Nike Training and Inspection
The Army Air Defense Command instructed its commanders to: 1) Maintain 25 percent of all Nike batteries so that they were "capable of launching one effectively controlled missile within fifteen (15) minutes of receipt of signal or warning, and of maintaining sustained fire until the supply of ready missiles is exhausted;" 2) Ensure that 50 percent of all batteries were "capable of launching one effectively controlled missile within thirty (30) minutes of receipt of signal or warning, and of maintaining sustained fire until the supply of ready missiles is exhausted;" and 3) Allow 25 percent of all batteries to be on a training and maintenance cycle, retaining the "capability of returning to an operational status within two (2) hours of receipt of signal or warning.
These alert-status measures had a far-reaching effect. As a result, Nike bases assumed a combat-like readiness, as 15-minute status permeated the atmosphere. A siren meant an exercise, a readiness test, or an attack; one never knew. As Nike units had to meet these requirements 24 hours a day, they assumed an ever-increasing feeling of responsibility for the Nation's defense.
All personnel for Nike batteries trained at the Army Air Defense Center at Fort Bliss, Texas. At the center, Nike personnel studied each element of the Nike system. Commanders learned the overall operation of the missile system and their responsibilities. Radar personnel trained on radar equipment, and each battery underwent a series of tests. Nike personnel also participated in test firings of missiles at White Sands Missile Range, which occupied approximately 1,200 square miles of desert land in New Mexico. No Nike missile was ever fired from a U.S. installation, other than for training purposes at White Sands. The only exceptions were firings in Alaska to test the operation of Nike equipment under cold weather conditions. The Army also conducted live firing exercises in Okinawa, for Nike crews stationed in the Far East.
Annual service practice, also called short notice annual practice, began July 1961 to enable batteries to fire a missile and to test their proficiency. As part of this practice, batteries traveled to Fort Bliss on only 48-hour notice. Once there, the units had one week to set up equipment, assemble, emplace, and fire their assigned missiles. Because batteries were selected at random, no one ever knew when they would be called and, therefore, could not "cram." Therefore, each battery had to maintain a high state of readiness. Competition for the annual high score was intense.
When not participating in annual practice -- or unless the battery was "hot," meaning that it was on duty 24 hours a day -- Nike servicemen often reported that life at the missile installations could be tedious. Most Nike bases did have a basketball court to relieve excess energy. Sometimes, softball teams would play against teams in the community, or football teams would be set up within the Army to play one another.
Inspections, planned or unplanned, broke up some of the monotony. From its inception, ARAACOM relied heavily on inspections to deternime the effectiveness of its units. There were two types of inspections. The first was a formal command inspection of all assigned units conducted by the commanding general. The second consisted of an instruction visit by staff officers to units which required emphasis in some particular facet of training.
Another type of inspection, which tested the firing units, was a "Blazing Skies" alert. These inspections could be either scheduled or surprise alerts, and sometimes occurred as often as once a week. As part of the alert, a randomly chosen aircraft entering the defense area was designated as an intruder, and all firing procedures, short of missile launch, were performed. In addition, the Air Force Strategic Air Command and the Aerospace Defense Command periodically provided "faker" aircraft to simulate enemy aircraft for battery training. The Strategic Air Command combat crews benefited from these exercises, as they were also scored on target run and evasion techniques.