Airmen at the 52nd Fighter Wing at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, got an unexpected Valentine's Day present Tuesday: A bright red computer alert warning them of an incoming missile.

The alert — a template intended to be sent to only one user as part of a notification test — was accidentally distributed to the entire wing that afternoon, Maj. Bryon McGarry, chief of public affairs for the 52nd, said in an email Wednesday. It was mistakenly sent to networked computers over the AtHoc emergency alert system. Labeled "Severity: High," the alert warned, in all caps, "MISSILE INBOUND. SEEK SHELTER IMMEDIATELY!"

The error was corrected eight minutes later, when Spangdahlem officials sent out another message — this one was blue — telling airmen to disregard the inadvertent missile warning and to resume normal operations. A screenshot of the disregard message, which was posted on Reddit, indicated it was sent out at 2:45 p.m. local time.

McGarry said no alarms or sirens were sounded, the force protection condition was not raised, and gate operations were not shut down or altered in any way due to the mistaken alert.

"Our command post has robust standard operating procedures that govern distribution of actual emergency messages to the wing and have added checklist items to mitigate accidental distribution of test messages in the future," McGarry said.

But that didn't stop jokesters online from having fun with it. Someone posted a photograph of the initial red missile warning — with a worried-looking emoji added to the image — on the Air Force amn/nco/snco Facebook page run by former airman Steven Mayne, who then shared it with his readers. Another person posted a photo of the blue disregard message on Reddit, with the caption, "Meanwhile at Spangdahlem."

Air Force Blues cartoonist Austin May quickly whipped up a strip imagining the scare as a scheme cooked up by a lovesick airman.

Air Force Times cartoonist Austin May wasted no time poking fun at the mistake.
Photo Credit: Austin May/Special to the Times

And jokes and memes referencing the 1983 film WarGames, in which Matthew Broderick plays a computer whiz who almost causes global thermonuclear war by hacking into military computers, began flying.

"So ... did Matthew Broderick just save the world again?" one amn/nco/snco reader joked.

Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.

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