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When a California Air Force base fails to pass a surprise alert test ordered by the Strategic Air Command, Col. Jim Caldwell is brought in as the new base commander. After sending for his British wife, Victoria, he goes on an inspection tour of the base to learn the cause of the test failure. Upon noting that the missile squadron commander, Col. Bill Fowler, is a heavy drinker, Jim forces him into involuntary retirement, an action that irritates Fowler's friends, including Victoria, who has become close to Fowler's wife. Furthermore, Jim's devotion to his job throws Victoria more and more into the company of Hollis Farr, Jim's vice commander and Korean War buddy. Eventually Jim decides that Hollis is too busy making friends to establish any efficiency, and he recommends that Hollis be replaced. While Jim is visiting Fowler in a San Francisco hospital, another surprise alert is called; and Hollis, obliged to assume command, makes a decision that wins commendation from the SAC. The test is so favorable that Jim and Hollis are able to patch up their differences, and Victoria at last understands why Jim has been such a stern taskmaster.