Nekoma Safeguard Complex

The Nekoma Safeguard Complex is a unique place in the history of the US military’s anti-ballistic missile effort.  A portion of the Wikipedia entry for this place:

The Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard complex in Nekoma, North Dakota, with the separate long-range detection radar located further north near the town of Cavalier, North Dakota, was the only operational anti-ballistic missile system ever deployed by the United States. It defended Minuteman ICBM missile silos near the Grand Forks AFB, North Dakota.

It had reinforced underground launchers for thirty Spartan and sixteen Sprint nuclear tipped missiles (an additional fifty or so Sprint missiles were deployed at four remote launch sites). The complex was deactivated during 1976 after being operational for less than four months, due to concerns over continuing an anti-missile-missile arms race, cost, effectiveness, and changing political rhetoric.

Originally there were to be three Safeguard facilities, with the other two near Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri and Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana. The 1972 Salt I Treaty changed things, however. The United States and the Soviet Union, under the terms of the treaty, were each allowed two anti-ballistic missile defense bases–one to protect the national capital, and one to defend an ICBM installation. As a result, Whiteman was canceled prior to construction, and Malmstrom was canceled with construction underway. Only the Nekoma ABM facility was completed, making it the most advanced nuclear antiballistic missile facility ever built.

Stanley Mickelsen Safeguard Complex

The Stanley Mickelsen Safeguard Complex reached partial operational capability on the 1st of April, 1975. It received its full complement of warheads and became fully operational on the 1st of October, 1975. The next day, the House appropriations committee, frightened by the cost of the program and questioning its effectiveness in the face of Soviet MIRV technology, voted to pull funding for the base. The Senate concurred 48 days later, and the base was officially shut down on February 10th, 1976.

When we arrived, we were surprised to find the gate standing wide open. The flag was flying over one building, a white pickup was parked in a parking lot, and there was a light in one of the garages, so we decided to go in and see if we could find someone to talk to and get permission to shoot a few photos.

Stanley Mickelsen Safeguard Complex

Stanley Mickelsen Safeguard Complex

We walked around for a few minutes but nobody appeared to be around, so we shot some photos.

Stanley Mickelsen Safeguard Complex

The closure of this base had a severe economic impact on the region. Active duty Air Force personnel were reassigned, but civilian workers were left out of work.

Unemployment in Cavalier County rose to 7.5 percent, and Pembina County, 8.6 percent. People who had flocked to surrounding communities for jobs left just as quickly. The population of Langdon dropped by 45%, Walhalla by 23%, Nekoma by 49%, Cavalier by 43%, and Mountain by 55%. Enrollment at Langdon-area schools fell by half. Businesses that depended on the boom failed in the bust.

Stanley Mickelsen Safeguard Complex

This feature is occasionally referred to as “Nixon’s Pyramid”

Stanley Mickelsen Safeguard Complex

Stanley Mickelsen Safeguard Complex

In short, nuclear missiles would have been launched from this facility to intercept and detonate incoming Soviet ICBMs.

Stanley Mickelsen Safeguard Complex

Stanley Mickelsen Safeguard Complex

Stanley Mickelsen Safeguard Complex

We featured the Stanley Mickelsen Safeguard Complex in our hardcover coffee table book, Ghosts of North Dakota, Volume 1.

Stanley Mickelsen Safeguard Complex

Stanley Mickelsen Safeguard Complex

Stanley Mickelsen Safeguard Complex

This anti-ballistic missile defense facility was linked to other remote facilities in the countryside around Grand Forks Air Force Base.  Terry’s dad took some photos of RSL #3 here if you’d like to see an example.

Stanley Mickelsen Safeguard Complex

This facility was purchased by a local Hutterite farming operation, and they now farm the land all around the base. We’ve been told the local historical society has been trying to work out the details to turn this into a tourist attraction.

Stanley Mickelsen Safeguard Complex

We took these photos not a moment too soon… after we had spent about forty-five minutes taking photos, an angry man in a black truck arrived and claimed we were trespassing. He threw us off the property, and as we left, we discovered we had we missed one ‘No Trespassing’ sign — it was posted on the gate, but because the gate was open, the sign was partially obscured by a fence post.  Apologies to the property owner.  We meant no harm.

Stanley Mickelsen Safeguard Complex

Stanley Mickelsen Safeguard Complex

Stanley Mickelsen Safeguard Complex

Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, copyright © 2016 Sonic Tremor Media

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97 Comments on “Nekoma Safeguard Complex

  1. The flag is still flying so somone must be around, right? Do they still man the buildings?

    • They still clean it and take care of it. They do this so they can reactivate the base whenver.

    • That’s some pretty heavy frost looks like a buaitufel place to take a walk. Do you have any shots of it during spring or summer, possibly fall? I bet it’s gorgeous there year-round.

      • My husband was a W-4 and we were stationed at this site. It was a great place to be and we thoroughly enjoyed living in North Dakota. There were 100 housing units on the base and we had a 4 bedroom house and it was very comfortable. The Winters were cold, but beautiful and the summers were very mild. My sons started to school in a school house that was built in the 1800’s and was heated by Coal.

        It was a wonderful experience for all of and the people there were the best. Very friendly and helpful.
        We even had a garden at one of the farms and the growing season was from June 1 to September 1 and of course, it was daylight until about Midnight.

        I have never lieved anywhere that I enjoyed more than Nekoma, North Dakota.

        • Thanks for your post. I stumbled across this image and article by mistake and was so surprised! My dad was stationed here. We lived on base and it sounds like my brother and I went to the same school your sons did. My class took a few field trips to the MSR when it was operational. Thanks for the great memory, we really enjoyed our time in North Dakota. Everyone was so friendly!

        • Mary,
          I was also stationed there. I remember you and Len. I made staff sergeant there. Len was one of our warrant officers along with Bob Peche, Earl Raymond and Joe Gregory . GS boss was Boris Ivanoff. Still the best place I’ve ever lived.

        • I live in nearby Manitoba…no mention of mosquitoes …and even with the summer solstice…never daylight to midnight. However, I would sure like to visit this installation, if the man in the black truck doesn’t intervene! With tensions as high as they’ve been, perhaps the U.S. Government will see fit to reopen this installation? Sure don’t like the threat of nukes being intercepted right over our heads, in Manitoba!

  2. We saw the flag, but whomever was using some of the buildings (several of them were obviously unused) seemed to be using them for agricultural purposes. It is our understanding that the property is privately owned now, as versus by the government.

  3. I thought state historical society owned this now. Wow…eerie. Even on a sunny summer day.

    • I understood the North Dakota Historical society was dontated the property also its on their web site anyway

      • I was doing research on this site recently, out of curiosity as I am originally from Grafton, ND. What I have found was this site was put up for auction and an “Unknown bidder” had won it with a bid of $530,000. What it’s used for, I am not actually sure yet. Though I would love to take a trip out there and find out!

  4. there was an article in the GF Herald about a year ago saying that part of this site was being redevloped for use in the UND UAV program. Maybe the building with the flag is part of that. Otherwise, that site has been empty for many years.

  5. you shoud get a hold of Buzzy Holeman, I believe he is the caretaker for it. He has some pretty good stories to go along with the place. He lives in edmore, he has double h construction.

  6. Buzzy was probably the angry old guy. LOL The site just south of Nekoma was the original Nelson homestead.

  7. Wow, fascinating place! Whoever the caretaker is, they sure keep it mowed up and trimmed very nicely.

    • Caretaker was Buzzy Holmen from Edmore, ND! He was caretaker for 23 years! Put heart and soul into this place! Also, took time to give tours for many people! That was NOT part of his job description!

  8. Buzzy is a good guy. If he was the one giving you a hard time, it’s probably just because there are some spots around the site where a person could fall in/down and get hurt, and so they like to keep the area clear of unguided visitors. Gotta protect the foolish and/or over adventurous from themselves, at least on state property!

    I’ve had the chance to take a guided tour of the site, including some of the missile storage bunkers. It’s pretty fascinating.

    • I’m pretty sure it won’t last a few millennia. The government doesn’t come anywhere near the quality of ancient Egyptian builders.

      • Concrete structures built by the Romans are still standing, 2000 years later!

        • The reason Roman concrete lasts so long is the lack of iron rebar inside it. Modern concrete is pre-stressed and strengthened with rebar, but this greatly reduces the useful lifespan of the concrete as water is attracted to the iron, which generates rust and heat over time. This eventually cracks the concrete, requiring repair and/or replacement.

          Recall also, most Roman and Egyptian structures which survive are in Mediterranean and desert type environments; North Dakota is not nearly so forgiving….

          • Interesting comment. I didn’t know that about rebar in concrete.

      • Trays were your wrong. I was one of the military core of engineers that helped build this site. It will be here for a long time, unless it’s torn down.

  9. I lived on the base while in 9th & 10th grade at Langdon High School. We eventually moved into Langdon as the base neared completion and civilian workers families were no longer allowed to ive on base. I left ND in 1978 and returned only once in 1986, for my 10 year class reunion. Most, if not all of the housing units had already been removed. It’s sad to think about all the millions and likely billions of dollars our government poured into the Safeguard program only to shut it down shortly afterit became operational.

    • IIRC, some of the housing units ended up in Williston, stacked together to form a couple(?) of (shoddy) apartment buildings, I installed a wash machine in one of those units back in the early ’80’s.

  10. You should contact Carol Goodman of the Cavalier County Job Development Agency. She is working on the next chapter in the Nekoma site story. She could give you accurate information about the ownership and proposed future of this site.

  11. I’ve been there. It’s creepy, to bad they can’t find some use for these empty buildings. I am surprised someone was around to chase you off.

  12. The place is taken care of By Buzzy Holman who is out there almost every day. He mows and keeps the grounds neat. The government still owns it because they dont want to pay billions to tear it down. It costs less to hire someone to take care of it than fill in many holes and tear down the perimid which would cost billiions to tear down. Langdon is looking at buying the facility but most likely will not beable to get the UAV in because it is heavily based in Grand Forks.

    • I am pretty sure that, parts if not all, has been purchased by an “Unknown bidder”, but not 100% sure.

  13. The site is managed by the corp of engineers. I don’t believe the property has changed ownership although Cavalier County economic development is trying to work with the government and UND for uav training. I worked there in the early 70’s and went to a reunion there in 2010. It was organized by Janet Schiller of Nekoma and was very informational and a good time.

  14. Who said that the U.S. Government can give away millions or billions of dollars worth of stuff. Used or unused. It should have become a museum before selling it for a buck.

  15. I worked at this site when it was just a hole in the ground with people scrambling everywhere–it was 1970. I watched this being built and then abandoned. I married a farmer from here who worked at the Remote Sites, MSR and PAR. I still live here and it always makes me sad to drive by and see the remnants of this Government project. I guess it provided a lot of jobs for awhile.

    • I was a security guard there until it closed very very sad used to be a lot of hussel and bussel around Nekoma, use to stop at the bar after work and have a couple and then head home to calvin before I worked there as a security guard heard many stories about all of the new equipment buried in the mounds because they didn’t have paper work for the stuff. so sad to see it that way

  16. Don Axtman: Worked at both sites 1st at PAR site near Concrete ND for Napolean Steel and 2nd for Johnson Control at the MSR site near Nekoma ND. We were preparing for transfer to Montana for the second facility when Nixon shut the progam down.

  17. i I was a firefighter there from the fall of 74 – and this place became operational 30 Sep 75 adn salt II treaty with Gerald Ford provided for a closure (missile removal) in 76 and as a reasult I left. This was like something out af a james Bond movie, security, blast doors, 9 ft thick walls of steel/concrete – were told it could take a direct hit form an atomic bomb (500 megaton) and survive, most ofthe stuff inside that was technical was on big shock absorbers hanging form ceilieng (as I recall there were 7 floors) and would then swing and remian intact during a strike ont he bldg. this ought to be a museum. the storyy inthe 70’s (prior to the space shuttles) was the US was going to b uild space shuttles, and with the capabilities of this building and the flatland in the area, a 10 mile landing strip would be built to be the spaeport for the shuttles Met and worked with LOTS of good people there!
    Darrell Graf

    • Hey Darrell Graf been a long time you were probably firefighter there with Jeff Gage and Korry Covert I bet

      been awhile Darrell

      Blaine Nichols

    • I was under the impression this base was an Army installation. Am I correct?

  18. I worked there under the YACC Program in 1978-1979. This was a youth program developed under President Carter. Any other YACC program people out there. We cleaned out the buildings, painted dorms, opened the gym and youth center and did a bunch of other stuff. What exactly was the deal with that program anyway. Now that I am older it really make me wonder.

    • I was in the YACC program in the late 70’s. Liuved in the dorm and worked mostly in the motor pool area.

  19. We were stationed there from 1972 to 1976 and thoroughly enjoyed our tour of duty there.
    The people were warm and friendly and it was a great place to be.

    My two sons went to school in Nekoma and never missed a day in the winter because of the weather.

    We had so much fun at Senator Young Dam riding snow sleds down the dam. What wonderful memories I have ot Nekoma and Langdon.

    I haven’t been back but would really like to some day.

    • We were there from November 1974 to August 1976. We lived in a furnished trailer in Langdon. Wen the shut down commenced we were moved to Nekoma on post. We loved our time in both places. As you said, the people were very friendly and cordial. We were very young and our son was an infant. It was a wonderful place to live.

  20. I am researching the power generation facilities used at Nekoma. I believe they used Cooper-Bessemer engines with GE generators. I’d love to hear from anyone who has information about the power system.

    Thanks! Eric

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  22. I worked at the MSR site in the 70’s left in 1977. I lived in Edmore. Spent some time in the Nekoma bar lol.

  23. I remember driving past it on our way to Missle Alerts at Alpha-0 ICBM control site. Miss the Dairy Queen at Langdon. Lot’s of memories of North Dakota.

    • Hey, cpeterka, I MISS THE DAIRY QUEEN TOO! Ha! What memories….Worked construction on one of the outlying Sprint bases for a summer…. Must have been 1969 or 1970…Used to get a FANTASTIC Milk Shake every time I went through Langdon….Monster-sized….Lived in a trailer with a buddy, his Dad got us the job…. We used so much concrete had to build our own concrete plant, next to a rail line somewhere out there…. Thanks for the memory….! Dave

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  25. With what is going on with Putin and Obama over Syria it seems the Feds should have held onto these places. Oh well, I guess if the USAF needs them they can buy them back then spend billions of our tax dollars rebuilding them. LOL

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  27. Yes, Buzzy Holmen has been the caretaker for 23 years! I even was hired by him for a few summers to mow the site! This is an amazing and creepy site! I saw evey part of this place! Im still in awe when i drive by! Its such a shame that it was sold off and not put in hands of someone involved in historical socety or someone that can make use of it and bring in jobs for this area! In Defense of the man in the black truck dri ving g you out of the site, you and many othershave NO idea of the dangers that lurk this area! People can be killed not knowing where they are going! Regardless of signs not in perfect site, you still obviously saw them, but continued to ignore them! While your photos are great and informational for us all, I saw so many people just come by without properly recieving approval!! Buzzy Holmen was very good about giving tours and taking time from his work! For future adventures, please be a little more considerate of yourself and others! No one wants to hear of accidents happining because of neglegence! With that being said, your photos are very good and bring many memories back to all!

    • Kris, your comments are well-taken, however please don’t go making accusations about whether we saw the sign or not. The truth of it is, we DIDN’T see the sign until the man who threw us out pointed out where to look. So on the way out, we saw it. We NEVER enter ANY PLACE that has signs posted. Thank you.

      • I was a MP at the site during the whole operational period and worked mainly at the Remote Missile Sites which housed the short range Sprint Missiles. For a more in depth look at the past visit this site:

  28. Troy Larson,
    Apologies about accusations! In your post you didn’t state that you saw them on the way out! Just simply defending Buzzy Holmen and his job of keeping people safe! Again, your pictures are fabulous and I enjoy your website!

  29. Great photo set. I have had this place on my radar for years. I believe I WILL be making a trip there in the near future. What an incredible cold war relic left in plain sight.

  30. I was at the anti-ABM rally that took place there in 1970, along with about 1,000 other people – mostly college students like me. It took quite an effort to get there as I recall. I particularly remember that it seemed like every highway patrolman in North Dakota was in attendance. Also, I have a very vivid memory of an unmarked helicopter circling above the crowd with a man leaning out the open door with a camera and telephoto lens taking photos of the crowd. We all looked up at him, shook our fists, and shouted “Get F***ked” !
    They still built the base, of course…..but it’s good to know it didn’t amount to much in the end.

    • After I graduated from college in 1973, I worked at the Safeguard site for a year. My dad was the civilian site manager. I worked underground in the pyramid…..a fascinating experience. I handled logic chassis for the computer systems….computers back then were the size of a room!
      Living in Langdon was quite an experience also….flashback to the movie “American Grafitti”….driving down the one main street through town & to the Dairy Queen!
      Seeing these photos is sort of spooky….it’s a shame that the entire project was shut down. Brings back many memories.

    • So here you are in your late 50 + and still haven’ Learned anything. You should get out of your shell and realize that this was being built to protect you your family and America. It’s a bet that you have nerve been in the military or done anything for your country, only for yourself.

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  32. I worked for Federal Electrical Corporation (FEC/ITT) as their Logistics Supervisor from November 1973 to July 1974 go to this web site:

    I worked most of the time at the PAR Site near Concrete, ND,(where I had our main supply storage site, ordering office, and property book office) and some times at the site in Nakoma, ND, (where I had a smaller supply site) lived in an FEC trailer park in Milton, ND, and our FEC main office was in Langdon, ND. You’ll find them all on a ND State map.

    We had to plug our vehicle headbolt heaters (I had a white Mazda pickup) into an electrical outlet at night in order to start them in the morning because it was so cold. My suitcases froze to the walls of my bedroom closet in the trailer house that I lived it, it was that cold.

    I was getting ready to by a house in Walhalla, ND, to bring the family to ND, when in July, 1974, I was offered a job with the Army at Fort Lee in Virginia which I accepted. I gave FEC my two weeks notice and went back to Marina California, loaded the family and our house hold goods into a big U haul truck and we (Lim and I with three kids and a cat, with me driving the U haul pulling the Mazda, and Lim driving the Ambassador, drove across country to Fort Lee, VA,. Those were the days. Once we got to Virginia we lived in a one room motel at the Par 3 golf course for a month while we bought a house and waited for it to be ready. Jim Kulas, “”

    • Hi James, I’ve been researching about my grandfather here and there as a hobby. He led a very interesting life. He always used to talk about Milton, ND and working on the missile silo. I never really knew specifics, just that he used to play a lot of poker and Milton had a lot of snow that’d be piled up in the street. The nearest site I could find to Milton is the one in Nekoma, though I’m not sure if there is where he worked. Anyway, I heard stories from him and dad about how the local union was unhappy that the company my grandfather worked for got the contract for the job and they told me he’d in the parking lot with a shot gun just to make sure his guys came to and from work okay. Anyway, I’m dying to more about it, but it’s not exactly easy to get any info about this period of his life or Milton (since not much still exists). He probably would have been gone by the time you got there. Everybody called him Curly. Maybe you would know where I could find out more about him? Or Milton? Or Nekoma?

  33. hi becky i worked there for YACC about the same time good to hear from someone that was there

  34. The reason there is still a caretaker, and a flag flying high out there is because it is still owned by the US government. On an informational site I found that U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command (SMDC) still uses part of the complex.
    From what I know, if you are working utilities and you cut phone service to this place, or any of the missile silos (accidentally of course, since the locators that work for the phone company don’t have the security clearance to know where those lines are), there will be a chopper full of scary guys with guns hanging out with you very soon. in fact, they even show you what dirt tastes like, and how it feels to have a combat boot on your back! such nice guys, and the inside of the barrel of their guns were so nice and clean… if you get the picture.

  35. It also makes me wonder, everything you read about is “oh the missile silos are all abandoned and sealed up. RIDDLE ME THIS THEN BATMAN… why is it that there is still a changing of the guard at all these places? why do they guard them, and bring in huge semis with missiles in them out there every so often? for fun?! i think not. pull up so close as to have a tire on the approach to one of these places and you have friends show up very quickly, and they make it painfully clear you are not welcome. I guess my biggest question is, if they claim the silos aren’t occupied, then why not do the maintenance in the silo itself to keep everything out of view, and why guard them so suspiciously then???

  36. it was when you were there though, just illustrating what can happen if the wrong person catches you snooping. from personal experience, and from what i know from when i did have security clearance. I’ve only ever been thrown on the ground and had a gun to my back once in my whole life.

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  39. My Dad Robert Rounds Sr. was the last one there and was the one that shut the gate and locked it. I have the plaque out of the wall that was by the gate he removed it I also was all over the base when he was stationed there.

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  41. I lived in Grand Forks from 1966 to 1970 and for at least two years of that time, ready mix trucks delivered concrete to the site 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I don’t recall the number of trucks involved or the yardage delivered during that time frame, but it seemed like every other vehicle coming and going was associated with concrete.

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  45. My dad’s family farm was not far from there in Edmore. Went by there many many times!

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  47. I happen to live just a bit over, in Minot, and I’d be pretty interested to visit this place. However, if it is privately owned, which it seems to be, I’d absolutely hate to trespass. Is anyone aware of how to contact those who own/manage this base?

  48. This was an army installation, not air dad was stationed ther, and we lived there from August, 1975 to September, 1976.

  49. This was an army installation, not air force. My dad was stationed there, and we lived there from August, 1975 to September, 1976.

    • In. 1969 through 1973 I was one of the army personnel that was involved with the building of this site. There was 480 of us involved in it’s been built. I was saddened when Nixon gave it up under the salt talks. As far as I’m concerned they should re-open it and let the world we are ready. Proudly served and still serving My Country.

  50. I worked on this site for 5.5 years, the most exciting job I have ever had.

  51. I was here TDY for the Air Force providing Weather support Jan thru March of 1975. Not sure why I volunteered for this one, but met a lot of nice people and had a good time. Coldest place I have ever lived. Nice to see it without the snow.

  52. During the 70’s I worked on one of the Missle sites installing the heating and ventilation system and the ductwork was very heavy with angle iron on each end and in the middle of each piece of ductwork. As I remember, I heard or noticed the outer walls were 6’ thick. I can’t remember the year I worked there but it was before 1978, and quite an experience. I keep checking The Ghost towns of ND from time to time and try and leave a comment, because I was born in Portal, ND in the North Portal hospital which at that time was the closest hospital and across the border in Canada. I graduated from Columbus, ND in 1951, so North Dakota is my state.

  53. Hey Tad , did you ever know any dvorak’s in the Grafton area?

  54. I worked there for one year in 1974 installing software. Our company knew it was a short term deal, so they brought us in, paid for government housing in Langdon, and paid us to keep our place back home. It is weird to see empty streets where the housing was in Langdon.
    I was younger than most of the people at my company, so most of my friends were from other companies and had been hired there and came from places like Minneapolis and had to find their own housing. Then went their jobs went away, it wasn’t like they had a bunch of money to move.

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