Military Life Resources

Become a nuclear weapons specialist in just 7 weeks!

Nuclear weapons specialists in charge of dismantling and assembling world-ending weapons need to be steady under extreme stress.
Logan Nye Avatar
weapons training
Photo by Sgt. Mark Miranda.

During the Cold War, the U.S. Army suddenly needed a massive number of technically skilled ordnance specialists. They had to be a special breed, steady under extreme stress because these new nuclear weapons specialists would be responsible for dismantling and assembling world-ending nuclear weapons.

Which makes it pretty shocking that the training program took just seven weeks. Meanwhile, the Army made me go to school for 14 weeks to use a camera and a laptop. Seriously unfair.

Training to play with nuclear weapons

Potential Army Nuclear Weapons Basic Maintenance Specialists traveled to Sandia Base, New Mexico, for training. The Atomics Weapons Training Group ran the training programs for them, for Army Nuclear Weapons Electronics Specialists, and for Navy Gunner’s Mate Technicians Class A.

According to the welcome guide for new students, the basic maintenance specialists attended course 9-S-436.1, providing basic MOS training in the “disassembly, inspection, test, and assembling of nuclear weapons for which the Army has employment responsibility. “

During the Cold War, “nuclear weapons for which the Army has employment responsibility” included some truly bonkers weapons. “Honest John” was a surface-to-surface missile that could be assembled and fired within five minutes of warning. The Davy Crockett recoilless rifle mounted to a vehicle and then delivered a 250-kiloton warhead just 2.5 miles away.

And the students practiced with the actual weapons, according to the class guide.

“In the specific weapons area, better than 50 percent of the student’s time will be spent in the assembly bays actually working with the various Army weapons systems. The student receives instruction in the classroom and weapon bay.”

Welcome to Atomic Weapons Training Group

But don’t worry. The guide also says, “Safety precautions for handling of all components and major assemblies are stressed in all areas of instruction.”

Safety first, y’all. Wouldn’t want this to turn into a New Vegas situation.

nuclear weapons specialist b-52H
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Lillian Miller)

Life at Sandia Base, New Mexico

Troops and students at Sandia Base could travel to nearby Albuquerque or Santa Fe. In Santa Fe, students could visit the longest-serving capitol building in the country if they really wanted to. (New Mexico passed that honor to Maryland, if you’re interested. The state replaced the capitol with the new Roundhouse building.)

Besides inhabited pueblos and two Native American reservations, students could visit six state parks, 10 state monuments and a national park, according to the guide. And Nuka Cola vending machines stood on every street corner.

All personnel had to wear either their uniform or civilian clothing. But the guide clearly defined civilian clothing as including “trousers with belt, shirt with tie, or sport shirt with standup collar.” That’s going to make it hard to hunt Deathclaws, but you do you, Sandia.

Most other rules and morale and welfare options would look familiar to any service member today. The base had golf, an archery range and prehistoric cliffs just a few miles from modern atomic laboratories.

Okay, maybe that last one was specific to Sandia.