I was contacted to see if I would want to volunteer time to the park, giving tours, because of my background here. From there, it expanded because at the time the visitor center did not exist and the Park Service was going through the planning phases, so it was kind of them to involve myself and several others that were here while the missile system was operational to get involved in helping design the park. I felt it was important to keep this piece of history alive because a lot of folks did not realize that this was a significant part of the Cold War and also of the national defense. Taking it one step further I wanted to make sure people understood that this wasn’t just some ordinary people that were taking care of this system. I stress that we have young folks out there today still doing what we did. They’re carrying on the tradition of excellence and integrity on a major weapons system. So even though this has been mothballed here, this affords people the opportunity just to take a peek at what used to happen out here for over forty years.

Last updated: September 8, 2021