“Considering all the wars in every corner of the world and unprecedented nuclear tension, we, the missileers, had to continually remind ourselves about that call from the President of the United States that we hoped would never come. It felt just like when my father demanded to see me in his final moments – that same uncertainty and dread, knowing there was nothing I could do,” writes Dr. Deji Ayoade during a key passage his new book. It’s entitled Underground: A Memoir of Hope, Faith, and the American Dream. “Just like I prayed for a miracle during my father’s last days, I prayed for peace as tensions escalated. Russia. China. South Korea. And a new president who wasn’t afraid of confrontation.
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When North Korea launched an intercontinental ballistic missile with the potential to reach the mainland U.S., I wondered if the worst part of my job was about to become more than just a possibility,” he continues. “As the threats continued to reach a crescendo, so did my awareness of the primary reason my job existed: deterrence. Now we had shifted to the possibility of going to war. Some said the possibility of nuclear war was unprecedented, others said it was imminent. I understood the deterrent power of my job better than any of them. And pressing the ‘button,’ annihilating cities, states, and nations, was a scenario every man should pray never happened. For any missileer in combat at such time, death was inevitable. We literally signed on to die should the time ever come, to save America and her allies.”
Dr. Ayoade is one to reckon with. A Nigerian-American with an extensive military background, he writes with an old-fashioned candor, unpretentiousness, and sincerity. What’s particularly powerful is his love for this country, in a manner still willing to admit faults but steadfastly loyal to the ideals. “Besides the pride that came with the uniqueness of operating nuclear weapons, it was also a position that held the fate of all life on earth in the grip of just four hands.
I learned how the capsule could be a place where two wrongs could be forced to become a right through honor, respect, and commitment,” Ayoade writes. “…The responsibilities of this role felt like another pioneering moment: I was setting a great precedent so that people like me could continue to have access to the same opportunities I was given. From this point, I was in a position to help others use their lives and their loyalty to prove that just like any American-born citizen, we were capable of doing something worthwhile and benefitting the whole country – as long as we were given an opportunity to do so… As I was overcoming…(challenges) in my career, wars were being waged throughout the world. I felt an acute awareness that I wished others would understand: it didn’t matter what country you came from, how you spoke, or what color your skin was.
A nuclear missile wouldn’t discriminate. We all shared the same risk…I thought about the countless times that did pass me by: times I should have just looked to the heavens with my eyes closed, my arms spread wide open, and enjoyed the soothing breeze on my face. I was constantly chasing the wind all my life, failing to see how it spread generously all around me. But I was changing.”