If Russia were to launch a nuclear attack against the United States, what would the targets be? You might guess the most likely targets would be major cities like Washington D.C. or New York City, and you wouldn’t be wrong. But would you have also guessed Great Falls, Montana (population: 58,505) and Cheyenne, Wyoming (population: 65,165)? These small communities are part of the United States’ “nuclear sponge”—areas in Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Wyoming that house the US arsenal of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and that are supposed to “soak up” hundreds of incoming nuclear warheads. Should an attack on the United States ever occur, these Midwestern states would be the first to go. And, somewhat counterintuitively, the majority of residents in these communities want to keep it that way.
It is difficult to overstate the degree to which ICBM-hosting communities rely on retaining their missiles. Missile bases like Minot in North Dakota, F. E. Warren in Wyoming, and Malmstrom in Montana are directly responsible for between eight and thirteen percent of their respective local labor forces. Additionally, the indirect economic benefits—a by-product of everyday activities like grocery shopping or school registration—certainly boost those numbers even further.