by Mark Robichaux
The fire extinguishers did not provide a sense of security when compared to the potential of a missile canister exploding. All around, my reload team, platoon sergeants, first sergeants, sergeant majors, and even a few colonels and lieutenant colonels held their breath as our forklift driver lowered the live PATRIOT missile canister onto the launching station. Any ping of metal made everyone flinch. Once the canister was in position, Specialist Jackman and I climbed on top of the launcher with our torque wrenches. Before any of us could begin torqueing the bolts to secure the can to the launching platform, it had to be grounded; otherwise any stray static charge could cause the can to explode.
“Grounded!” we yelled, and began the work of tightening the four bolts around the missile canister until the torque wrenches clicked.. Every time the torque wrench hit the can, a wave of panic would wash over everyone.
An hour or so later, my team and I gathered around the smoking area drenched in sweat but relieved that the live missile reload had been a success. The cigarettes we smoked after didn’t seem so unhealthy.