Are We on the Verge of a Nuclear Breakdown?

Nina Burleigh
June 18, 2015
Rolling Stone
Air Force officers at America’s nuke sites work 24-hour-shifts in antique underground capsules launching fake attacks straight out of ‘Strangelove’ — and they’re ready to blow

Capt. Blake Sellers’ career as a nuclear missileer ended after he reported a need to “stave off mental disaster.” “After a year and a half I was never fully awake or fully asleep,” he says. “You reach this zombie state.” , Chip Kalback,

For two and a half years, Air Force Capt. Blake Sellers donned a green U.S. Air Force flight suit, and motored across barren Wyoming grassland in sun, rain, sleet or blizzard, for 24-hour shifts, 60 feet below ground, in a fluorescent-lit buried capsule. Sellers was one of the roughly 600 officers, known as missileers, who are responsible for launching America’s 450 nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles. Each ICBM in the arsenal is capable of rocketing to the other side of the planet in 30 minutes or less and incinerating 65 square miles. Missileers are the human beings who have agreed to render whole cities — like Moscow, Tehran or Pyongyang, but really anywhere there is civilization— into, in the jargon of the base,smokin’ holes. Air Force Academy graduates like Sellers tend to dream of flying jets. In a corps full of eagles, he and his compatriots are the moles.

The route down America’s underground WMD silos begins with five months of training at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. There, the first requirement is signing a document committing to end the world if so ordered by the president. But what if, somewhere along the way, a missileer has a change of heart and decides he or she is not OK incinerating millions of civilians? “They say, ‘Well that’s OK, but we are going to separate you from the Air Force and you will pay back everything we paid for your education,'” Sellers recalls. “In the Air Force Academy, that’s $300,000. So you will be unemployed and owe $300,000.”

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