They spend some of their 24-hour alerts seated in front of steel Minuteman III missile launch control panels mounted on shock absorbers, with toggle switches capable of hurling 10 to 50 nuclear warheads—each with 20 times the explosive force of the Hiroshima bomb—to the other side of the globe, at speeds of 15,000 mph.
But their day-to-day enemy, for decades, has not so much been another superpower, but the unremitting boredom of an isolated posting that demands extreme vigilance, while also requiring virtually no activity, according to accounts by missileers and a new internal review of their work.
That understandable boredom, when paired with the military’s sky-high expectations for their workplace performance, has pushed some of them to use drugs, others to break the rules, and still more to look for any way out.
The millennials who populate this force can watch television, read, study, or sleep in their cramped, often damp quarters. But their checklist routines are typically unvarying, and their moment-to-moment responsibilities are few, and the temperature underground—like the policy requiring their presence—is unnervingly stuck in the mid-60s.
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