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After being dormant for many years, the Alert Facility is primed for a new life and mission. The renovation project is a multi-command and multi-agency effort. U.S. Air Force photo by Ed?Aspera
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Cold War-era alert facility on a new mission

Posted 6/6/2014   Updated 6/6/2014 Email story   Print story


by Jenny Gordon
Robins Public Affairs

6/6/2014 - ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- A building that was once part of the former Strategic Air Command's ground alert program at Robins during the Cold War is slowly gaining a new outlook on life.

Renovations are currently being performed in Bldg. 12, located in the alert apron also known as the 'Christmas tree,' named for its resemblance to a herringbone configuration.

Work has been ongoing the last few months and is scheduled to be completed later this year. Demolition is mostly complete and rebuilding of the interior is underway, according to David Trescott, 78th Civil Engineer Group project manager.

The 339th Flight Test Squadron, which performs functional check flights here on Air Force weapon systems, will relocate there from Bldg. 125.

"The 339th Flight Test Squadron is eagerly anticipating our move to Bldg. 12," said Lt. Col. Dan Badia, 339th FLTS commander. "Operating out of Bldg. 12 will consolidate all 339th operations under one roof while complying with AFI space requirements. While we will be isolated from the industrial area, we hope to still maintain an outstanding relationship with the 402nd Aircraft Maintenance Group."

"The renovation has been a multi-command and multi-agency effort," he said.

Both lower and upper floors involve the replacement of all finishes, as well as removal of several interior partitions, new roof installation and HVAC replacement.

The lower floor will provide spaces to directly support flight operations, including lockers and restrooms, equipment storage and parachute packing operations, with most of the original spaces being retained. The upper floor will support the squadron's administrative functions. It was in these areas where sleeping quarters and full kitchen services were located to support the alert Airmen who were stationed there many years ago.
On watch When the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) began a build-up of its intercontinental ballistic missile program during the 1950s, the U.S. became more vigilant in ensuring American interests were protected both here and abroad.

A student of history can appreciate the significance of worldwide events of more than 60 years ago, including its contribution leading to the construction of Bldg. 12 and the compound that surrounds it, which included supporting structures as well as the alert aircraft apron.

The building and alert apron's mission back in the day was its role in supporting the military's ground alert program with both B-52s and KC-135 aircraft on station.

According to the 78th Air Base Wing History Office, Robins was one of 65 Air Force installations supporting the SAC ground alert program.

Workers began construction on the Robins facilities to be used by SAC in 1957-1958.

B-52 aircraft began arriving at Robins in February 1959, via the 4137th Strategic Wing.

The SAC alert compound included the standard 70-man crew readiness facility - known as Bldg. 12 - and its associated herringbone alert apron next door.

"The alert facility included billeting, space rotations with living quarters for Airmen who participated in exercises in preparation for real-world scenarios," said Bill Head, Robins historian.

For example, the 4137th SW went on high alert during the Cuban missile crisis during October 1962, with eight B-52s on ground alert, and stayed on alert at Robins until early 1963 when it was then redesignated the 465th Bombardment Wing, according to archives.

On the eight-to-nine alert apron configuration, its design was one of two standard designs used for SAC alert aprons during the late 1950s, measuring 2,000 feet long and covering 31 acres.

There were three of these special aircraft parking areas, or Christmas tree alert aprons constructed in Georgia during that time; the other two were at Turner AFB in Albany, and Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, according to the history office.

Turner's apron has been demolished, while the other has been modified from its original design. Robins' alert apron remains intact.

Other facilities in use as part of the ground alert program here included the B-52 and KC-135 nose docks, Bldgs. 2067 and 2081; a munitions storage area that included nuclear munitions storage igloos, Bldgs. 94, 97, 98, 105 and 106; and an administration facility, Bldg. 107.

SAC alert SAC was established in March 1946. With Russia's marked progress in developing intercontinental ballistic missiles, SAC had been "planning for the day when its aircraft would have only 15 minutes in which to become airborne after detecting an ICMB attack," as described in "The Development of Strategic Air Command" from the Office of the Historian at Headquarters SAC, Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska.

The belief at the time was that in order to safeguard nuclear deterrence, SAC bombers and tankers would be placed on "alert with weapons loaded and crews ready for immediate takeoff."

The goal was to place one-third of the command's aircraft on ground alert at all times, in order for ready and immediate retaliatory response due to any Soviet aggression, according to Offut's "SAC and the Alert Program: A Brief History."

According to records, in November 1957, Gen. Thomas Power, then SAC commander-in-chief, informed the press that SAC had "aircraft at the end of runways, bombs loaded, and crews nearby ready to take off within 15 minutes."

It was described that there were 1,528 bombers and 766 tankers that were on alert in 1957, with the goal of 33 percent of SAC aircraft on alert by 1960.

At Robins, following the Cuban Missile Crisis, the 4137th SW stayed on alert at Robins until 1963 when it was redesignated the 465th Bombardment Wing. According to base archives, the 19th Bombardment Wing moved to Robins "without personnel or equipment" in July 1968, absorbing the resources of the 465th BW.

With no more bombing missions, the wing was redesignated the 19th Air Refueling Wing in October 1983. The unit deactivated in May 2008, becoming the 19th Airlift Wing at Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark.

After the Cold War ended, SAC was inactivated in 1992.

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