A Warning Ignored

Cheyenne Mountain
Cheyenne Mountain

This is not a Test

The time period of my life from July 1968 through June of 1972 I was an Airman in the United States Air Force. My job was that of an Inventory Management Specialist. Basically, I was a clerk and kept up with the ordering of supplies and keeping those monstrous GSA catalogs updated. Of course, as a military person ,we were taught all the basics you would expect from being able to tear down a M-16 which I think I can still do, handle ourselves in a battle situation, administer first aid if needed and the whole gamut of military protocol.

During my four year tenure I was assigned first to the 52 Supply Squadron at Suffolk County AFB, LI,NY where we had F101's. My next assignment took me to Laredo AFB, Laredo, Texas where I was assigned to a FSSY 7 SLBM radar unit. We were approximately 15 miles into the Texas desert but commuted each day either by bus which left promptly after breakfast or as it had became part of my responsibilities, to pick up the daily mail and morning briefings which required at least having a secret security clearance. I also picked up our daily supplies before making the 15 mile trek through the desert and for a period of time when the local kitchen staff, a unionized group who worked in the main mess hall on Laredo AFB were on strike I drove the mess wagon.which brought food for the 100 Airman station with our unit.

For the most part my life was good and I had grown accustomed to being one in the minority. I was now a Gringo, a word I had never before heard. My experience taught me many life lessons and I grew to appreciate the difficulties associated with being one in a minority group. Strange as it may seem, the city of Laredo predominately Hispanic held an annual celebration for George Washington's Birthday. There was a huge celebration which included a parade in town and many other activities I was in my bathroom shaving and preparing to go to the event. My radio was tuned to a local country music station and the sounds of George Jones were coming in loud and clear when suddenly those familiar beeps of an emergency frequency test rang clear.

I immediately thought, "Oh no, not another one of those disaster preparedness tests required of radio and television stations by the government. messing up my tunes" This time the message was solemn and yet very clear,"This is not a test........." The ensuing message made my heart stop, and the thoughts we are under attack had the adrenaline pumping through my veins. What the heck is going on and who is is brave enough to pick on the mightiest military machine on the planet? What should I do, report to my duty station to await instructions and a thousand other scenarios began to unfold as to what the next hours would entail. Would there be a nuclear attack? or had there been a Pearl Harbor incident? So many questions with no immediate resolutions. My mind went back to the two weeks we were on high alert at Suffolk County AFB with our F101's armed and we were on the ready after two Russian MIGS had flown under radar to land at US Air Force bases undetected.

The message alert which was broadcast nationally came from Cheyenne Mountain which was then one of our main communication centers and where messages and tests of the emergency warning system were regularly aired even as they are today over radio and television stations. I ran out into the hall of our barracks to see if anyone else had heard the message that I had just heard but there wasn't any activity and since it was the weekend hardly anyone was in our barracks. It wasn't until later in the day I learned that a 1st Lieutenant at Cheyenne Mountain had inadvertently played the message in error. Apparently both the real message of imminent attack and that of a normal test were separated by a click of a switch, he had hit the wrong switch. I would not have wanted to be in that Lieutenants shoes following that incident, you know he got an "Alpha Charlie" big time.

What really concerned me was that no one, at least on Laredo AFB which was only a pilot training wing with no fighter aircraft paid any attention to the warning. I'm happy it turned out to be a false alarm but the implications of had this been a real emergency scares me. After 911 we have reason to be on guard and something as simple as a test of our emergency broadcasting network should never be taken lightly.

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Comments 6 comments

suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM

Wow! That's amazing. I'm glad you were alert and took it seriously. Yes, Pearl Harbor and 911 happened because we were asleep at the switches. It is a shame that more airmen weren't more aware of what was going on. Thank you for an interesting article. I enjoyed reading this.


TripleAMom profile image

TripleAMom 4 years ago from Florida

This is very good. Thanks for sharing. Voted up.


kathryn1000 profile image

kathryn1000 4 years ago from London

A very worrying occasion...I can imagine how you felt.


Amy Becherer profile image

Amy Becherer 4 years ago from St. Louis, MO

Although, I realize that no one is perfect and the best laid plans can go awry, where our military stands, I expect standards that supercede acceptable. Today, circumstances have created a lot of animosity and suspicion that this is not the case. The recent Secret Service scandal is a lesson no one wanted, but needed to know. Now, with whispers that our leader may be implicated in the release of confidential information is equally disturbing. Thank you for sharing your personal story, Fiddleman, as it tells the reader that, beyond a shadow of doubt, these kinds of errors, with the possibility of lifechanging consequences, happen. The past two years have shaken my confidence in the absense of transparency, as promised, and rhetoric designed with political intent, rather than the good of the people. Most of what I see today is damage control. Rebuilding trust in our government will be a long-time coming for me.


Fiddleman profile image

Fiddleman 4 years ago from Zirconia, North Carolina Author

Thank you Amy for commenting. Indeed the rhetoric and behavior of some in Washington tells a sad tale and a sorry state of affairs.


kathryn1000 profile image

kathryn1000 4 years ago from London

It's bad here as well.. we don't have trust any more.

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