Guardians of the Galaxy: Reserve missileer sits alert for first time in Air Force history

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Jonathan Carkhuff

For the first time in the history of the Air Force, a Reserve Citizen Airman has become a full-fledged mission partner for the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile leg of the nuclear triad at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota.

Capt. Benjamin Shea took command of a Minuteman III weapon system in Max, North Dakota, on Oct. 26, making him the first individual mobilization augmentee to ensure the readiness and effectiveness of the Air Force’s nuclear deterrence operations.

“It was a great honor to be the first IMA to pull alert at a missile wing,” Shea said. “This was a great example of how the Air Force Reserve and active-duty component worked together to arrive at Total Force innovation. In this case, we have created a process that will continue to provide ICBM talent and experience for years to come.”

For the last six decades, missileers who separated from active duty and entered the Reserve were required to retrain into other career fields. That requirement is no more.

“As of Oct. 26, 2019, Citizen Airmen missileers can continue to be fully combat mission ready and support nuclear deterrence operations just like their active-duty counterparts,” said Brig. Gen. Erich Novak, mobilization assistant to the commander of 20th Air Force, F.E. Warren AFB, Wyoming. As the missile numbered Air Force for Air Force Global Strike Command, 20th Air Force is responsible for operating, maintaining, securing and supporting the Air Force’s ICBM force.

The IMA program supplements active-duty units by assigning Reservists to train and operate with them prior to a time of war or crisis. IMAs who have experience with the unit can step in and provide assistance at a moment’s notice.

Shea brings a wealth of experience to his IMA position. He served as an active-duty missileer for six and half years and completed 203 ICBM alerts on active duty. He separated from active duty on Jan. 28 and joined the Air Force Reserve Jan. 29 without a break in service.

“I utilized the Palace Chase program in order to translate my active-duty service commitment into a Reserve commitment," he said. "Palace Chase allowed me to continue service while also pursuing my dream job of becoming a medical provider. I am currently applying to physician assistant school and hope to begin classes in July 2020.”

The use of Reserve Citizen Airmen as IMAs in the nuclear and missile officer career field, also known as the 13N Air Force Specialty Code, was prompted by the 2018 National Defense Strategy. The NDS directed nuclear modernization to deter adversaries and the development of a more lethal force by “recruiting, developing and retaining a high-quality military and civilian workforce.”

Under this charge, the Air Force Reserve provided support and aid to AFGSC and 20th AF, which encouraged the retention of experienced Reserve Citizen Airmen, particularly in the 13N career field.

“The Air Force Reserve is an essential and integral component of the United States Air Force, which is facing the most demanding and complex environment in decades,” Novak said. “The expansion of Reservists into nuclear and missile operations allows 13N Airmen to stay in their preferred and experienced career field.”

Recently, the 13N career field has grown from eight to almost 40 Reserve Citizen Airmen. This includes positions in the three missile wings, 20th AF, AFGSC, U.S. Strategic Command and Headquarters Air Force, among others.

“Citizen Airmen bring knowledge, not only from their military background but also from their experiences in industry,” Novak said. “The foundation benefits both the active-duty Airmen they serve with as well as the larger Air Force and Global Strike Command. Having fully combat mission-ready Citizen Airmen supporting the nuclear deterrence mission makes us a more lethal and ready force.”

Shea’s alert marks a significant accomplishment and a milestone in the expansion of Total Force integration. The expansion of Reservists into fully combat mission-ready 13N positions marks the second-to-last mission for the Reserve to support.

“By December, we should have Reservists pulling alert at all three missile wings,” Novak said.

Within nuclear and missile operations, the Total Force integration effort will continue as missile maintenance technicians are the next career field to expand, as well as security forces. Additionally, research is under way into the potential to begin establishing positions for munitions and missile maintenance IMA officers in the near future.

“For me, going on alert again was kind of like riding a bike,” Shea said. “My last alert prior to this one was in November 2018. So it had been less than a year. I look forward to hearing how this 13N active duty to IMA program will benefit future Airmen and the ICBM mission.”

Reserve Citizen Airmen interested in learning more about becoming 13N Reservists should contact Col. Steven Priest at or Col. Robert Jackson at As always, people interested in joining the Reserve should contact their local recruiter.      #ReserveReady   #ReserveReform

(Carkhuff is assigned to the 90th Missile Wing public affairs office at F.E. Warren AFB, Wyoming.)