This presentation is part of Preserving U.S. Military Heritage: WWII to the Cold War, Fredericksburg, Texas, June 4-6, 2019.
by Travis Ratermann
From the middle of the 1950s through 1991, the rise of black smoke would continually rise above the treetops as the roar of jet engines faded in the sky above Blytheville, Arkansas. The rise of black smoke would strike fear in the hearts of those that lived in the neighboring area, as those B-52 planes may be on their final trip, as they carried nuclear warheads that could be deployed at with a single phone call from the President of the United States.
The Blytheville Air Force Base Alert Center and Alert Apron constructed as part of a national expansion of Strategic Air Command Facilities across the United States and its Territories, to help in creating a “program to safeguard nuclear deterrence” through the SAC Alert program. Though arriving late to the Strategic Air Command’s Bomber Alert Program, the Blytheville Alert Center and Alert Pad provided another installation that was able to augment SAC’s already strong ability to establish a one-third strike force to provide a counterattack within 15 minutes, in the event of a Soviet initiated strike on the United States. It is through the constant efforts of SAC and its airmen that the bomber fleet was considered the backbone of the SAC deterrent posture. For almost 34 years, this area had the dubious distinction of being one of the “highest security chunks of concrete imaginable.”
After the Soviets obtained nuclear weapons, both nations embraced a balance of power through mutually assured destruction (MAD), which stated both sides had maintained enough nuclear weapons to survive a first strike and to launch a retaliation that would destroy the other side. This uneasy balance was preserved by the deployment of different weapons platforms, including submarines, ICBM Missiles and bombers which would become known as the Triad of Deterrence.
As the third part of the Triad of Deterrence, these Alert Facilities and Aprons need to be studied and protected. By surveying these properties, nominating these property types, and restoring these buildings, especially the Alert Center, it allows the public to see and experience a day in the life of an airmen as they sat on alert 24 hours a day 7 days a week. By having a completely intact example of a Bomber Alert facility/apron, weapon storage area, and family visitation center, visitors can also experience the sacrifices airmen gave up, while out on Alert duty.
A recent study and master plan by Hardline Design Company, of Columbus, Ohio, allows for the Blytheville Gosnell Regional Airport to prioritize the vision of the entire complex by breaking down the entire alert areas into smaller, more manageable and achievable priorities over a 20 year period. The smaller priorities include assessments, recommendations, cost estimates, and phasing of each priority. As part of the presentation we will be discussing the priorities and the reasoning behind those decisions, to better help renovate and open the Alert Facility.
Travis Ratermann is the Survey Historian for the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, located in Little Rock, AR. He has a B.S. in Historic Preservation from Southeast Missouri State University and a M.S. in Historic Preservation from Ball State University. As the Survey Historian, Travis is involved with reviewing Residential and Commercial District Surveys from throughout the state. Travis gathers information by surveying the property, completing site forms, taking photographs, and researching historical records of the property, to determine its authenticity and historical significance. His main focus is on documenting Arkansas’ current and former military installation including: Fort Chaffee, Pine Bluff Arsenal, Blytheville Air Force Base and former Shumaker Naval Ammunition Depot.