Air Force Gives Commanders The Boot For Failing Nuclear Inspection

(THOMAS WATKINS/AFP via Getty Images)

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Micaela Burrow Investigative Reporter, Defense
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The Air Force fired two commanders and four of their subordinates for failing nuclear inspections at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota, defense officials confirmed Wednesday, according to media reports.

The six officers in charge of maintaining infrastructure, fuel and logistics support were booted from their command Monday due to a “loss of confidence” in their leadership abilities, Air Force Global Strike Command said in a statement. Later, a defense official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity that the firing happened as a result of noncompliance with nuclear safety regulations and followed a history of failure to adhere to security guidelines.

“These personnel actions were necessary to maintain the very high standards we demand of those units entrusted with supporting our Nation’s nuclear mission,” 8th Air Force Commander Maj. Gen. Andrew J. Gebara said in the original statement. (RELATED: US Is Racing To Achieve Atomic Supremacy Over Its Key Foes As ‘Second Nuclear Age’ Begins, Experts Say)

Minot is the only location housing both ballistic missile silos and strategic bombers, two legs of the U.S. nuclear triad, according to the AP.

However, there was no indication the officers’ trespasses were connected to mishandling of a nuclear weapon, CNN reported, citing a defense official.

“We have deliberate and disciplined inspection protocols and we expect 100% compliance,” Colonel Brus E. Vidal, Air Force Global Strike Command public affairs director, told CNN. “Anything less than 100% compliance is unacceptable.”

The test is pass/fail, and results are classified, according to CNN.

The failed nuclear inspection precipitated the Air Force’s decision to relieve Col. Gregory Mayer, commander of the 5th Mission Support Group, and Maj. Jonathan Welch, the 5th Logistics Readiness Squadron commander, as well as four unnamed subordinates, but the units had for years demonstrated less than satisfactory performance, the official told the AP.

The Air Force has tried to crack down on its nuclear forces in recent years after a litany of controversies and safety violations, the AP reported.

A “culture of fear” contributed to a 2014 scandal at Montana’s Malmstrom Air Force Base, where at least 92 members of the base’s nuclear missile launch corps were involved in cheating on proficiency exams, the AP reported. Air Force officials said the cheating did not affect the security of the base’s nuclear mission.

In 2007, units at Minot accidentally loaded a B-52 Stratofortress with six nuclear-armed AGM-129 cruise missiles — which were supposed to be unloaded — from Minot to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, according to Air Force Times. Upon arrival, the strategic bomber sat on the tarmac for 30 hours unguarded before the mix-up was discovered.

At least four officers were fired and dozens more punished for the mishap, the Air Force Times reported.

Prior to that, in 2006, at least 15 senior officers faced discipline for mistakenly sending ballistic missile fuses previously mislabled as helicopter batteries and placed in unclassified storage to Taiwan, according to the Air Force Times.

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