Dick Cheney was born in Lincoln, Nebraska, and grew up in Casper, Wyoming. He attended Yale and then the University of Wyoming. He began his political career as an intern for Congressman William A. Steiger, eventually working his way into the White House during the Nixon and Ford administrations, where he later served as the White House chief of staff, from 1975 to 1977. In 1978, Cheney was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives representing Wyoming from 1979 to 1989. Cheney was selected to be the secretary of defense during the presidency of George H. W. Bush, holding the position for the majority of President Bush's term from 1989 to 1993.
In July 2000, Cheney was chosen by George W. Bush as his running mate in the 2000 Presidential election, and served as vice president from 2001 to 2009. From his youth in Wyoming, to his time as White House Chief of Staff, Secretary of Defense, and eventually Vice President, Dick Cheney experienced nearly every level of the American nuclear command and control system.
Former Vice President Cheney was interviewed for the park's oral history collection in 2016. Below are some highlights from that interview.
His personal connection to the Wyoming missile field:
First when I got out of high school I went to Yale. That lasted about two years and then Yale and I parted ways. I didn’t like it. I didn’t enjoy it. The only reason I was there was somebody offered me a package to go and I went. Yale and I came to a parting of ways. I went out and laid transmission line in Wyoming, Colorado and Utah. Before I went back to school at the University of Wyoming. While I was doing that one of the jobs I had was laying cable between the missile silos at Warren Air Force base. And the missiles deployment around Cheyenne at that point was Minuteman and then later on the Peacekeeper. I was a grunt on a line crew on a powerline and transmission crew. In this case we would dig a ditch and lay the cables between the silos. Primarily we were working down around the deployment in Cheyenne. Starts in the east and circles down to Colorado. This was north of Fort Collins. I’m intimately familiar with digging the ditch to lay the cable between the silos back in 1961.
On nuclear disarmament:
As Secretary of Defense, one of the things I did was order a review of the SIOP [Single Integrated Operational Plan (the tactical blueprint for the deployment of nuclear weapons by the United States)]. We looked at it very extensively, did a thorough study, my staff, the JCS staff and concluded that we could have significant productions because over the years as we added new systems, Minuteman I, Minuteman II, Minuteman III and MX. Each time we ended up with more warheads, but then you got to cover basically the same set of targets. When you go through the SIOP and review all that, a lot of that is classified, but bottom line conclusion was that we had significant capability that we didn’t need and that we didn’t have to keep. That could be offered out in the course of negotiations.
The Peacekeeper missile:
The way we were most directly affected was the fact that the questions of the MX peacekeeper missile was in front of us. Most states didn’t want it deployed in their territory. The Wyoming delegates, myself, Al Simpson, Malcom Wallop thought it was good. We already had Warren Air Force Base and the Minuteman and liked the program so we said we would take it in Wyoming. I can remember going down to the White House to meet with President Reagan to announce it would be deployed in Wyoming. He announced it while we were there. So, from that standpoint Wyoming got the latest state of the art system at the time even though work was underway to try to find ways to reduce armaments.
On the end of the Cold War:
Well you know it didn’t happen overnight. You can’t say yesterday we had a Cold War and today we don’t. I can remember at one point there was ultimately a test. I was steelhead fishing in British Columbia, this was ’91. It was something I used to do. A lot of it. Go out there and catch this monster steelhead on the Dean River. This was when I was Secretary of Defense, August of ’91, so it was after Desert Storm. But I was in the middle of the river wearing big chest waders and the guy next to me caught a monster fish. I was out there working it getting mine and I had two guys traveling with me. One was a security guy and the other was my communicator We camped out, we had tents and so forth and we were in a very remote part of British Columbia so there wasn’t a big security threat. Bears were more a threat and my communicator came running up the bank to me and he said, “sir,” we had a satellite hook-up and it was secured communication by satellite hook-up back at the Pentagon. He said, “Sir, the Deputy Secretary needs to talk to you right away.” I said, “What’s the problem?” He said, “There’s been a coup in Moscow.” Ok. So, I took my fly rod to the bank and went where they had the satellite disk set up for the phone and there was a coup in Moscow. At that point, it wasn’t clear what had happened to Gorbachev. Turned out he was down in the Crimea. On the other key question, nobody could answer: who’s got the nukes? What happened to their football? We were scattered. I got on a plane. A complicated trip back. I found a picture of me getting off the plane that was a G-4 or G-5 Gulfstream. As I get off I’m carrying a fly rod in one hand. That’s when we got into. A few days there were pretty hairy because we didn’t know for sure how it was going to come out. In the end, the coup didn’t succeed but also Gorbachev was on his way out. He left office at the end of that year, 91. Yeltsin took over. But we had a situation develop where, in effect, Gorbachev had sort of been the architect on the Russian side. Even though he was no longer in office, Yeltsin succeeded him, and you had pretty clear indication, at least not immediately, they were going to revert back to the Cold War days. Things had moved so far. Nothing had happened, at least in my mind, this would have been the fall of ’91.
If you’re looking for a period that I was confident we’d reached a point in the Cold War where it was over certainly that would be true by August, September of ’91. By then we’d done Desert Storm and we’d had this. The Russians had stayed out. The President had talked to Gorbachev about once a day to answer his concerns. He tried to find ways to take it to the U.N., but by time you get to the fall of ’91 it’s pretty clear that a new day is here to stay. That was then, this is now.