Air Force Begins Reinstating Suspended Personnel at Nuclear Launch Site

The U.S. Air Force as of last week had reinstated four of 19 personnel who were removed from duty at a nuclear missile installation in North Dakota following recent doubts over their ability to properly do their jobs.

“We had 19 crew members at Minot Air Base who were not on full-up missile cruise status and were in a retraining program,” Air Force Chief of Staff. Gen. Mark Welsh said to reporters on Friday. “Four of those 19 as of today were reinstated. The others are progressing very well in the retraining program. They just haven't completed it yet.”

The personnel were required to undergo new training after the 91st Missile Wing at Minot was essentially given a “D” in a March inspection for its capacity to operate and launch Minuteman 3 missiles. While the officers were reported to have demonstrated low regard for security procedures and directives from their superiors, the Air Force said the missiles themselves remained safe and ready for use.

Previous reports have cited the number of impacted officers at 17.

Lead officers at Minot are “very happy” with the training to date, Welsh said. “They're very happy with the effort that the crews who are in the retraining process have put into this.”

The base manages one-third of the 450 intercontinental ballistic missiles that make up one leg of the U.S. nuclear triad. The Air Force also is charged with operating long-range nuclear bombers, while the Navy deploys submarines loaded with ballistic missiles.

Management of the Air Force nuclear mission has been a worry for years, highlighted by the unintended 2006 export of nuclear missile fuses to Taiwan and the accidental flight a year later of six nuclear-armed cruise missiles over several states.

The Bush administration responded to the incidents in 2008 by firing the service’s top military and civilian leaders and establishing the Global Strike Command to manage the bomber wings and nuclear missile squadrons.

“During Global Strike Command's command-wide exercise last week, they actually did no-notice inspections on all of our missile units, again, including the one at Minot, and just to look at them all one more time, when no one was inspecting them to arrive,” Welsh noted. “And those inspections all went very well.”

Welsh and soon-to-retire Air Force Secretary Michael Donley spent much of their briefing on the state of the service focused on the effect of funding reductions mandated by the 2011 Budget Control Act.

“We've been consuming Air Force readiness for several years, and we'll continue to focus the resources that we do have available to meet combatant commander requirements, but with the steep and late FY13 budget reductions brought on by sequestration, the readiness hole that we have been trying to dig out of just got deeper, and we are facing a readiness crisis from which it will take many months to recover,” Donley stated.

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