Nukewatch Quarterly Fall 2014
After a string of what the Secretary of the Air Force called “systemic” violations of nuclear weapons procedures involving drugs, alcohol, security missteps, leadership failures, morale problems and widespread cheating, the service has moved to address what one internal email called “rot” in the nuclear missile corps, the Associated Press reports.
Air Force higher-ups plan to fix the morale, drug abuse and discipline problems by offering bonus pay, a “nuclear service” medal and additional modernization of the Minuteman III missiles. The Air Force maintains 450 ICBMs, intercontinental ballistic missiles, which are spread across North Dakota, Montana and parts of Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska.
In August, the Air Force’s Global Strike Command and the 20th Air Force also launched an “officer swap” among the three ICBM Air Force Bases — Minot in North Dakota, Malmstrom in Montana and FE Warren in Wyoming. “The idea is … to experience … the Force Improvement Program,” Lt. Col. David Rickards, 91st Operations Group deputy commander at Minot, said in a press release. “It’s always good to see how another team works,” the Col. said. Improved training and evaluation schemes are to start at Minot according to a press release by Minot’s Lt. Col. Rusty Williford.
In May 2013, 17 ICBM launch officers at Minot Air Force Base were removed from missile duty because of a long list of discipline and security failures. At the time, the deputy operations commander at Minot complained in an internal email of “rot” in his ranks.
“I think a lot of the problems in the missile world have been self-inflicted,” Capt. Adam Ross, a 341st Operations Support Squadron missile crew combat crew instructor, said in a statement.
Subsequent scandals involving gambling, alcoholism, drug use, cheating on missile control examinations and “burnout” among Air Force personnel moved the Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to say in January this year, “We know that something is wrong.”
Air Force Secretary Deborah L. James visited all three ICBM bases in January and afterward voiced her “profound disappointment” in the nuclear weapons controllers, saying the problems are “systemic,” not isolated the Associated Press reported.
In August Adm. Cecil Haney the chief of Strategic Command at Omaha Offutt Air Force Base flatly contradicted his Air Force boss, Sec. James, when he said to reporters at a conference in Omaha that “integrity lapses” occurred only among “a very small population.” Initially over 90 missile launch officers were removed from duty under suspicion of cheating on proficiency tests.
Hagel’s spokesman, Rear Adm. John Kirby, said in February that the secretary had launched two separate inquires to advise how best to address the string of scandals, particularly the allegations of drug possession and use among Global Strike Command officers. The Air Force is moving ahead with the publicized cosmetic changes although the findings of Hagel’s two investigations have not been disclosed. — JL
— Great Falls Tribune, Aug. 30; Government Executive news service, Aug. 14; and AP, June 10, 2014