***UPDATE/1756 EST 14 Aug***
Minot responds to "flight chief report;" base public affairs officer says that "no one" has been relieved from their post, although an inquiry in underway into the activities of one flight chief. Reaction from base spokesperson in paragraphs 12-14
Three security forces flight chiefs at Minot AFB have been relieved of their duties, the latest in a string of security-related woes that have plagued the North Dakota installation in recent months.
Sources tell In From the Cold that the three non-commissioned officers were removed from their posts Wednesday. for violations related to Article 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice---failure to obey a lawful general order or regulation. The flight chiefs were assigned to the 91st Security Forces Group at Minot, which protects the base's sprawling missile fields, housing 150 Minuteman III ICBMs.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, an Air Force security official said two of the NCOs were relieved for improper documentation of flight activities and a failure to conduct a proper inventory of assigned equipment. The official said that removing a flight chief for those discrepancies is "not unprecedented" in security forces units.
But he described the third firing as "more serious," because it raises potential questions about security levels in the missile field and the professionalism of the flight chief. According to the source, the third NCO is accused of two violations, "ghosting" the blotter and spending duty hours away from his assigned post in the missile field.
The official described "ghosting" as a tactic used by flight chiefs to increase their manning, which in turn, allows them to give personnel more time off. Under that approach, supervisors request additional manpower, claiming they need extra security specialists to fill vacancies caused by leave, scheduled training, medical appointments and other legitimate absences.
But the shortage is exaggerated or even fabricated; in reality, the flight has enough personnel to meet its field assignments, without extra manpower.
To support the ghosting effort, the flight chief prepares a blotter that lists duties for all available personnel, including the spares. However, some of the specialists listed on the blotter never actually go on duty. Instead, the flight chief gives them a discretionary day off, using the extra manpower to cover their absence.
While the ruse is a violation of Air Force regulations, ghosting is "not unheard of" in security forces units, the official explained. He noted that flight chiefs who use the tactic often claim they are simply trying to "take care of their people" by granting more time off.
The third flight chief is also accused of leaving his assigned post. A security forces source at Minot reports the NCO apparently worked an unauthorized "split shift," returning home at night, and leaving the rest of his flight on duty. Security specialists protecting missile fields normally work an extended shift--more than 24 hours, in some cases--with no time at home during the duty period.
By leaving his post, the flight chief may have created additional problems for himself--and a security violation for his unit. Air Force regulations dictate that certified security forces leadership be present in the squadron area--in this case, a missile field--at all times. With the flight chief's reported absence, the unit may have violated that directive.
A source at Minot indicated that two of the flight chiefs--including the one accused of working a split shfit--are Master Sergeants. The other is a Technical Sergeant (E-6). An investigation into their activities has already begun. All three could face additional punishment if they are deemed culpable.
A spokesman for Minot AFB disputed claims that the flight chiefs had been dismissed from their jobs. "No one has been removed from their position at this time," said Major Elizabeth Ortiz, chief of the base public affairs office.
Ortiz said an "issue" was discovered with a flight chief, prompting an inquiry. Major Ortiz did not provide details on the investigation, noting that it is still continuing. But, she emphasized that the problem did not compromise security of Minot's missile force.
"We take our responsibilities to safeguard the ICBMs in our charge with the utmost seriousness and execute our mission with the utmost safety, security and reliability," Ortiz said.
Flight chiefs are an integral component of Air Force security forces units, providing critical leadership for younger airmen who protect missiles, aircraft and other assets. The size of a flight depends on the unit and its mission. In most security forces units, flight chiefs are Technical Sergeants or Master Sergeants.
The 91st Group at Minot is one of the largest security organizations in the Air Force, charged with defending missile silos and launch complexes scattered across northwestern North Dakota. Three units are assigned to the group; the 91st and 791st Missile Security Forces Squadrons and the 91st Security Support Squadron.
Word of the dismissals came as Minot's 5th Bomb Wing is undergoing a Nuclear Surety Inspection (NSI), aimed at evaluating the unit's ability to handle, maintain and safeguard nuclear weapons. The current evaluation is actually a re-inspection, prompted by failing grades on security during a previous NSI.
That performance resulted in the firing of the commander of Minot's 5th Security Forces Squadron, which protects on-base facilities and equipment, including the bomb wing's B-52 aircraft and the installation's nuclear storage area.
As its name implies, the 5th Security Forces Squadron is part of the bomb wing, and has no command relationship with the 91st, or its subordinate security units.