The Associated Press has documented evidence of security problems, low morale and other troubles in the nation’s nuclear forces. On Thursday, the AP reported that security forces at a nuclear missile base in Montana failed a drill designed to test their ability to respond effectively to a simulated hostile takeover of a missile launch silo.
Key missteps since 2013 by personnel who handle and secure the world’s most deadly weapons and the military’s response:
–Nineteen missile crew members in the 91st Missile Wing at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, are temporarily taken off duty in April 2013 and given weeks of remedial training after being found unfit to perform. The wing’s deputy commander of operations complains of “rot” in the force. The officer in charge of crew training and proficiency is later fired.
–The 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana, fails a safety and security inspection. Nine days later the officer in charge of security forces there is relieved of duty. The unit passes a do-over in October.
– An internal Air Force review of the Malmstrom inspection, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, reveals 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 implements numerous corrective measures, mainly designed to increase and improve security forces training.
–Twice the Air Force punishes 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.
–Key members of the Air Force’s nuclear missile force are feeling “burnout” from what they see as exhausting, unrewarding and stressful work. The finding, in an unpublished draft of a RAND Corp. study provided to the AP, also cites heightened levels of misconduct such as spousal abuse and says court-martial rates in the nuclear missile force in 2011 and 2012 were more than twice as high as in the overall Air Force. The courts-martial rate in 2013 declines but is still higher than the overall Air Force.
–The Air Force removes 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 and spending time with “suspect” women. This happens two days after a three-star Navy admiral, Timothy Giardina, who was second in command at the military’s main nuclear war-fighting command, is relieved of duty amid a gambling-related investigation. Giardina is reassigned to a two-star non-nuclear position.
–Carey initially is allowed to remain in the Air Force as a staff officer at Air Force Space Command, but in April it was announced he is retiring in June at the lower rank of brigadier general. In May, the Navy announces that Giardina is given a letter of reprimand and ordered to forfeit $4,000 in pay but allowed to remain on duty as a Navy staff officer.
–Dozens of missile launch officers are implicated in a cheating scandal at Malmstrom and are stripped of their certification in what the Air Force believes is 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.
–Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel orders an independent review of the nuclear force and summons the most senior Pentagon leaders to discuss its serious missteps, leadership lapses and personnel problems.
– Air Force documents show that failings among missile launch crews at Minot during a March 2013 inspection were worse than originally reported. The documents also hint that Minot had the makings of a possible exam-cheating problem many months before a cheating scandal erupted at the 341st Missile Wing in Montana.
– The Air Force fires nine midlevel nuclear commanders and supervisors, allows a senior commander to resign, and says it will discipline dozens of junior officers in response to the exam-cheating scandal at Malmstrom. The Air Force also announces 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 changes its exam scoring method to a pass-fail system to ease perceived pressure to score 100 percent on every exam.
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