Tuesday, September 17, 2013

An Introspective Approach to Understanding Memory Recall

This is a follow on to my last post concerning the issues with witness recall.  I've a big interest in the thoughts of the great 19th century American psychologist William James.  James believed that the best way to understand human consciousness and thought was through the use of personal introspection, or the awareness of self.

It's with this approach that I wanted to provide a personal story concerning my own recall of my last Minuteman alert back in February of 1985...28 years ago.  I use my self as an example of the issues of recall.

In February of 1985, I pulled my last nuclear alert at Malmstrom AFB.  This was to be alert 295. Our scheduling office had asked if I wanted to extend my tour for at least two more weeks to obtain the magical 300.  I politely declined as by this time I had fulfilled my obligation for the 4 year controlled tour and was ready to do something else with my AF career which was to be a follow-on assignment to Grand Forks AFB, the 321 Strategic Missile Wing, as a staff officer. For the past 4 years I was assigned to the 490 Strategic Missile Squadron and for most of a year and a half assigned to Kilo Flight, the squadron's command post and the wing's alternate wing command post.

I believe that my last alert was at Kilo based on the recall of a specific incident that occurred the next following morning while awaiting my relief.  For this last alert, my deputy was a young officer, whose name escapes me at this time, but also a member of the 490th.  I can mentally picture him, but his name evades me.  This was the first time that I had pulled an alert with this individual.

The alert progressed without anything unusual.  One of my LFs had a cycling Outer Zone security alarm that had a Camper Alert Team on site.  I do not recall the exact affected LF.  I do not recall anything of significance on the rest of the LFs.  As far as I can remember, there were no maintenance teams in the flight area.  This had all the makings of a normal quiet alert (except for that damn cycling OZ).

Back then it was customary for the deputy to take the first sleep shift with the commander usually awakening the deputy around 2 or 3 am.  Barring any issues that cropped up, the commander would sleep until 7 or 8 am.  I decided to do the opposite.  I took the first sleep shift and asked that I be awaken around 2 am.  This was in deference to my deputy and I personally wanted to enjoy the quiet solitude of of the humming of the capsule equipment and the monitoring lights.  This also afforded me the opportunity to chat with the some of the other crews on HVC.  All was quiet, except for that damned cycling OZ.

Some time during the early morning hours, I received an alarm and a printout from the Command Message Process Group (CMPG).  To my shock and horror there was a 2 Minute ALCS Hold Off Alarm.  How in the hell did that happen?  Where was the obligatory 10 minute warning?  Before I could answer that question, I had to get all of the squadron crews up on HVC coordinating a round robin or "all call" hold off command input.  This effectively reset the timer back to 60 minutes.

Let me explain the significance of the ALCS hold off timer.  This effectively blocked any UHF frequency commands issued from the Airborne Launch Command Systems aircraft and any other potential clandestine source of UHF signals from affecting ALL of the squadron's missiles.  If the timer had counted down to "zero" then all of the squadron's LFs would have dropped in "radio mode" meaning total UHF frequency access.  I can't describe adequately what the ramifications and aftermath would have been like.

What had happened?  After ensuring that the timers had been properly reset, I went back to the CMPG tapes and saw that I had indeed received a 10 minute warning...back to back of that damn cycling OZ!  The OZ alarm had effectively masked the 10 minute warning.  But that was why the system was designed, a back up notification should the crew get distracted with other things.  The system performed as it was supposed to.  BTW, it's the squadron command post's responsibility to coordinate the reset of the timer.

At approximately 8 am, I received a call from the squadron's duty officer informing me that the SAC IG had landed back at the base...I'd almost wager that the OZ cycled at this time.  I notified the rest of the squadron LCCs of this good news.  I can't remember the reactions verbatim but obscenities probably ruled the conversation.  Soon after, I received a PAS message from the wing command post which when decoded formally implemented a wing-wide Operational Readiness Inspection (ORI).  By this time my deputy was fully awake.

Thirty or so minutes after the first phone call, I receive a second call from the squadron's duty officer informing me that the IG had selected me to be evaluated in the simulator for an IG check ride...and I would be crewed with a deputy from another squadron, the 12th SMS.  SAC wanted to evaluate a non-integrated crew and I was chosen at random...great (I did throw out obscenities at the duty officer).  The IG evaluation check would happen the next day.

After stewing about the "unfairness" of my predicament I called back to the squadron's duty officer spewing the same obscenities...I was venting my frustrations.  I found out first hand that my squadron commander's voice was very similar to that of the duty officer's when on the phone!  That did not go very well...threats of charges of insubordination  conduct unbecoming of an officer, ect.  After quickly and convincingly apologizing and explaining my new found discovery that he sounded remarkably like the duty officer on the phone, my squadron commander understood, but reminded me of my obligations to perform to the utmost during the next day ORI check ride.  In other words, perform well or...

In the end, I completed my check ride, even though crewed with a foreign deputy from the 12th. Eventually, I would head out to Grand Forks for the next 3 years.

Now here is the issues with long term memory recall:

1.  I don't remember the exact date of my last alert.
2.  I don't remember who I was crewed with, but I'd probably recognize his name if I had a crew roster.
3.  Was I really at Kilo?  For awhile, I had my doubts, but the ALC hold of timer issue confirms that I was at the squadron command post, plus my coordinating the initial prep for the ORI with the rest of the squadron's flights.
4.  I do not recall what LF had the cycling OZ, but remember that I had a camper team on site.
5.  No recall who was topside:  FSCs, ART/SRT, facility manager, or cook.
6.  I do not recall who was crewed at the other squadron LCCs.
7.  No recall of the 12th deputy who took the IG check ride with me.

These are the areas that I have a good degree of mental clarity:

1.  The ALC hold off timer event and coordinating with the rest of the squadron to ensure proper reset.
2.  The cycling OZ.
3.  The calls notifying that the SAC IG had landed and that I had been selected for a next day check ride.
4.  I had passed the check ride but cannot recall my passing category:  HQ or Q.
5.  I remember the names of my squadron commander, operations officer, and the duty officer names.
6.  Montana is damnably cold in February. 

Just a personal example with the issues of memory recall.  The story itself is true, but some of the details are sketchy...even for me.  Ah, those were the days.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. As a very young child, one of favorite TV show was Au delà du réel (The outer limits). Some 30+ years later, I had an opportunity to rewatch one of my favorite episode (Fun and games, s01e27).
    Three things surprised me.

    - It wasn't very good at all.
    - The story I remembered wasn't quite the one told in the episode, ie. the circumstances/reasons through which the human couple was selected by the aliens.
    - The story that I remembered was better that the actual one.


  3. Yvan (Kolyma),

    It would appear to be that way with most past events that we attempt too recall. In the above story of mine, I left out a few personal segments that actually involved my wife, who was a maintenance officer and was on the battle staff that same day that the when the IG had landed... no sense in pissing her off even after all these years, so I left that out. :)

  4. Found yesterday at the public library's for sale bin, Allen Hynek's 1977 title 'The Hynek UFO Report', written after the FOIA opening of Blue Book's files, for a quarter. :-)

  5. Recently went to my local Barnes and Noble book store...practically giving away all of the 2012 Mayan Prophecy books...

  6. The annual sale of years past astrological books, always replaced by the author's latest installments.
    I'm very pleased with my purchase.

  7. Here, I have conducted a personal introspective experience in understanding memory recall.