Minot missile officers manning the LCCs

Missile officers from Minot Air Force Base are performing the duties at launch control centers in the Minot missile field since 17 launch crew members were decertified and temporarily lost their authority to control and launch nuclear missiles.

Air Force officials said emergency crews were not brought in from additional bases as replacements for the 17 decertified missile officers from Minot AFB.

“This does not impact the wing’s ability to meet its mission and we have sufficient crew members to comply with all directives and maintain an alert and ready force,” according to information prepared by Air Force Global Strike Command for Minot AFB’s Public Affairs Office.

On Thursday, The Associated Press reported Gen. Robert Kehler, who commands the nation’s nuclear forces, said he has ordered further review of failings discovered among Air Force officers who operate nuclear missiles. Kehler, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, told a House Armed Services panel that he was not alarmed by their shortcomings.

“As I sit here today, I don’t see anything that would cause me to lose confidence” in their ability to perform their mission,” Kehler said.

On Wednesday, the AP first released a story on the unprecedented removal of duty of 17 missile officers at Minot AFB who had been “benched” after poor reviews of their skills in a March unit inspection. Another officer also faces potential compromise of nuclear launch codes.

The AP quoted from an internal email written by Lt. Col. Jay Folds, deputy commander of the 91st Operations Group at Minot AFB, which is responsible for all Minuteman III missile launch crews at the Minot base. Folds lamented about the poor reviews and called it “a crisis right now,” the AP reported.

CNN reported Thursday it had also obtained a copy of the email and that Lt. Col. John Dorrian, an Air Force spokesman, said some in the Air Force might view Folds’ email as ’emotional,’ his actions are fully supported at the highest levels of the Air Force. Folds took the action involving the missile officers, CNN said. The media outlet also reported Folds told his unit to:

“Turn off the TVs.”

“Clean your patches, uniforms and get your hair cut.”

“Bring to my attention immediately any officer who bad mouths a senior officer.”

The 17 missile officers are part of about 170 crew members with the base’s 91st Missile Wing, the unit responsible for the 150 Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles in the Minot missile field. The launch crew officers operate the underground missile systems.

The 91st is a unit of Air Force Global Strike Command that has its headquarters at Barksdale AFB, La.

The action to decertify 17 of the 91st Operations Group launch control officers was taken in April, after the Consolidated Unit Inspection was conducted at the Minot base. This action was initiated by the 91st Operations Group after reviewing areas inspected in March and determining where some launch control officers were in need of additional training. The inspection report did not identify specific individuals for decertification, according to the command’s information.

The information explains that the initial 60-day decertification is a stepping stone to get the officers back on track with training and there is no specific day as to when they will be recertified.

“The 17 crew members were decertified in order to provide additional retraining and to ensure they meet the high standards we expect of crew members. The decertified officers will undergo retraining in order to receive their recertification and perform their daily duties,”

The command’s information explains that the initial 60-day decertification is a stepping stone to get the officers back on track with training and there is no specific day as to when they will be recertified.

The Associated Press was the first to release a story this week about the missile officers.

Bruce Blair, co-founder of Global Zero, an international movement for the elimination of nuclear weapons, alluded to the missile officers incident or incidents and information he had about the matter in an email to The Minot Daily News last week just prior to a nuclear traid symposium being held in Minot last week.

Blair said he is the study director of the Global Zero Commission headed by retired Gen. James Cartwright and then Sen. Chuck Hagel, (now defense secretary) whose May 2012 report outlined the case for the elimination of the ICBM force by 2022. Blair was an Air Force ICBM launch control officer in the early 1970s at Malmstrom AFB, Mont.

“While the symposium will doubtless publicly extol the virtues of the ICBM leg and idealize the deterrent operations of Minot, the true situation behind the scenes is one of low morale, proficiency and leadership. There has been a surge of crew de-certification stemming from inspection and training failures, poor discipline, disrespect of the mission and superior officers, and outright intentional violations of nuclear weapons safety rules. There have been a rash of possible code compromises involving the nation’s most critical codes that has resulted from what the senior leadership at Minot refers to as ‘rot’ within the crew force. So sorry has the situation become that Major Gen. (Michael) Carey, head of 20th Air Force, recently proposed an emergency transfer of crews from Malmstrom and F.E. Warren in order to bring Minot up to standards and cover for the deficit of competent certified crews at Minot,” Blair wrote.

He went on to say, “The serious deterioration of performance probably stems in part from the fact that the Minuteman force lacks the flexibility to serve any mission other than fighting a large-scale nuclear war with Russia. (The report mentioned above explains why this is so.) That mission really ended almost 25 years ago. In this sense, the Minuteman missile force, and sadly the crews and chain of command that operate it, are obsolete. Their careers are not promising. That’s not the only reason for the malaise,” he wrote.

Gen. Mark Welsh, Chief of Staff of the Air Force, said because there are a limited number of command positions to which missile launch officers can aspire within the nuclear force, those officers tend to believe they have no future. “That’s actually not the case, but that’s the view when you’re in the operational force. We have to deal with that,” the AP reported Welsh said.