Air Force's nuclear missile force

Associated Press
In this photo taken June 24, 2014, 2nd Lt. Oliver Parsons, right, and 1st Lt. Andy Parthum check systems in the underground control room where they work a 24-hour shift at an ICBM launch control facility near Minot, N.D. The crew is responsible for controlling and launching the 10 nuclear-tipped Minuteman 3 missiles located in remote launch sites under their command. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

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As a nuclear missileer with his finger on the trigger of the world's most powerful weapon, Air Force 1st Lt. Andy Parthum faces pressures few others know. He spends his workday awaiting an order he hopes never arrives: to launch nuclear-tipped missiles capable of killing millions and changing the course of history.

Parthum is one of 90 young airmen who carry out their mission not in the air but in a hole in the ground.

Across the northern tier of the U.S., pairs of missileers sit at consoles inside bomb-proof capsules 60 feet underground and linked to groups of Minuteman 3 missiles, a nuclear-armed weapon whose first generation President John F. Kennedy dubbed an "Ace in the Hole."

The missileers' mission was born in the early years of the Cold War, when the threat of nuclear Armageddon was ever-present, yet it lives on despite the emergence of new threats like global terrorism and cyberattack and the shrinking of defense budgets. (AP)

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