Thursday, August 14, 2008

Even More Security Problems at Minot

***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.


billmill said...

The 5th should fail again, I can’t’ belive the command staff was totally unaware of what was happening and just turned a blind eye to these actions. The NCO’s involved need to be hammered, especially the MSgt who left his post he needs jail time. These actions are nothing short of dereliction of duty, and reflect poorly on the 5th and the USAF.

George Smiley said...

Bill--I agree, but the flight chiefs who were fired are part of the 91st Security Forces Group, which protects Minot's ICBMs and associated facilities. The 5th SFS protects the bomb wing, the base, and the weapons storage area.

From what I hear, the 5th has made a huge turnaround since tubing its portion of the Nuclear Surety Inspection in May. The new commander is active and engaged--he doesn't spend all of his time prepping for a marathon, as his predecessor did.

The 5th Bomb Wing NSI is still in progress, but I'm guessing the unit will finally get over the hurdle.

However, someone in the AF's nuclear enterprise needs to figure out why it took so long. The 5th BW failed both its INSI and its NSI, necessitating the third inspection, which is currently underway. That is totally UNSAT, by any resonable standard. In Curt LeMay's day, Minot would have gone through three wing commanders over the last year, until SAC found someone who could get the job done.

Unfortunately, SAC and its exacting standards are but a memory. Instead, we're left with a touchy-feely AF that keeps changing its inspection criteria, doesn't provide proper training for its airmen, and holds different people to different standards of accountability. We'll soon see if Gen Schwartz and Sec Donley are serious about accountability, or content to merely paper over the problem.

Agree with your point on the NCO who worked the "split shift" in the missile field. He needs to be hammered; as I understand it, cops protecting the missile fields are exempt from deployment. So what if the guy spends a couple of nights away from home each week? Tell that to the AWACS or RJ crew member who's deployed 150+ days a year, or the cops from other bases, who are spending six months (or longer) at places like Balad.

billmill said...

Thanks for the correction I thought all the security units were interlinked at Minot.
Amen to the three Wing Commanders in a year. Back when I served in SAC unit in the early 80’s I can remember how strict and merciless SAC Headquarters was when it came to the protection and transport of nuclear weapons. . Our Wing Commander and other ranking officers from the Group were all relived within days after we had a B-52 on a moving alert fail to turn off at the end of the runway and ended up on the over run with the rest of the Alert Force stacked up behind it on the runway After they finally got the jet turned around and taxied it to the maintenance ramp the –135 from Offutt was landing just hours later. And the heads started to roll. Sometime the old days were the best days epically when it came to accountability.

Unknown said...

George S,
Any update on this? I have serched some of the USAF sources, and no note of this has surfaced. Whether or not this has actually happened, natters not; the climate of the USAF being under the microscope, leadership breathing down everyone's necks, (a day without a butt-chewin's like a day without sunshine), and the expectation of perfection on a low-morale, undermanned force is starting to rear its ugly head.
People are starting to reach their breaking points.
If these flight chiefs really did wheat was alleged, (I'll play devil's advocate) I can see why. He was simply trying to keep their people. I'm willing to bet that his troops are so tired of being beat up from many angles that they are turning in badges, separating, crossing over to other services, you name it. Granted, this definitely not the smartest way to do something nice for your troops, bit I can see why one would do such a thing.

Capt Tyranus said...

I note a recent newsbit about the missile field units getting about 150 "extra" cops next year and I wonder if these two events are related.

Cops - more than the regular Air Force - are too often asked to "do more with less." These three guys may have been trying to stretch their resources past a certain breaking point.

Maybe somebody noticed...