Unassuming farms in Wyoming and Montana that house a deadly secret (2024)

To passers by, they look like just another abandoned lot or fenced enclosure: a cattle grazing area, remnants of an electrical transformer site, a sewer utility access point.

But buried at these sites within sprawling acreages of ranches and farmland all across America's Great Plains lies hundreds of literally explosive nuclear secrets.

Underground silos— armed with Cold War-era Minuteman IIIintercontinental ballistic missiles(ICBMs) — sit behind anonymous fences tucked away inside sprawling plots of privately held fields and lush pastures.

The ICBMs, capable of reducingMoscow or Beijing to rubble in under 30 minutes, have left many locals in these remote US states afraid of being a top target of any US adversaries planning a decapitating 'first strike' against America's nuclear arsenal.

Montana local Ross Butcher grew up on a Fergus County ranch (pictured) with an underground nuclear Minuteman missile silo installed by the Air Force in a small fenced enclosure (top left)

These silos - 450 total and made in deals between the Air Force and rural residents over half a century ago - are preparing for a$141 billion overhaul to replace the Minuteman III with new missiles. Above, Ross's father Ed Butcher tends to horses miles from the silo on his ranch

Above, aMinuteman III missile in its silo, photographed in 1978

These nuclear silos, constructed in deals between the US Air Force and rural residents over half a century ago, are now preparing for a massive, $141 billion, taxpayer-funded overhaul.

But Montana native Ross Butcher is far from concerned about housing some of the most lethal weapons known to man in his backyard.

'It's a huge benefit to us,' said Butcher, who grew up on aFergus County ranch that was home to one Minuteman silo.

'My grandfather was just happier than heck to get one on the place — because in our county, it's very tough to maintain roads because we have lots and lots of clay,' he remembers.

'The US Department of Defense comes in and they build you a road. They upgrade your bridges, build a full-size road.'

'They actually have a "spec" on the road, like quality of gravel,' Butcher, now a county commissioner in Fergus, explained. 'We love our missile roads.'

Some locals, however, are more worried about these nuclear missile sites and plans to modernize the 450 Minuteman III silos in Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota and Coloradowith new ICBMs,Northrop Grumman's Sentinel missile.

'If we ever get bombed, they say this is the first place they're going to bomb,'Nebraskafarmer Tom May said, 'because of the silos that we've got here.'

May, who has grown wheat on his farm in Banner County for over 40 years, lives within two miles from a missile silo in virtually every direction.

To passers by, they look like just another abandoned lot or fenced enclosure: a cattle grazing area, remnants of an electrical transformer site, a sewer utility access point. Above, one such underground nuclear missile silo in Fergus, Montana

But buried at these sites within sprawling acreages of ranches and farmland all across America's Great Plains lies hundreds of literally explosive nuclear secrets.Above, a closer look at one such underground nuclear missile silo in Fergus, Montana

The missiles, capable of reducing Moscow or Beijing to rubble in under 30 minutes, have left many locals in these remote US states afraid of being a top target of any US adversaries planning a decapitating 'first strike' against America's nuclear arsenal.

'I'm afraid me and the wife would have to vacate for two or three years,' Lewistown, Montana farmer Jerry Van Haur said.

'I'm not arguing with the project,' he added, 'I just want them to know the effects.'

As a county commissioner in Fergus and a long-time resident, Ross Butcher is used to fielding concerns of this kind in his own county.

'I remember lots of conversations about whether the bombs were gonna land here first or not,' Butcher told DailyMail.com of his own memories on this topic from growing up on a Montana ranch with its own ICBM nuclear silo.

'For me personally, I always felt the argument that "They're not going to shoot their missiles at our missiles because ours are already going to be out of the ground before they get them here anyway,"' he explained.

'It's kind of a waste of their missiles and we have more than they do,' he said via phone. 'So, I never felt like we were ever going to be a target of a nuclear launch.'

'They [the then-Soviet Union] were gonna target population centers and key military installations,' Butcher said, 'not these missiles spread out across the country.'

Underground silos, armed with Cold War-era Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), have sat behind anonymous fences inside farms and ranches for over half a century. Above, local contractors celebrate completion of a 200th missile silo in Wyoming in 1964

'I'm afraid me and the wife would have to vacate for two or three years,' Lewistown, Montana farmer Jerry Van Haur said of Air Force plans to swap 450 Minuteman nuclear ICBMs with new ICBMs. Above, a deactivated Minuteman missile on display at a Lewistown park in April 2022

But in Banner, Nebraska, at least, there have been drawbacks: strict new rules mandated by the Air Force have now restricted how locals can use their farmland.

The military quashed an energy company deal between residents and two firms, Invenergy and Orion Renewable, to install wind turbines on their property in 2022, as May and his neighbors told theFlatwater Free Press.

'This would have been a big deal for a lot of farmers,' said Jim Young, another Banner-area wheat farmer whose wind turbine deal was thwarted. 'And it would have been an even bigger deal for every property owner in Banner County.'

'It's just a killer,' in Young's view. 'Don't know how else to say it.'

But financial and safety issues are just some of the concerns weighing on Great Plains residents, as they consider doubling-down on deals to remain in the crosshairs of renewed Cold War tensions between the United States, Russia and China.

Strict rules mandated by the Air Force have impacted how farmers near these nuclear missile silos (example above) can use their farmland: the military quashed multiple energy company deals in Banner County, Nebraska to install wind turbines on local residents' property in 2022

'This would have been a big deal for a lot of farmers,' said Jim Young, a Banner-area wheat farmer whose wind turbine deal was thwarted by new Air Force rules about the missile silos on farms in his area. Above, Young poses in front of a ICBM nuclear silo buried on his farm

Above, Young points to the ICBM nuclear silo buried on his farm

'I bet Russian satellites are counting the hairs on my head right now,' Montana cattle rancher Ed Butcher, Ross' father, told theWashington Postwhile giving a tour of the grazing area near the missile silo on his property.

'I liked it better when this place felt like a piece of history,' Butcher said of the one-acre enclosure which has housed a Minuteman III ICBM for decades.

The elder Butcher told the Post that Russia's invasion of Ukraine has ratcheted up nuclear readiness in at all the nuclear launch sites in his area, including on his ranch.

Militaryhelicopters now patrol all the active Minuteman silos across the Great Plains.

And motion sensors along the one-acre, fenced nuclear missile enclosure on his own property reports any movement closer than 100 yards from the underground silo.

Air Force personnel,nicknamed 'missile boys' or 'jetters' locally, now sit in a bunker just seven miles from the Butcher ranch, five stories underground manning the control panel where an eight-digit launch code could rocket 10 nukes into the sky.

Butcher's son, Ross, now one of three county commissioners locally, noted that Fergus residents' relationships with local Air Force personnel has warmed and cooled along with America's international geopolitical tensions.

Above, an Air Force diagram of their standard underground nuclear missile silo installation

Above, a photo of a decommissioned underground nuclear missile silo in Wyoming that had been posted for sale by realtors

'After 9/11 the stance was different, Right?' Ross Butcher told DailyMail.com 'You kind of got the impression like, "We aren't here to talk," you know?'

'But the military presence has always been pretty congenial,' he added, 'and respectful in both directions.'

The Bush-era "War on Terror" years, as well as the more recent Cold War 2.0 tensions, have been a far cry from the more quaint memories Butcher has of his youth on the cattle ranch near the silo.

'There were interesting times where the Air Force guys would not get the gate closed,' he said, 'and the cows would get into the missile site.'

'You'd have to go in there trying to chase the cows out of the actual missile site.'

Read More Minute by painstaking minute, exactly what would happen if America is nuked

He recalled one instance where his father, Ed, was so angry with the Air Force for having let the cows get into the fenced nuclear missile silo that he started 'banging' on the silo's warning sensors.

'At the time, they had these sorts of sensors, there's these big drums, three of them, and they face towards the center of the complex,' Ross Butcher said. 'And he was banging on it, because he was so irritated that they left the gate open.'

Today, Ross is hard at work as a county commissioner working with the Air Force and defense contractorNorthrop Grumman ironing out the details of the modernization efforts on Fergus county's nuclear missile silos.

'Fergus County, as a county, has the most missiles,' he told DailyMail.com. 'We have 52 missiles in our county.'

Above, an abandon house on 236 Winifred Highway located in Fergus County, Montana on April 8, 2022.'Fergus County, as a county, has the most missiles,' county commissioner Ross Butcher told DailyMail.com. 'We have 52 missiles in our county'

Northrop Grumman's Sentinel program is the first major upgrade to the ground-based component of America's 'nuclear triad' (land, sea and air) in over 60 years.

But the massive undertaking has outpaced cost expectations, triggering a project-wide budget and security review — one that only goes into effect once a Pentagon program goes 25 percent over budget.

The Sentinel program, according to a report by the Associated Press today, is now 81 percent over its original cost projections.

'We fully appreciate the magnitude of the costs,'Bill LaPlante, the Pentagon's under secretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, told reporters.

'But, he added, 'we also understand the risks of not modernizing our nuclear forces and not addressing the very real threats we confront.'

Unassuming farms in Wyoming and Montana that house a deadly secret (2024)

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