...to the men and women of the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot AFB, North Dakota. The unit has been recertified to handle nuclear weapons, after passing an Initial Nuclear Surety Inspection (INSI) last week.
As you'll recall, the bomb wing lost its nuclear mission certification last August, after Minot crews mistakenly mounted six nuclear-tipped cruise missiles on a B-52 bomber. The missiles were then flown to Barksdale AFB, Louisiana, triggering the nation's worst nuclear weapons mishap in almost 30 years. Both President Bush and Defense Secretary Robert Gates were notified of the accidental transfer, which was classified as a "Bent Spear" incident.
In the aftermath of the accident, the 5th Bomb Wing Commander, Colonel Bruce Emig was fired, along with his maintenance group commander and the commander of Minot's munitions maintenance squadron. The leader of the 2nd Operations Group at Barksdale was also dismissed because the aircraft that carried the weapons--and its crew--fell under his command. Five senior non-commissioned officers in the Minot maintenance complex were also fired or demoted, and more than 60 personnel lost their certification to work with nuclear weapons.
Since then, Minot personnel have worked long hours to restore their unit's mission capabilities. However, their first INSI, conducted last December, was less-than-successful. In From the Cold was the first media outlet to report that the 5th Wing earned a "Not Ready" rating on their preliminary inspection, revealing more problems in personnel training and certification functions.
This time, the unit earned a passing score on its INSI, prompting its parent organization (Air Combat Command) to restore its nuclear handling certification. That decision was made by the ACC Commander, General John Corley, after reviewing results of the Minot inspection.
With the preliminary evaluation out of the way, the 5th Bomb Wing now faces a more demanding Nuclear Surety Inspection (NSI) in May. As Air Force Times describes it:
Wings traditionally have an initial NSI a month before the more stringent NSI so inspectors can gauge whether the wing is ready and recommend ways the wing might improve.
Units handling nuclear weapons must pass NSIs every 18 months.
The 5th Bomb Wing needed to regain its certification in order to hold the NSI, said Maj. Elizabeth Ortiz, a Minot spokeswoman.
Col. Joel Westa, 5th Bomb Wing commander, predicted the NSI in May will be the “most scrutinized inspection in the history of time,” during an earlier interview.
The next NSI, conducted by inspectors from ACC, Air Force Space Command and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), will be a joint evaluation, testing both the bomb unit and 91st Space Wing, which is also based at Minot. The 91st passed its INSI in January, although it did earn failing marks from the DTRA. However, the wing maintained its nuclear certification, because inspectors from Space Command disagreed with the threat agency's findings.
While the 5th BW worked to regain its nuclear certification, technicians from Barksdale AFB have played a key role in maintaining weapons at Minot and performing other functions. That support will apparently continue, despite the fact that the 5th BW passed its INSI and has recertified (or replaced) key maintenance personnel. Colonel Joel Westa, the Minot bomb wing commander, said support from Barksdale will aid in the training of his personnel and other preparations for the May inspection.
Kudos to the Warbirds. And good luck next month, when the NSI rolls into town.