Over the past year, The Associated Press has documented evidence of security problems, low morale and other troubles in the nation’s nuclear missile corps. In response, the Air Force is now undertaking a series of management changes.
—In April 2013, 19 missile crew members in the 91st Missile Wing at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, were temporarily taken off duty and given weeks of remedial training after being found unfit to perform. The wing’s deputy commander of operations complained of “rot” in the force. The officer in charge of crew training and proficiency was fired.
—The 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana, failed a safety-and-security inspection. Nine days later, the officer in charge of security forces there was relieved of duty. The unit passed a do-over in October.
—An internal Air Force review of the Malmstrom inspection, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, revealed that the inspection failed because security forces did not respond adequately to a simulated hostile takeover of a silo housing a nuclear missile. The Air Force implemented numerous corrective measures, mainly designed to increase and improve security forces training.
—Twice, the Air Force punished officers involved in separate incidents of opening the blast door of their underground launch control center while one of the two launch officers was asleep, in violation of Air Force rules.
—A Rand Corp. research study obtained by the AP found that missile corps members feel “burnout” from what they see as exhausting, unrewarding and stressful work. The report also cited heightened levels of misconduct such as spousal abuse.
—In October 2013 the Air Force removed Maj. Gen. Michael Carey from command of the 20th Air Force, which is responsible for the entire Minuteman 3 missile force, for embarrassing, drunken behavior at meetings in Russia.
—In January 2014 dozens of missile launch officers were implicated in a cheating scandal at Malmstrom and were stripped of their certification in what the Air Force called the largest such breach of integrity in the nuclear force. The cheating involves the monthly test on their knowledge of how to operate the missiles. That scandal is revealed as part of a drug-use investigation that involves three ICBM launch officers.
—In late January, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered an independent review of the nuclear force and summoned the most senior Pentagon leaders to discuss its serious missteps, leadership lapses and personnel problems.
—In March the Air Force fired nine midlevel nuclear commanders and supervisors, allowed a senior commander to resign, and said it would discipline dozens of junior officers in response to the exam-cheating scandal at Malmstrom.
—The Air Force has unveiled a series of new or expanded programs to improve leadership development, to modernize the three ICBM bases and to reinforce “core values,” including integrity. It also changed its exam scoring method to a pass-fail system to ease perceived pressure to score 100 percent on every exam.
—The Air Force also plans to begin offering incentive pay to members of the missile corps, including bonus pay for new “Missileers,” as the airmen are known, after they complete their entry-level ICBM training, beginning Oct. 1.
—Maj. Gen. Jack Weinstein, who succeeded Carey as the top ICBM commander last fall, said in an AP interview in June that he has taken numerous steps aimed at fundamentally changing the culture of the ICBM force. Among his aims is to halt micromanagement of the young officers in charge of the deployed ICBMs.
—The Air Force will offer eligible members of the nuclear missile corps a Nuclear Deterrence Operations Service Medal to provide a tangible recognition of their contributions to national defense.
—Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James has proposed to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that the commander of Air Force Global Strike Command, which is in charge of the entire nuclear Air Force, be elevated in rank to four-star general. The current commander is a three-star, Lt. Gen. Stephen Wilson. A raise to four stars will require an act of Congress.