Local man protects his country

Photos by Michael Tolzmann

Photos by Michael Tolzmann

Air Force Airman Bryan Hernandez is a security forces specialist at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont. Hernandez is stationed at one of only three intercontinental ballistic missile bases still active in the United States.

Maintenance is performed on a Minuteman III missile at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont. More than 4,000 men and women support the operations of 150 intercontinental ballistic missiles spread over 13,800 square miles.

By Rich Lamance
MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE, Mont. — They call this part of Montana “Big Sky Country,” with rolling plains, few trees and lots of, well, sky.

It’s also where the son of an Allen Park woman calls home, with a job of protecting the U.S. in an area slightly larger than the state of Maryland.

Air Force Airman Bryan Hernandez, son of Mildred Vado of Allen Park, is a security forces specialist at this intercontinental ballistic missile base, one of only three remaining in the United States. The 341st Missile Wing is one of the largest units in the Air Force, with 150 Minuteman III missiles spread out over 13,800 square miles within 15 missile alert facilities, and more than 4,000 military and civilians, making it the largest complex of its kind in the Western hemisphere.

Hernandez is assigned to the 741st Missile Security Forces Squadron.

“On a typical day, I arm up and prepare all of the gear that I will need for the next few days,” said Hernandez, who graduated in 2007 from Western International High School in Detroit. “Over the course of the next several days, we head out to the missile fields and provide security for the world’s largest weapons.

“When we aren’t at the missile fields, we spend our days off training to provide better security.”

Supporting such a large operation requires help from just about every corner of the Air Force career specialties. Everything from administrators to chefs, missile crewmen, missile alert officers, security forces, helicopter pilots and maintenance, communications, services, medical and dental — it all adds up to one of the biggest support operations in the military.

“Without the security we provide, these ICBMs would be vulnerable and unprotected,” Hernandez said.

For Hernandez and other airmen stationed here, Montana is either one of the best places to be stationed or one of the worst. Montana can be a haven for an outdoorsman and traveler, with major national parks like Glacier and Yellowstone just a few hours away. For others, being in an out-of-the way place like Malmstrom, with no major metropolis or urban centers nearby can make a tour seem isolated.

“I come from a big city, so it was a culture shock coming here,” said Hernandez. “I am excited to try hunting and fishing for the first time.”

Hernandez has been in the Air Force for less than two years.

“I suffered a disqualifying injury in basic military training, so I had to appeal and fight until I was allowed to get better and press on in the military,” Hernandez said. “Hopefully, I can put my name on the next deployment list.”