Surrounded by U.S. military police pointing guns at him at the Ramstein Air Base in Germany, Newcastle resident Sean Bailey simulated the process of loading a nuclear war head on to an aircraft during a military drill.
“It was a drill we did each year called the Local Salty Nation,” Bailey said.
Of the various experiences Bailey has enjoyed traveling the globe, this was among one of the more unique ones.
As a member of the U.S. Air Force Bailey was trained and had security clearance to handle and load dangerous explosives, including nuclear warheads, on to an aircraft.
The Local Salty Nation training was an annual drill designed to prepare service members at Ramstein Air Base to respond to conflicts unfolding in nearby nations, according to Bailey. The presence of military police was to ensure security of the nuclear warhead from outside forces and from Bailey and his two other crew members.
“Three of the MPs would have a gun pointed outside the circle and three of them would be pointed in at you when you do your inspection,” Bailey said. “And you are told in training that if you are in a real situation like that the MPs are trained to shoot you if necessary.”
Along with inspecting the warhead, Bailey was responsible with keeping an eye on his fellow service members to ensure they did not damage the weapon.
“We were a crew of three and we would be responsible to upload and download the weapons,” Bailey said. “We were also responsible for our other crew members to make sure they did not take a hammer and just started banging on the warhead.”
Bailey clarified the warhead could not be set off by a simple banging with a hammer. “It takes a lot of pressure to set off the nuclear charge,” Bailey said.
While trained and authorized to work on nuclear warheads during his tour in Germany, Bailey would not confirm whether or not he actually loaded nuclear warheads during his time in the air force.
“I can neither confirm nor deny the presence of nuclear weapons in Germany,” Bailey said. “Nor would I be so inclined to say anything about them if they did exist.”
After serving in Germany, Bailey spent the remainder of his time in the Air Force serving in Turkey during the first gulf war.
“It was at the end of the war so we were primarily providing comfort for the Kurds who were enemies of the Iraqis,” Bailey said.
Born in Damariscotta, Bailey joined the Air Force in 1988, immediately after graduating from Lincoln Academy. He served until 1992 where he was honorably discharged as part of a reduction in force. Bailey would return to Maine in 1992 but his travels around the globe did not end with the conclusion of his Air Force career.
Ten years following his discharge from the Air Force, Bailey decided to join the Army after growing home sick while working as a painter for a company called Hengst in Bad Laasphe, a small town in Germany.
At Fort Rucker in Alabama on Sept. 11, 2001 Bailey was participating in a training drill as an air traffic controller for the Army when two planes struck both towers of the World Trade Center in New York, another plane hit the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., and a plane crashed landed in Shanksville, Pa. in what was a coordinated terrorist attack on the U.S. that is commonly referred to as Sept 11 or 9/11.
“They lined us up once we got to our camp and took our guns away,” Bailey said of the immediate aftermath of 9/11.
As the Sept. 11 attack occurred, Bailey was marching with his unit down the middle of a dirt road in Alabama unaware of the terror and chaos happening on the east coast when he noticed the broadcast over the radio sounded incredibly realistic.
“It sounded like an actual attack was happening,” Bailey said, not realizing at the time it was an actual attack.
After grounding all aircraft for the day, the Army decided to continue with the training without aircraft. The training was a 10-kilometer march where Bailey and his unit were tasked with setting up a communications tower at a specific location. The training was supposed to be as realistic as possible until the attack occurred.
“We took our positions without weapons and did what we could to complete the training,” Bailey said.
Bailey decided to join the Army figuring they could station him in Germany where he was already living at the time, believing it was cost effective for the government.
“You would think that would be the case, wouldn’t you,” Bailey said.
Bailey was ultimately sent to Fort Rucker in Alabama to train as an air traffic controller graduating in a class of 10 controllers. Five of his classmates were stationed in Germany following graduation. Bailey was stationed in Savannah, Ga.
Following the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Bailey would return to the Middle East, this time to a base in Kuwait called Camp Udari. As an air traffic controller Bailey did not see much combat during the invasion, but did remember seeing large dirt mounds he would later learn were full of bodies.
“A former combat engineer who was part of the invasion told us what those dirt mounds were,” Bailey said. “At the time we didn’t realize it.”
In the invasion of Iraq, Bailey would follow the front line of tanks in a light medium tactical vehicle over a two week drive to the Baghdad, International Air Port from Camp Udari. Once they arrived, Bailey and his unit had the arduous task of carrying heavy radio equipment and supplies up 13 stories to the airport’s radio control tower.
“Let me say it again: 13 stories,” Bailey said. “You really learn the value of water, hauling it up 13 stories.”
Shortly after being honorably discharged from the Army in 2004, Bailey returned to Kuwait in the same role he had in the Army, but as a private contractor for Kellogg Brown Root, a subcontractor of Halliburton. Upon his return, Bailey said he was struck by how much the camp had changed.
“The camp’s name was changed called Camp Buehring,” Bailey said. “When I had left it was just a couple of tents in the desert.” The small desert army camp now had a food court, post office, and an air control tower with multiple hangars for planes.
“It was like someone had placed a popcorn kernel and it blew up into an army base,” Bailey said.
After working a couple of years in Kuwait as a private contractor Bailey realized he was not around his kids while growing up and decided to return home in 2006, where he took a job as a corrections officer at the Two Bridges Regional Jail in Wiscasset. While working at the jail he served on the Maine Criminal Justice Academy Board of Trustees from 2009 to 2010 and in 2010, he opened the Fat Friar Meadery in Newcastle.
For fun, Bailey spends his time participating in events put on by the Society for Creative Anachronism. The society is an inclusive community pursuing research and re-creation of pre-17 century skills, arts, combat, and culture. The society is divided into 19 global kingdoms based on geographical location. Bailey recently participated in filming a live feed of a reenactment of a Viking fire pit where the demonstrator cooked a rabbit.
Bailey is part of the East Kingdom which covers eastern Pennsylvania, eastern New York, Delaware, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.
Bailey currently earns a living between working for his painting company called Bailey and Sons and his Meadery business. He is hoping his meadery business will eventually allow him to retire from painting.
Discussing his time abroad Bailey said he was fortunate to be able to travel the world.
“I was able to travel the world for little to no cost and have some life experiences along the way,” Bailey said.
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