Air Force signs Sentinel agreement with tribes, preservation, government agencies

The Air Force signed the programmatic agreement for the new Sentinel ground based strategic deterrent that will replace the existing Minuteman III nuclear missile system.

More than 150 people were involved in drafting the agreement and the signing event took place simultaneously at 11 different locations on Dec. 16.

The Air Force’s project to replace the aging Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile system with the Sentinel system encompasses more than 34,000 acres of land, some of which is on property with both cultural and historical significance.

The programmatic agreement, which has been in development for more than two years, ensures the Air Force is in compliance with the National Historic Preservation Act and has grown relationships with those who place great value on this land.

“The Air Force worked with all parties to develop an agreement that balanced the project’s national security priorities with the protection of the cultural resources within the project area. This approach recognized that the lands impacted by the project are the ancestral lands of indigenous peoples represented by over 63 tribal governments,” Maj. Gen. Michael Lutton, 20th Air Force commander, said in a release. “The agreement is designed to seek tribal input on the identification, documentation, evaluation and protection of sites and objects of tribal significance through all phases and areas of this project. Through a spirit of respect and cooperation, all parties worked to develop the strongest, most effective agreement possible.”

The agreement provides process and mitigation measures the Air Force will follow with regards to cultural resources and was signed by the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation in North Dakota; seven State Historic Preservation Officers; the Wyoming Attorney General’s office; the National Park Service Interior Region 6, 7 and 8; and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.

The Little Shell Tribe of Montana and the Ward County Commissioners also signed the agreement as concurring parties, according to an Air Force release.

The Air Force is continuing to work with the remaining 55 tribes, 10 federal agency regional offices, 11 state and local governments and agencies, and five non-governmental organizations that are consulting parties and assisted in developing the document.

“I just want to acknowledge that we are tremendously pleased with the effort that the Air Force put into developing the consultation plan and carrying it out to engage in such an important number and array of stakeholders in that consultation, and to developing an agreement that very successfully incorporated historic preservation goals at every stage of the process and of the program,” Reid Nelson, Advisory Council on Historic Preservation acting executive director, said in a release. “We appreciate your commitment. This stands as a model for us of how an agency can carry out such a comprehensive and effective consultation on such an important program.”

Normally, programmatic agreements are simply staffed through each signatory and invited signatory and then forwarded to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation for signature. However, due to the historical level of cooperation, all signatories met virtually to sign the document and further attest to their strong relationship and the importance of the agreement to national security.

Three Affiliated Tribes Chairman Mark Fox said in a release that “nowhere in the world do they honor, revere or respect our servicemen, and those who have served, more so than we do. It’s a very important part of our culture. It goes back to our warrior’s societies, in a protection of our own people, but now as part of the U.S. military as well. We are very proud of that.”

The Sentinel system will replace the 400 Minuteman III ICBMs, which have been in service for more than 50 years in Air Force missile fields near F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo.; Malmstrom; and Minot AFB, N.D. Some Sentinel maintenance, training, storage, testing and support actions will occur also at Hill AFB and the Utah Test and Training Range in Utah; Camp Guernsey, Wyo.; and Camp Navajo, Ariz.

“Through this process, we acknowledged the lands impacted by this project are the ancestral lands of indigenous peoples,” Russell Bartholomew, AFNWC Sentinel Acquisition program manager, said in a release. “It is important for all parties and individuals involved in this project to understand the long-standing history that has brought us to reside on the land and our place within that history. Tribal governments and Native American communities have a strong and overlapping interest in lands far removed from their reservations and current localities. In recognition of this reality, this agreement will facilitate all tribal governments being able to provide input on the identification, documentation, evaluation, and protection of sites of tribal significance throughout all phases and areas of the undertaking.”