US Army Nike AA Missile Base
Bristol, Rhode Island

Stories and anecdotes submitted by the crew

Civilian Helicopter Overflight of Our Launching Area
     by Glenn Meigel

This saga dovetails with that of Stephen Girouard on; I defined acronyms at the end to preserve the story flow. I was Battery Commander at the time, maybe late in 1973 and remember some of the ugly details. I got a call at my apartment about dusk one evening that a civilian helicopter had just flown directly over the Exclusion Area. Nike sites were subject to annual attempted penetrations by MI dressed in realistic disguises and using different ruses to test our site security but, because they could not violate established procedures, this could not possibly be an MI test—it was flagrant. It landed in our LA car parking lot just outside the south entry gate and north of Roger Williams College (now University), and someone had heatedly demanded entry into the LA. I rushed to site immediately but the incident was over by then; this story unfolded:

A civilian helicopter flew from north to south at a very low altitude directly over the Exclusion Area (it was after duty hours and missiles were underground in the pits), landed in the paved LA parking lot just outside our south LA fenceline, and some man alleging to be U.S. Senator from RI Claiborne Pell belligerently demanded entry into the LA. While he was creating this commotion at the LA guard shack, the pilot and helicopter took off. Moments later, a car pulled up into the parking lot, the intruder got in, and the car sped off. End of incident. But we spent hours that night putting the details together, reporting the incident, and starting a formal Report of Investigation; this drill took up most of the next day also and involved input from many Battery personnel.

It turned out that it was a bona fide, friendly helicopter out of Providence, RI (the MPs got its full description to include model, colors, and markings) which had illegally overflow our Exclusion Area in violation of Federal law and FAA procedures (all flight maps showed all Nike LAs as permanent restricted airspace, no-fly zones). The passenger he dropped off was, in fact, the Senator who was supposed to be picked up in that parking lot by the President of Roger Williams College to go to dinner. That guy was late so the Senator stormed over to the Gate Guard Shack and demanded entry into the LA to make a phone call. Of course, he wasn’t on any access roster and was denied entry, and became infuriated that a Senator would not be granted access to a military base. The situation was heightened by the SAT, BAF, and other MPs, all armed and in LBE, responding to the threat at the Guard Shack. Even some of the LA crewmen staying in the barracks came out to see what was going on. This situation was then exacerbated by the Gate Guard calling the CQ for the Duty Officer and IFC RF. Of course, he was using a normal-looking black, dial telephone in the shack which Pell demanded to use to make his call. The Senator could not or would not understand that this was a Class C phone only good for communications within our battery…it couldn’t get an outside line. Before the RF deployed, the College President’s car pulled up, Pell got in without any explanation, and the car sped off.

I was directed to make my investigation extensive and, periodically, 24th Group in Coventry, RI would call for even more details to be addressed…like why the Senator didn’t know about this "secret missile base" (We would know the answer to that?) and why he wasn’t visually recognized by any of our site personnel involved. In fact, sometime after lunch, as the report was still being typed (on a typewriter and had to be letter-perfect), I was called by Group and had to verbally render a report to that point to the S-1 Adjutant over the phone. And, in that chronology I also had to specifically name each person from me to LA to IFC who were in any way involved that night, whether or not they were actually seen by or saw the Senator. In addition to spelling out first and last names with rank (and there were dozens of us), I had to list the home state of each individual. I surmise Pell thought that someone from RI could have responded to the LA and immediately recognize and vouch for him (which was also contrary to our security procedures); thankfully, no one was from his great state of RI and Providence Plantations. And no warning or other shots were ever fired; if that had happened, I'd still be writing the Investigation Report.


* Soon later the Group Commander, COL Jones, and the Commander of 1st Region ARADCOM at Stewart Field, NY, MG Murphy, had to fly to Washington, D.C. to give the Senator a full-blown briefing about the site—location, mission, organization, manning, etc. Before they left, I remembered getting a letter earlier from Senator Pell, addressed to me at the site mailing address, and made it available to COL Jones so that he might figuratively "stuff it down the Senator's…shirt" when the latter started harping on our "secret missile base." COL Jones declined.

* Girouard was right about the site following security procedures to-the-letter and recognition was done within the Battery only. Absolutely no compliments were forthcoming from any higher HQ for handling the situation correctly, following procedure, and "sticking to your guns" during this intimidating incident. Nor, to my knowledge, was any type of action ever brought against the offenders. In fact, nothing further was mentioned, period.

* Sometime around 1973, the military went through a BRAC/ RIF round; RI got slammed. In addition to the Bristol site closing, RI was slated to lose Quonset Point Naval Air Station, a Seabee unit, and National Guard unit in Providence. I’ve always attributed part of this to a pompous politician who didn’t have a handle on what military facilities existed in his own state. (Incidentally, the ADA School and 6th ADA Training Brigade at Fort Bliss, TX are as of October 2005 slated to move to Fort Sill, OK because of a political decision that overrode all reason and logic.)

* Humorously I add, had our DEFCON level been higher that day, this whole incident might have been brought to a different but most expeditious conclusion:


ADA- Air Defense Artillery
ARADCOM- U.S. Army Air Defense Command
BAF- 3 man armed Back-up Alert Force
Blazing Skies- exercise term authorizing (simulated) missile firing. Actually, the real- world term, Battle Stations, would have been used in this situation.
BRAC/ RIF- Base Realignment & Closure/ Reduction in Forces
COL- Colonel
CQ- Noncommissioned Officer Charge of Quarters
DEFCON- Defense Readiness Condition
FAA- Federal Aviation Administration
HQ- Headquarters
IFC- Integrated Fire Control (Radars & Control Vans)
LA- Launching Area
LBE- Load-Bearing Equipment of pistol belt with weapon, holster, whistle, radio, ammunition in pouch, etc.
MG- 2 star Major General
MI- Military Intelligence
MP- Military Police
NY- New York
OK- Oklahoma
RF- 20 man armed IFC Reserve Force
RI- Rhode Island
S-1/ Adjutant- Officer responsible for Group personnel & admistration
SAT- 2 man armed Security Alert Team
TX- Texas

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more to follow.........


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