Thursday, August 28, 2008

More Security Personnel for Missile Units

Air Force security units assigned to protect intercontinental ballistic missiles and related facilities are getting more manpower.

A USAF security official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that security forces groups at Minot AFB, North Dakota; F.E. Warren AFB, Wyoming and Malmstrom AFB, Montana will receive up to 150 additional security specialists by early 2009. The extra personnel will be divided between the three installations.

The official tells In From the Cold that the additional manning was ordered earlier this year, but the move is not related to recent nuclear security problems at Minot. Instead, the manpower increase is aimed at giving security forces units more resources to carry out their mission.

Most of the personnel moving to the missile bases are in grades E-3 and E-4. Some of the security specialists have already arrived at their new assignments; the rest will PCS in the coming months.

As the official explained, the assignment of more personnel will give commanders greater flexibility in meeting the security mission. Currently, flights assigned to protect ICBM silos and launch facilities deploy to the field for three days at a time, then rotate back to garrison for six days.

While that sounds like an enviable schedule, security specialists must complete all required training, appointments and other duties during that six-day stretch. Those requirements reduce time off, as do manning shortages in some units. When that happens, security personnel must remain in the field for longer periods of time.

According to the security official, one recurring reason for manpower shortfalls is the Personnel Reliability Program (PRP), used to certify individuals who work with--or protect--nuclear weapons. In a typical security forces unit, roughly 10% of PRP-cleared specialists are "off status" at any given time, giving supervisors less personnel to fill required positions.

The decision to remove an individual from PRP rests with the unit commander. Reasons for revoking an airman's PRP status include financial difficulties, personal problems and medical issues, to name a few. But on occasion, security specialists (and other personnel) are removed from PRP for rather odd reasons, creating more personnel shortages within the unit.

The official recalled one instance where a security forces airman was removed from PRP after enrolling in tobacco cessation classes. Reportedly, the airman's commander feared that his withdrawal from nicotine might compromise nuclear security.

In other cases, PRP-cleared personnel temporarily lose their status because of medications prescribed by military physicians. The list of medicines that prompt a temporary suspension of PRP status includes some over-the-counter cold remedies.

According to the security official, some airmen are accused of "gaming" the system, knowing that their prescription will keep them off PRP for a period of time, and away from assigned duties. But, the airmen can't be accused of malingering, since the medication was prescribed by a military doctor. Additionally, since PRP is meant to be a "non-punitive" program, proving abuse by individuals becomes even more difficult.

While the extra personnel will bolster manning in nuclear security units, they may have less impact on experience levels. Another source tells this blog that missile security units at Minot and F.E. Warren need 100-150 mid-level NCOs (E-5/E-6).

In some instances, the source reports, NCOs are needed to replace "deadwood" within the units; in other cases, the Staff and Technical Sergeants will fill positions that are currently vacant. Personnel being dispatched to the missile bases are generally less experienced than the non-comissioned officers that are needed.

The additional specialists are being drawn from security forces units throughout the Air Force, although some organizations have been more heavily tasked. For example, at least five E-5s and E-6s from Randolph AFB, Texas have been reassigned to 91st Security Forces Group at Minot, with reporting dates no later than November.

Manning increases at Minot will not affect the 5th Security Forces Squadron, which protects the base, its flightline and the installation's nuclear weapons storage facility. Problems in that unit resulted in the 5th Bomb Wing failing a nuclear surety inspection in May, but the squadron--and its parent unit--rebounded during a make-up evaluation, held earlier this month.

Those inspections were prompted by last year's nuclear mishap at Minot, which involved the inadvertent transfer of nuclear-tipped cruise missiles from the North Dakota installation to Barksdale AFB, Louisiana.


Wally Gator said...
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Thomas Maloney said...

I can understand how certain medicines might affect a person’s mood or well-being, even their behaviour, but tobacco cessation classes? I don’t really get why someone would be relieved of their duties because they want to give up smoking, it sounds like there must have been a lot more to it than that.