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Visiting the Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile Site

Last week we pulled in to Fargo, North Dakota without an agenda. From the interstate we spied the Space Aliens Grill and Bar, which made a fine dinner destination.

The Space Aliens Grill and Bar is located next door to the Fargo, North Dakota visitor center, home of the infamous wood chipper from the movie Fargo.

There are only so many pictures one can take with a wood chipper, a fake leg and a couple of silly hats. Once we had exhausted the possible combinations, we set out to see the Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile Site.

The Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile Site is located approximately 90 minutes northwest of Fargo. The drive is long and boring. North Dakota is the 3rd least populous and 4th least densely populated state. During the drive you’ll wonder how they ranked that high.

The first of two sites you’ll come to is the November-33 launch facility.

November-33 was an underground missile silo home to a Minuteman II missile, a nuclear ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile). These were the missiles we had pointed at Russia throughout the cold war. Had the order to launch these missiles been given, the large concrete slab you see above would have been blasted away and the missile, suspended by wires, would have launched directly from the silo. If that had happened chances are there were nuclear missiles headed our way as well, so taking pictures would have been a moot point. There wouldn’t have been anyone to share them with shortly.

While November-33 is historically interesting, there’s not a lot to see here. Years ago the missiles were removed, explosives were detonated inside the silos, and they were filled with concrete.

Another fifteen minutes down the road from November-33 is the much more interesting Oscar-Zero Missile Alert Facility.

Oscar-Zero is “the last launch control center intact for the public to visit,” according to Wikipedia.

Above ground, the building is approximately 2,000 square foot. It looks like what you would expect. There’s a rec room, a cafeteria, and sleeping quarters.

Things didn’t really start get interesting until we reached the above ground security room.

At one point not long ago, this room was staffed by guards with the authority to shoot on sight. Not only did these guys protect the local facilities, but they also responded to disturbances at the remote missile launch sites. Sometimes something as small and innocent as a leaf would set off the motion detectors at the launch sites, forcing one of the guards here to go check it out.

These guys also guarded the elevator to the underground bunker, which is where we went next.

The first of two rooms we visited was filled with equipment to keep the base running — generators, air filters, and other pieces of equipment.

Both rooms were guarded by incredibly thick blast doors. Everything in the room was mounted to a floating floor designed to keep things level no matter what was going on above ground, and the entire bunker was sealed in feet of concrete. This thing was designed to take a direct nuclear strike and survive.

The second room we visited gave me chills.

If you’ve seen Wargames or any number of other movies, you know what this is. This is the desk where the officers sat for days at a time, waiting for the command to start World War III. On the upper left part of the picture you can see the red lock box that contained the secure launch codes. On the bottom right is the key. Just around the corner from this station was a second station. Turning both keys at the same time would have started a non-reversible launch sequence.

In 1991, the START agreement (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) limited the number of nuclear weapons both the United States and the Soviet Union could retain. Because of this agreement, the 321st Wing at Grand Forks Air Force Base was closed. The missiles were removed and the silos were destroyed and filled with concrete. The Oscar-Zero Missile Alert Facility was spared demolition and preserved as a historic site. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2007 and opened for tours in 2009.

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