De­fense sec­re­tary: Nuke force changes are ‘bear­ing fruit’

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - NATION+WORLD - By Robert Burns

MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, N.D.

» De­fense Sec­re­tary Ash Carter, who in­her­ited a tan­gled web of prob­lems in the Air Force nu­clear mis­sile corps when he took over the Pen­tagon in 2015, says he sees rea­son to be­lieve that a push for im­prove­ment is be­gin­ning to show re­sults.

Af­ter vis­it­ing with of­fi­cers and air­men who op­er­ate, main­tain and se­cure Min­ute­man 3 nu­clear mis­siles on this base in the north­ern reaches of North Dakota, Carter said they told him they are en­cour­aged by changes that have been made since the prob­lems were high­lighted in a se­ries of Associated Press sto­ries in 2013-14.

“That tells me,” he told re­porters, that what the Air Force calls its force im­prove­ment plan is “bear­ing fruit.”

In ad­di­tion to the changes pur­sued by the Air Force, the Pen­tagon or­dered a broader set of re­forms at the rec­om­men­da­tion of a nu­clear re­view group or­ga­nized by then-De­fense Sec­re­tary Chuck Hagel in early 2014.

Carter has been over­see­ing the re­forms and had said lit­tle pub­licly about them. His Minot visit was his first to a nu­clear weapons base since he as­sumed com­mand at the Pen­tagon in Fe­bru­ary 2015. Al­though he said he saw rea­son for op­ti­mism, the nu­clear mis­sile corps con­tin­ues to en­counter em­bar­rass­ing prob­lems.

In Jan­uary, the AP dis­closed that mis­takes by a Min­ute­man main­te­nance crew led to a 2014 ac­ci­dent in­volv­ing a nu­clear-armed mis­sile in its silo. The Air Force has re­fused an AP Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act re­quest for the ac­ci­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion re­port, ar­gu­ing it con­tains in­for­ma­tion too sen­si­tive to be made pub­lic.

In March, the Air Force dis­closed that 14 air­men re­spon­si­ble for se­cur­ing the F.E. War­ren nu­clear mis­sile base in Wy­oming had been re­moved from their du­ties pend­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion of al­leged il­le­gal drug use. It re­fused to dis­close what drugs were in­volved. In June, the in­ves­ti­ga­tion widened to in­clude five more air­men.

In Au­gust, the Air Force re­leased doc­u­ments to the Associated Press show­ing that LSD was among the drugs al­legedly used by the air­men at F.E. War­ren.

In re­sponse to an AP re­quest un­der the Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act, the Air Force re­leased the tran­script of the court mar­tial of one of the 19 ac­cused se­cu­rity force air­men at F.E. War­ren, Kyle S. Mor­ri­son, who pleaded guilty to us­ing and dis­tribut­ing LSD, the hal­lu­cino­genic drug.

Mor­ri­son told the mil­i­tary judge at his June 2 court mar­tial that he knew his use of LSD was wrong and it ren­dered him in­ca­pable of per­form­ing his work if re­called to duty in an emer­gency.

A se­cu­rity air­man can be ex­cused from re­call if he or she has overindulged in al­co­hol, he said, but can­not use that ex­cuse with an il­le­gal drug like LSD. He said he first used the hal­lu­cino­gen in high school and had used it three times while sta­tioned at F.E. War­ren. He ac­knowl­edged par­tic­i­pat­ing in an il­licit video demon­strat­ing how to use LSD.

“It wasn’t worth it be­cause I ru­ined my ca­reer, put my health at risk and be­trayed Air Force val­ues,” he is quoted as telling the mil­i­tary judge, who sen­tenced him to five months con­fine­ment, 15 days of hard la­bor with­out con­fine­ment and for­fei­ture of $1,040 in pay per month for five months. Un­der a pre­trial deal, the Air Force agreed not to give him a puni­tive dis­charge from the ser­vice.

In his com­ments Mon­day, Carter made no ex­plicit men­tion of the var­i­ous prob­lems that have arisen at Minot and other nu­clear bases in re­cent years, al­though he did say the re­form ef­forts that were started dur­ing Hagel’s ten­ure were “an essen­tial thing for us to em­bark on” be­cause “we had some force man­age­ment is­sues here.”

Minot was the ori­gin of an in­ter­nal Air Force email, first re­ported by the AP in May 2013, which de­cried “rot” in the ICBM ranks, in­clud­ing what a su­per­vis­ing of­fi­cer called a dis­re­gard for safety and se­cu­rity rules and a lack of pro­fes­sional pride. Seven­teen mis­sile launch of­fi­cers were stripped of their au­thor­ity af­ter an ICBM unit earned the equiv­a­lent of a “D” grade when tested on its mas­tery of launch op­er­a­tions.

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