Daines, Tester visit local military bases; discuss Sentinel, Grey Wolf, cancer study
Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines visited local military installations in March and April.
Both have called on the Defense Department in recent months to investigate the potential link between service at Malmstrom Air Force Base and cancer, as well as the Chinese balloon that crossed Montana airspace earlier this year.
On April 5, Tester visited Malmstrom and the 120th Airlift Wing of the Montana Air National Guard and brought with him Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall; Maj. Gen. Michael Lutton, commander of the 20th Air Force; Lt. Gen. Robert Miller, surgeon general for the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Space Force; Maj. Gen. Duke Pirak, deputy director of the Air National Guard; and Maj. Gen. Pete Hronek, adjutant general for the State of Montana and commander of the Montana National Guard.
At the end of the trip, Tester spoke with media about the visit.
He said the trip gave Kendall, the Air Force secretary, the opportunity to see what Montana has to offer in defense and that Malmstrom and the 120th are “important pieces.”
The study is being conducted by the AFSAM in coordination with the Department of Veterans Affairs, the American Cancer institute, and other civilian academic institutions, covers all career fields within the missile community, past and present, according to the Air Force.
“The scope of this study is intentionally broad, looking over time, multiple locations, and career fields with similar exposure risks” Bussiere said in an Air Force Global Strike Command release on April 4. “We don’t want to miss any airman or guardian who might have been affected, or who could be affected in the future.”
Previous studies at Malmstrom Air Force Base in 2001 and 2005 are being cross-checked against new medical literature that may have emerged since those studies were completed, according to AFGSC, and if the research teams finds an increased incidence of cancer, the next step would then be to determine causation.
“The findings of the incidence study will be critical when looking at next steps,” Col. Lee Williames, AFGSC command surgeon, said in a release. “It will create a roadmap for evaluation of cause and ultimately informed mitigation strategies.”
In addition to reviewing existing studies, the research teams developed plans to visit active intercontinental ballistic missile bases, orienting themselves to the day-to-day mission environment to be able to identify potential exposure concerns, while also working alongside local public health and bioenvironmental engineering members to develop a plan for long term monitoring going forward.
A team from AFSAM visited Malmstrom in March to begin their study.
The group of officials visiting Malmstrom with Tester also received updates on the Sentinel system and Grey Wolf helicopter.
Sentinel is the ground based strategic deterrent system being developed to replace the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile system in place at Malmstrom and the other two missile bases, F.E. Warren in Wyoming and Minot in North Dakota.
Tester said that it’s a “very uncertain world right now” and “deterrence is the best way to move forward.”
Tester said that the Sentinel project is funded in the upcoming budget and on schedule.
“It’s too important not to,” he said.
Tester said he’s meeting with Northrop Grumman, the Sentinel contractor, in May to discuss project implementation issues, such as housing and manpower.
He said it’s a big project and they’ll likely need to bring in people from out of state, but Tester said he’s encouraging the company to hire as many Montanans as possible.
The Sentinel program is tentatively set to break ground this fall or in early 2024 at F.E. Warren in Wyoming, according to AFGSC.
Malmstrom Air Force Base is set to be the second missile base to get the new system, according to the Air Force. F.E. Warren AFB is scheduled as the first base and Minot is scheduled third.
In late March, the Air Force published the Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that analyzes the potential environmental consequences associated with the proposal to deploy the Sentinel intercontinental ballistic missile weapon system and decommissioning and disposal of the Minuteman III ICBM weapon system.
Tester said the Grey Wolf program is also moving along.
The Grey Wolf is the MH-139A helicopter that will replace the Air Force’s UH-1N Huey fleet, which is used for at the three ICBM bases, as well as civil search and rescue, airlift support, National Capital Region missions and survival school and test support.
According to AFGSC, the developmental test of the MH-139A is ongoing at Duke Field in Florida.
Testing is set to be competed at the end of the year and when that happens, MH-139As will transition from Florida to Malmstrom for familiarization training for aircrew and support personnel for the initial operational test and evaluation in 2024, according to AFGSC.
Additional low-rate initial production helicopters will begin arriving at Malmstrom in late 2024 and early 2025 to begin initial operating capability, according to AFGSC.
In February, the 413th Flight Test Squadron conducted austere landing testing at Malmstrom with the MH-139A.
The 413th FLTS tested the MH-139A’s ability to land in unprepared areas such as fields, a core capability of any rotary-wing aircraft, according to AFGSC.
The 413th FLTS team developed an obstacle course and performed a rigorous test of the aircraft’s landing gear at Duke Field in Florida to prepare for the trip to Montana, according to AFGSC.
After the Duke Field tests, the 413th FLTS and Det. 7 aircrew took the Grey Wolf north to mountains over 9,000 feet with single-digit temperatures. Since the aircraft will eventually be stationed in Northern-tier bases, the Air Force is interested in testing its capabilities in cold weather and snow conditions that it will be operating in four to six months each year, according to AFGSC.
“Snow is a naturally unstable surface, and you don’t always know what is underneath it,” Maj. Jonathan Palka, 413th FLTS test pilot who piloted some of the snow missions, said in a release. “In deep snow, you’re never fully on the ground like you would be on other surfaces, you need to be prepared for the surface to shift. It just means you land a little more carefully and respect the potential of the surface to change.”
As the missileer cancer study progresses, updates and resources will continue to be posted online here.
If any airman – past or present, guardian, or family member has a question or concern, they are encouraged to speak to their medical provider or they can submit their question through the AFGSC Official Website or via the Office of the Surgeon General.