POLARIS MISSILE FACILITY, ATLANTIC
29 March 1960 - 05 January 1995
|POMFLANT History Pages|
|Lockheed Martin workers Mike Leitzen (left) and Jerry Hackworth walk with a|
rocket motor as it's winched into a container on a railroad car Wednesday,
08 September 1999, at the Charleston Naval Weapons Station in Goose Creek.
Goose Creek, SC - Mark the time.
At 10:48 a.m. Wednesday, 08 September 1999, the last trainload of Trident I missile motors pulled out of the former POMFLANT at the Charleston Naval Weapons Station.
The rocket motors' unheralded departure closed the book on 40 years of Lowcountry history during which the Navy assembled the most formidable nuclear weapons delivery system in the world.
"We've been at a loose end for the last 4 1/2 years," Navy Lt. Dennis K. Bench said as he watched the last of the C-4 missile motors stored at Charleston leave the Navy's motor transfer facility.
Bench is the officer-in-charge of the Navy's Strategic Weapons Facility, Atlantic Detachment, Charleston. The detachment - never more than 16 sailors and 10 civilians - is what remained after the Navy decommissioned the old Polaris Missile Facility, Atlantic in January 1995.
Ten years ago, POMFLANT employed 916 Navy civilians, contractors and military people. They assembled, maintained, stored and installed the intercontinental missiles that went aboard the Navy's nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines.
POMFLANT grew as the Cold War intensified, with mile after mile of concrete and earth-covered bunkers holding either rockets or warheads. More than 300 Marines guarded the heavily fortified complex. Starting in the late 1950s, virtually every fleet ballistic missile sub in the Navy went through Charleston's POMFLANT.
In the early 1960s, a POMFLANT assembled missile was the only U.S. sub launched missile ever flown in which the atomic warhead was detonated.
Test data remained secret for years, but we wanted the Soviets to know when we munched that missile," a former POMLANT commander said in 1995. And that it was successful.
When the Cold War ended, POMFLANT's aging subs became expendable under the START I treaty with the former Soviet Union. By Wednesday, Bench's detachment had dwindled to himself, nine sailors and eight civilian contractors. For the last 4 1/2 years, their work has focused in the 573 C-3 Poseidon and C-4 Trident I rocket motors that stayed behind after POMFLANT closed.
Those motors in recent years have either been shipped to a long-term storage site or incinerated in Utah.
On Wednesday, civilian contractors from Lockheed Martin Missiles and Space placed the last rocket motor inside an oversized shipping container. Then a rail crew backed a flatcar into the building, and the container was loaded and on its way.
Its destination: an Army ordnance storage facility near Flagstaff, Ariz.
For contract employees like William Alge of Charleston the ceremonial departure marked the end of an era.
"Ten years ago, they told us we'd be here into the 2000s," Alge said. But peace broke out. That's when they started cutting back."
Alge said that many Lockheed employees transferred to the Navy sub base at Kings Bay, Ga., when F POMFLANT closed. But with 36 years at Lockheed, Alge stayed. He said he plans to retire when Bench's detachment officially closes next year.
Others who stayed will either retire, be reassigned or look for work elsewhere.
But POMFLANT, the detachment and the Navy's once top-secret work will live on, thanks to the START I treaty that allows the Russians to visit Charleston on short notice.
Most of the former POMFLANT is now an Army logistics base. But the Navy could conceivably bring back the rocket motors.