A question I frequently get asked is “what did the training consist as a nuclear weapons technician?” In my book Last of the Glow Worms, I tried to explain some of the training we went through. Here, I will share some of that training with those interested in historical U.S. Army nuclear weapons maintenance training, which ended in 1991.
After basic training at Fort Dix, N.J., I was sent to Redstone Arsenal, Alabama in September of 1989 to begin AIT (advanced individual training). The training was almost 12 weeks long, and consisted of phases of training that we had to complete to move on to the next phase.
I was still 17 when I arrived at Redstone Arsenal, and we were barracked in a set of brand new buildings, and were co-ed. Our drill instructors were 55G’s also, which I later discovered worked to our benefit. After a few days of orientation, we began training.
Electronics was one of the phases of training. In the electronics class, we learned the basics of electricity, how to use equipment such as oscillators, and finally trained on radiacmeters, or as they are better known as, Geiger counters. One of the radiacs was the AN/PDR60. We trained on how to read radiation levels, how far to keep the scanner away from the radioactive surface, and how to clean the mylar sheet on the hand-held radiation monitoring device.
We next moved to training on the nuclear weapon storage containers. These were specifically designed for the 203mm(M422) and 155mm(M454) nuclear artillery shells, and the containers for the Pershing II and Lance missile warheads. Maintenance consisted of repainting and stenciling the outside of the containers, monitoring of the humidity indicators, and replacement of desiccant if needed.
The last phase consisted of training on maintenance of the nuclear warheads themselves. These were “trainers”, which were identical to the nuclear warheads we were going to work with, but contained depleted uranium and LLC’s (limited life components) which no longer functioned. We learned how to change LLC’s, how to clean the heavy metals (which would flake frequently), and to disassemble/reassemble the warhead.
An interesting part of the training was in the use of C4 explosives. We trained on how to form it, insert blasting caps, run det cord, and wire everything together. We then went into a small bunker, and someone would pull the igniter at the end of the det cord, causing the small explosions. I did not understand the purpose of training with explosives until 1991, when our unit ran an all night training scenario, which involved an imminent overrun of our depot by hostile (Soviet or Warsaw Pact) forces. This involved our unit and the 165th MP Company, which provided security. The nuke techs would place (trainer) shape charges on every nuclear weapon storage container in every igloo and wire the complete site for destruction. The training lasted the whole night, and was exciting to say the least.
In January of 1990, I completed AIT at Redstone Arsenal, and one this lovely piece of paper below for completing the training.