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Nike Training

There were two main centers of Training for the Nike Ajax and Hercules systems:
- Redstone Arsenal (Huntsville Alabama) training for Ordnance people - a higher echelon of repair
- Ft. Bliss (El Paso, Texas), training for the people at the individual Nike sites.
     - Initial Nike training - Enlisted
     - Initial Nike training - Officers
     - Play - 1954 era

Redstone Arsenal (Huntsville Alabama) training for Ordnance people - a higher echelon of repair

from Charles Everett
Nike Training Shop, Ordnance Guided Missile School
from Charles Everett
Nice photo of the school at Huntsville for the Nike Ajax course
Check this web site by Doyle Piland

Ft. Bliss (El Paso, Texas), training for the people at the individual Nike sites.
U.S. Army and U.S. allied personnel received formal Nike training at Ft. Bliss
Ft. Bliss, practically in El Paso, Texas, was the primary formal training site for anti-aircraft guns and missiles for the U.S. Army for about a century. (The function was moved in about 2005 to Ft. Sill - somewhere ;-)

From Gordon Lunn
Lt. Col. William Bliss, for whom the fort is named, entered West Point at the age of 14 and graduated in 1833. A gifted mathematician, he served in the Mexican and Seminole Wars. He died at age 37 from yellow fever.
William Wallace Smith Bliss

Ft. Bliss (northeast of El Paso) and the three nearby missile ranges
North of center - "Red Canyon", for the earlier smaller Nike Ajax
Center - White Sands Proving Ground, later called White Sands Missile Range
SouthEast of Center - McGreggor Range, opened for the longer range Nike Hercules
Low Center - Ft. Bliss, Army AA training until about 2007
Map from Winged Victory - The History of the Nike Missile Training Program At Fort Bliss 48 pages, 7 megabytes

I didn't have a camera in the army. Fortunately Jos Weijenberg took lots of pictures, and kindly shares them here.
- Ft. Bliss 1968
- Abandoned Nike-Hercules site, Schoppingen, Germany
- and the following aerial views of the El Paso area

Full Resolution
Ft. Bliss
White line - Our probable route on Mt. Franklin

Full Resolution
Abernathy Park
in 1954 Nike Park?

Full Resolution
Center of Ft. Bliss

Ft. Bliss Foreign Student Handout Handout .pdf 8 Megabytes from A.J.M. (Jos) Weijenberg

Initial Nike training - Enlisted
  • Some people apparently were sent to Nike sites with little training on Nike equipment. These might include cooks, guards, ... whose expected duties did not include maintenance and/or operation of the equipment. I don't know much about that path.

  • Operators of equipment often received some training at Fort Bliss (El Paso) Texas. I understand some were sent relatively unknowledgeable to a site to receive on-the-job training. Again, I am relatively ignorant about the percentage of folks receiving how much operator training. (I really had blinders on when I was in the Army!)

  • Some, including myself, to avoid being drafted late in the Korean Police Action(2 years service), enlisted for 3 years with some sort of promise of months of training in a technical school. (The Army had an "out" if you were a bad student or otherwise bad.) I had actually enlisted for Corporal missile "Fire Control" maintenance, but when arriving at Ft. Bliss after Basic Training, was advised to switch to "Nike Fire Control" maintenance. Which I luckily did.

  • Many long term military people transferred to the same Nike program and received training.

Most of the operating people got their initial Nike training at Fort Bliss, (El Paso) Texas. I was assigned to class SAM-23 in the spring of 1954, and learned and trained on Nike Ajax fire control equipment (radars, computer) for a year at and near Ft. Bliss, Texas. Our class had about 35 people in it. We were of two major groups:

  1. Young (19 to about 24) new enlistees that were interested in techie things. Most had done things like build radios in high school, had some technical training some where, and/or opened/worked in a radio/tv repair shop. Several of us were college drop-outs.
    One classmate was a hale, hearty, friendly new American citizen,
        with a moderate German accent.
          - a tall blond Aryan right out of Nazi propaganda films -
      Now as an American citizen,
        he was subject to the American draft,
        so enlisted for three years to get one year of Nike training,
            and likely avoid active infantry service in Korea
        as I had done.
    It soon came out that this was not his first experience with AA -
    During WWII, when he was 14 years old,
        he had loaded German 88 mm AA guns firing up
        at British and American bombers.

  2. Sergeants and warrant officers who had been in the artillery for probably 10 years, and were in for a big career change.
We got along together surprisingly well. The older army folks were very tolerant of us new techie recruits, and we new techie recruits were happy to help the older guys through technical points. To a surprising degree we partnered in school lab exercises, partied together in the Mexican bars, and were invited to the homes of the married sergeants.

We privates got to "pull KP" - which meant getting roused extra early and missing a day of school. Later I could go through the schematics and point out the pages which had been discussed while I was on KP. :-(( We heard that the Air Force had a more enlightened attitude about students missing school for KP. :-((

There was an optional night school where people from many classes could get extra help from the knowledgeable staff. People who were slow (poor in tests) in school were obligated to attend night school to review and catch up. I got to spend a week in "dumb-dumb" night school after a sharp disagreement with an instructor about how to align a radio transmitter. I am not now sure who was correct, but I lost sufficient points in that weekly quiz to force my attendance at night school for a week. One of the sergeants spent most of his year's training also attending night "dumb-dumb" school. Oddly enough, folks said that he was just fine on his Nike site later - the guy just had little scholastic aptitude.

While at this school, in 1955, I sent the following to my sister.

If you should see upon the street,
A man equipped with dipole feet,
with a family of curves trailing behind,
He's a radar man with a micro mind.

With micro seconds and  micro waves
And micro volts he fills his days
And thereby in the course of time
He develops a micro mind.

His eyes take on a neon gleam
His ears extend into a Yagi beam.
His mouth becomes another pulse gate
and his heart pumps blood at a video rate

After 24 hours of sector scan
You'd swear he was a crazy man,
From side to side his pulsing eyes sweep
Even scanning his eyelids in his sleep. 

His position in life is void of hope
Everyone calls him "ole Scope Dope"
.When the bacons all gone, he gets the rind
This Radar man with the Micro Mind.

This poor old donkey with the passing years
Attains infinite impedance between the ears
And finally succumbs to a heavy jolt
When he gets what he thinks is a micro volt.

From his microscope the mortician will stumble,
Turn to his colleagues and softly mumble
"No trace of a brain am I able to find--
He's a Radar Man with a micro mind".
and a YouTube version

After training, the operating people were divided into battalion or battery sized "packages" (commanding officers got to interview and help select their future soldiers).

From this distance in time (45 years later) I feel sorry for my battery commander. He had already selected two good IFC maintenance candidates (previous classes, and who had done light instructional duties about Ft. Bliss) and had to pick one more. I am sure that I, as an opinionated, argumentative, wild haired new graduate, was not his first round draft choice.

A classmate went into a different "package". This is his story.

The IFC personnel from each battery then practiced on actual Nike systems in "Radar Park" in Ft. Bliss for a few weeks. The instructors inserted many faults (bad tubes, open interlocks, defective cables, mis-adjusted adjustments, ... . It was really fun to put all that book learning to work!

Then each battery went to:

  • (pre 1959 - Ajax missiles) Red Canyon Range Camp
  • (post 1959 - Hercules missiles) McGregor Range (about 50 miles north of Ft. Bliss)
and fired (usually three) missiles at target drones or (later) simulated targets.

Our "package" was then sent to our new battery site in Chicago ( with, if I remember correctly, about two weeks travel time to allow travel to and visiting in home towns).

The IFC technical people (warrant officers and enlisted) got about a year of training. This was divided into:

  • 8 weeks of basic electronics, basic radio/radar, and trouble shooting theory
  • 48 weeks of Nike specific theory, electronics, radar, adjustments, trouble shooting

We (IFC technical people) went over every page of the schematics carefully, and had lots of trouble shooting and adjustment practice. I felt (in 1955) quite satisfied - except:
  • no training or experience in fighting enemy jamming
  • we occasionally had to pull KP, and I could go though the schematics and identify those pages unlearned because of KP.
    John R Braun e-mailed
    "I attended two schools back to back at Ft. Bliss from Feb. 1966 to April 1967 and never had to do ANY duties except attend school. They must have indeed, changed their duty roster policies between the time I attended and when you attended. I thought the training received and the instructor quality was excellent at Ft. Bliss. The school hours were grueling and the course subjects fast paced, but excellent. "
    In August 2000, Donald Knollinger wrote:
    When I attended 226 school at Ft. Bliss... we pulled NO extra duties!!! I remember (fondly), our school battery commander addressing us on our first day... saying "you people are here to learn", "there will be no KP, guard duty, inspections, etc!!" This was in the early 60's.

At the conclusion of formal training, we were interviewed by battery commanders who were forming up people to install and operate new sites. There was an attempt to match people's desires of location with Army needs. Chicago was the closest available at the time to my home (Minnesota) and I requested that city. Captain Hill was going to Chicago, and (after he interviewed me) I was admitted to his "team" along with 2 other IFC mechanics and maybe 40 other people who had received training in various aspects of Nike operations. We started to work on the equipment for about 2 weeks as a unit.

After that we moved about 100 miles away to Red Canyon Missile range to fix/adjust their local radars (previously un-fixed and mis-adjusted to give us plenty of exercise) and fire a missile to shoot down a target called an RCAT. While there, a week to 10 days??, we lived in Red Canyon Range Camp, a tent village. The sheet metal mess hall was the most substantial building.

After a short leave, we gathered at the Chicago site which was in Jackson Park - 63rd South and Outer Drive. It was called "C-41". The buildings, launcher pits, roads, fences, radar pads, etc. were all ready for the new equipment which arrived in a few days. We installed and cabled up the new equipment and made it operational (in two weeks?). Then more people arrived to receive "on the job" training and fill the manning slots. And we were "ready".

Ron Loving said that later (1964) there were 4 week courses in Electronic Counter Measures. "The classes tried to teach you that what you saw on the scope could be countered by putting in standard "fixes" against the type of jamming represented on the scope. In reality, one could try individual "fixes" or mix and match the "fixes" until the scope cleared up or you went to "Track On Jam" (TOJ). I was never satisfied with the "School Solution" for jamming because it was not that close to reality."

The Launcher technical people got (???).

The operators got (? 2 weeks?). Did not seem much.

Initial Nike training - Officers
In 1964, (Information courtesy Ron Loving)
The officers got:
  • 15 weeks of officer basic course "The Officer Basic course was kind of an advanced "basic training" for 2nd lieutenants in Air Defense Artillery. We played officer games in the field (sand dunes of outer Ft. Bliss) and even fired one Nike Ajax missile as the finale for the class. The officers in the class assumed all of the positions in the battery and operated the system. My position was in the launcher area ..."
  • 30 weeks advanced course - "more tactics and theory of operations"
There are interesting oral histories of officers and men at Cold War at Fort Hancock.
New (Sept 2009) is Captain Philip Oswald commanding 1959-1962

Ron Loving commanded both Nike and Hawk batteries. In response to the question "I am presuming the technical and fire decision challenges facing a Hawk officer are quite different from those facing a Nike officer???" Ron responded with "Officers in the two missile batteries faced the same challenges. That being the continual training of the crews, supplies (Logistics) and other daily operational procedures from motor pool inspection to care and feeding of the troops. The differences being in the operational procedures for the different batteries. During officer basic and advanced courses at Ft. Bliss all officers were trained the same. It was after they arrived at their new assignment that the missile specific training started. Both types of missiles were controlled the same way by the Air Force through the ADCAP early warning systems."

Aug 2020, Kurt Keller wrote:
"I have question for you. I entered the service as a 2nd LT reporting for training August 25th 1968. I know you mentioned a 15 week advanced course for officers and I must have taken a non advanced course since I know I was not there for 15 weeks. Can you tell me how long I would been there for a non advanced course."

Gordon Lunn responded:
Can only respond as to how it was when I entered the service in July 1956.
    Officer Basic at that time was 16 weeks. We had an introduction to Basic Electronics, as well as classes describing the four systems of the missile-propulsion, guidance, hydraulics and warhead. We had two weeks of missile preparation and assembly. The thing that was missing in my case was practical experience in the IFC area. The officers who went to "package training"-new systems being sent to new sites-got this. I was sent to Fort Niagara as a replacement officer at an already-established site. I learned the fire control area by OJT. Since our Officer Basic class was the first of the new fiscal year, all the Distinguished Military Graduates from ROTC were there. Most of us were also engineering graduates, which gave us a legup on the poetry majors.
    At my battery the Old Man (the Battery Commander) was the Mess Officer. He had gone thru cooks and bakers school as an enlisted man and knew how to operate a mess hall. The difference showed. We had the best mess hall in the Group, and the Group stole our Mess Sergeant to be theirs. No matter. The Old Man found another guy and we were off and running again. The Old Man also insisted that the Duty Officer inspect the mess hall every night. We had a checklist and the place was clean when we finished. When the mess sgt reported that the mess hall was ready for inspection, we also released the kp's, so that any fixes had to be done by the mess crew. That taught them the lesson of leadership-you inspect it before you ask the OD to do it. Worked well.
    I didn't have the luxury of attending the Advanced course at Bliss. By that time I was a parttime National Guard officer and had to take the Advanced course by correspondence. To add insult to injury, the school told me that since it had been more than 10 years since I graduated from Officer Basic, I would have to repeat the BASIC course by correspondence before I took the Advanced course by correspondence. A lot of manila envelopes in my mailbox. Fortunately the courses were written at a fairly low education level, so on a 3 1/2 hour flight from Chicago to San Francisco I could get thru 6 hours of correspondence course.
    As usual. I survived; and went on to do the Command and General Staff College-by correspondence.

And of course, folks want to - play :-)) - My version in the 1954 era -
Fortunately, I usually had wheels :-))

- El Paso
- Juárez
- Other

El Paso is not widely regarded as a cultural center ;-)

Ah - the famous and infamous - Juárez


  • Various married sergeants invited us single guys to their homes.
    One red faced sergeant, who we didn't regard as a great catch, invited us - and introduced us to his wife, "the Burgermeister's daughter". She was a nice lady, evidently escaped from bad conditions in post war Germany and was taking good care of husband - wouldn't let him lend money to dead beats, a limited amount of beer on weekends - and other wise kept her guy out of trouble. :-)) Folks said that before he married her he was making a mess out of his army career.

  • Biggs Field - Air Force at the time -
    Home to SAC
    B-36 bombers. Huge !!! During classes we would hear those things seeming miles away, engines slighly de-synchronized, droning on forever. Before we arrived, some Air Force tower director steered a B-36 into Mt. Franklin - story was they only transfered him rather than ... .
    While we were there (1954+) a big plane ?B-36? got into trouble landing, swerved to miss a populated area, and crashed horribly. The next day I drove to the site - sheet metal and char all over - only visible structures where the huge wheels :-(((
    Did the Air Force haul the engines away? Looked for didn't see -

    One day I decided to see how the Air Force lived - we had heard their lower ranks did not have to "pull KP" and were jealous. Getting pulled out of school to scrub pots and pans seemed like false economy to us. I drove onto Biggs air base very casually, drove about, and wondered when they would escort me out of there - I drove over by the B-36 bombers, parked briefly under one of their wings (HUGE) then got bored and left. How is that for a tale? I'm sure I wasn't dreaming - REALLY should have had a camera !!!

  • One Sunday, 4 of us decided to climb Mt. Franklin, just to the west of El Paso, Ft. Bliss.
    A possible route is in white on a the picture of Ft. Bliss, above.
    How grossly unprepared !! - we each carried a canteen of water and a sandwich, and headed up the mountain. Some where about half way up, we had consumed all our water and food, but we pressed onward and upward. Right now I can't tell you if we made the top, but I can tell you we were totally miserable coming down - we saw some trees in the valley this side of mountains to the north - and headed there - very desperate for water.

    We finally stagger into the tree area - there are lots of "Mexicans" there with their families. We hobble over to the nearest group in that lovely shade and offer to buy water - I think we would have traded our clothing and shoes for water.

    The "Mexicans" said - No - free - enjoy - OH - did we drink water, eat watermelons, and even drink a little beer !!

    I've had a real soft spot in my heart for "Mexicans" ever since !!

    I think most of them know how to live better than most of us money grabbing Gringos !!

  • Carlsbad, New Mexico - Caverns and Girls
    Somehow someone knew a girl in Carlsbad, New Mexico - soon 4 of us were spending every other weekend driving the 120 miles to Carlsbad. One of us had suitable car (mine was OK about town) - and we usually made the over the desert 120 miles in about an hour - occasionally less :-|

    In spite of the above speed, there was no hankipank. Our regular dates were serious about church rules and the guys ?shy??tolerant??too-young-to-get-serious?? - hard to believe -
    We even stayed in motels - chaste - lots of adventures but chaste - unbelievable - Later, a year after we got to Chicago, Tommy Manno married his girl -

Updated through Oct 5, 2013