SUSAN GALLAGHER Associated Press Writer
HELENA Montana’s lone Air Force base will lose onefourth of its nuclear missile stockpile, the U.S. military said Monday. Fifty Minuteman III missiles and five missile-alert facilities overseen from Malmstrom Air Force Base near Great Falls will be deactivated, leaving Malmstrom with 150 missiles, said Col. Sandra Finan, commander of the 341st Space Wing. The deactivation will take 12 months and began immediately, with some components of the missile system being withdrawn Monday, said Capt. Elizabeth Mathias, public affairs chief at Malmstrom. Montana’s U.S. senators issued a statement saying they were disappointed by the decision, calling the deactivation “the final step of an unfortunate plan that has been in the works for two years.” The missile mission is the major operation at Malmstrom, and the base is considered an important part of the economy in the Great Falls area. Mathias said the reduction ultimately will eliminate 500 of Malmstrom’s approximately 4,100 jobs. Military officials expect to cut operating costs by $3 million a year. Some of the affected personnel will be retrained for work at Malmstrom and others will be reassigned elsewhere, she said. “Those (jobs) will not begin to go away until next summer,” Mathias said. In their statement, Democratic Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester said they were “committed to redoubling our efforts to secure a new mission for Malmstrom one that strengthens the security of our northern border, the safety of our country and the livelihood and economies of communities across Montana.” U. S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, Rmont., in a statement emphasized the role Malmstrom plays in the nation’s defense. “The silver lining in all of this is that Malmstrom is a top-notch Air Force base, and we’re in a strong position to make our case heard that it should be home to a new mission,” he said. In 2006, the Pentagon said it would reduce by 10 percent the nation’s stockpile of 500 missiles overseen from Air Force bases in Minot, N.D., and Cheyenne, Wyo., as well as Malmstrom. The Montana base had the largest stockpile and with the reduction, missile operations in all three states will be the same size, Mathias said. Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming have the nation’s only intercontinental ballistic missile wings, she said. “Of course it will have an impact,” Great Falls restaurateur Debbie Thomas said of Monday’s announcement. “Anytime you lose anything like that in a small town to begin with, it’s not a good thing.” Thomas, whose Borrie’s restaurant is in its 69th year, noted Great Falls has taken hits before, including the loss of hundreds of jobs with closure of the landmark metals smelter in 1980. “You have to keep going or go with them,” Thomas said. Missile operations at Malmstrom began in 1961. To many Montanans, those operations have been symbolized by small, fenced installations scattered across the countryside. Finan said the remaining missile presence will continue to serve as the “strategic deterrent” that Malmstrom’s operations have provided in the past. Mathias said the reductions will be carried out in four counties. Pondera and Toole counties no longer will have any missile installations. In Teton and Chouteau counties, the missile presence will decrease. Many of the missile components removed during deactivation will be used in a test program, Mathias said.