Passed with flying colors

Both wings at Minot Air Force Base the 5th Bomb Wing and the 91st Missile Wing did exceptionally well during large-scale nuclear inspections this year.

The previously scheduled Nuclear Surety Inspection and Nuclear Operational Readiness Inspection took place within days after Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James visited the Minot base in January as part of her visit to all Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile bases that month.

The inspections are routine and one of the benefits of such inspections is to identify any areas for improvement, base officials said.

Minot AFB is the only dual wing nuclear-capable base in the Air Force in the world. The 5th Bomb Wing has the B-52 bombers and the 91st Missile Wing has 150 Minuteman III ICBMs in underground facilities in the Minot missile complex, an area that covers several counties.

For the Nuclear Surety Inspection portion, the 91st Missile Wing along with the 5th Bomb Wing received a rating of satisfactory, the highest possible rating in that inspection. The Nuclear Surety Inspection has a pass-fail grade or satisfactory or unsatisfactory. Out of the 14 graded areas, the 5th Bomb Wing’s “Warbirds” earned two outstanding and 10 excellent ratings, according to Minot AFB information.

The 91st Missile Wing also went on to complete the Nuclear Operations Readiness Inspection with an excellent rating, base officials said.

Both inspections are extremely detailed and the inspectors are from various federal agencies. Airmen are assessed on their mission capability during continuous observations and evaluations.

According to Air Force information, the Nuclear Surety Inspection, or NSI, assesses a unit’s ability to accomplish its assigned nuclear weapons mission and produce reliable nuclear weapons in a safe and secure environment in compliance with applicable directives. The Nuclear Operations Readiness Inspection, or NORI, is a performance-based readiness evaluation of nuclear-tasked units that requires them to demonstrate their operational capability of nuclear and nuclear support in a time-constrained environment.

The results of this year’s inspections were announced at the end of the Inspector General’s team’s inspection in January, a group led by Air Force Global Strike Commander Inspector General, Col. Douglas Cox.

A former commander of the 5th Bomb Wing, Cox and brigadier general nominee, Cox led the Minot bomb wing from 2009 to 2011. He said the Minot bomb wing airmen demonstrated excellence and mission readiness.

During the back-to-back Nuclear Surety Inspection and Nuclear Operational Readiness Inspection for the Minot missile wing, Cox said the performance of the missile wing was “the best seen.”

The NSI covers eight major graded areas, of which the 91st Missile Wing scored six excellent ratings and the highest possible rating of outstanding in the other two. The wing earned an overall rating of satisfactory, which is the highest possible rating for an NSI, according to Minot AFB information.

In the NORI, the missile wing earned an overall rating of excellent, with excellent ratings in two of the three major graded areas, and another outstanding in the third major graded area.

The Associated Press, in a story this month, said that during a major inspection of the missile wing last year that the support staff of cooks and facility managers at the missile facilities had “saved” the launch control officers from failing their portion of that inspection because the scores of the missile officers and support staff were combined.

The Associated Press reported in the story that it received documents about the March 2013, inspection from attorney Jules Zacher, founder of Speak Truth to Power, a group in Philadelphia that advocates for the elimination of nuclear weapons. The group obtained the Air Force documents after filing a lawsuit saying U.S. Strategic Command, the command overseeing all U.S. nuclear forces, had not provided documents requested under the Freedom of Information Act, according to the AP.

The Speak Truth to Power website says the organization was founded on the belief that a world without nuclear weapons would be safer and that Zacher is a member of the board of directors of the Council for a Livable World. Council for a Livable World is a Washington, D.C.-based group advocating for reducing nuclear weapons. No phone number, email or mailing addresses for the Speak to Truth Power group are given on the website, although a form is provided for website viewers to fill out to contact the organization.

After the March 2013 inspection of the missile wing, about two dozen or so missile officers at Minot were decertified, retrained and then were recertified, Minot AFB officials said.

They said the important matter is problems were recognized in the March 2013 inspection and they were corrected the missileers were retrained, recertified and returned to work, and the entire wing received high performance marks during the latest inspection this year.

As of Feb. 3, the chefs for the missile sites now are force support squadron personnel and are no longer under the ICBM wings’ missile squadrons.

“A 20th Air Force study on missile field operations found food operations could be improved, resulting in the migration of missile chefs from missile squadrons to force support squadrons,” said Master Sgt. Brian Cool, 20th Air Force manager of missile field feeding at F.E. Warren AFB, Wyo.

Almost 200 personnel missile chefs, supervisors, trainers, evaluators and noncommissioned officers in charge, were moved to flights within their wings’ force support squadrons at all three ICBM wings in 20th Air Force.

The change is expected to improve the way missile chefs are evaluated, the quality standards for the services they provide and their potential for career progression, Air Force officials said.