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Soviet Students View U.S. Nuclear Command Center

December 22, 1989

OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. (AP) _ A small group of Soviet teen-agers occupied the U.S. Air Force’s nuclear command center on Friday as the invited guests of the Strategic Air Command.

The tour marked the first time Soviets have been allowed in SAC’s new $88 million underground command post. Air Force officials could recall only one other time in SAC history that Soviets have been allowed in its inner sanctum.

″It was all very interesting,″ said Andrei Berezin. ″I can’t see this in my country.″

Lt. Gen Donald Aldridge, SAC vice commander in chief, welcomed the Soviet students in Russian as the teens sat in the hardened underground bunker that is used to direct U.S. nuclear forces.

The recent thaw in east-west relations was evident as Brig. Gen. Kenneth Keller briefed the students on the command post’s capabilities. There was no reference to nuclear weapons or their potential targets in the Soviet Union.

The briefing instead focused on the design of the command center, Air Force weather forecasting and SAC’s communications system.

The students spoke by radio with the Looking Glass aircraft, an alternate command post that is kept airborne round-the-clock. They also got a weather briefing in English and Russian from Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, the closest SAC installation to the Soviet Union.

″These systems are in place to ensure that we preserve peace in the world and we work very hard at that job,″ Keller told the students.

Peace was on the mind of Marina Ovechkina, who wore a peace sign button on the tour. Miss Ovechkina said she always wears the button and did not consider that it could attract attention at SAC headquarters.

Air Force officials cited time constraints and the spirit of good will in deviating from their standard tour program, which includes briefings on U.S. and Soviet military capability.

″This is a tour where the youths understand and we understand that this is something that is in the best interest of all of us to work these peace issues through,″ said Col. Larry Greer, a SAC spokesman.

The Strategic Air Command is the Air Force’s long-range strike force of manned bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles. Since 1961 it has maintained the airborne Looking Glass, which would take control of U.S. nuclear forces if the president and other leaders were killed.

The students, aged 15-17, said they were impressed by the tour, which also included a look at EC-135 Looking Glass aircraft, Offutt dormitories and the base gymnasium.

″This is very interesting and when I come back home I will tell my friends and parents about this,″ said Natalya Gudkova.

But Tatjana Zabortseva said she was more impressed by the manners of Nebraskans. ″In Omaha, people say ‘excuse me’ and ‘thank you.’ That I like,″ Miss Zabortseva said.

The students have been in the United States since Nov. 27 in an exchange program with Omaha’s Westside High School. They are scheduled to leave Wednesday, and a group of Westside students is to visit the Soviet Union in late March.

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