Thursday, September 18, 2008

About to be Disciplined?

Reporter Colin Clark of DoD Buzz, the on-line defense and acquisition journal, has touched off a wave of speculation within the Air Force.

Yesterday, Mr. Clark reported that as many as five USAF generals--and "several" Colonels--are facing disciplinary action in connection with last year's nuclear mishaps.

A Congressional aide told Clark that DoD had informed lawmakers of the planned punishments; however, the source did not know the names of the officers facing sanctions. Other sources declined to provide the names, pending an official Pentagon announcement. There was no word on when the disciplinary actions might be revealed, although we're betting on the usual, "late Friday afternoon" media dump.

Meanwhile, a lot of people in and out of the Air Force are wondering which generals are on punishment list. We don't have any inside information (at least, not yet), but there are a number of potential candidates for disciplinary action.

Let's begin with the nuclear debacle that started it all, last year's mistaken transfer of nuclear-tipped cruise missiles between Minot AFB, North Dakota and Barksdale AFB, Louisiana. Both B-52 units are part of Eighth Air Force (also located at Barksdale), which falls under Air Combat Command, headquartered at Langley AFB, Virginia. Following that operational chain, there are a number of flag officers who could face sanctions.

On the other hand, it's a sure bet that some officers will be punished in connection with the accidental shipment of ICBM components to Taiwan. That chain-of-command flows from Hill AFB, Utah, to Air Force Material Command at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. And, of course, we can't forget their bosses, who run nuclear-related programs at the Air Staff.

In any case, the sanctions imposed on the generals will be mild compared to the Article 15s handed out to lower-ranking personnel at Minot at other bases. While some of the NCOs lost a stripe, had their pay docked for several months (or both), the senior officers will (likely) receive a letter of admonishment or reprimand. Then, they'll quietly retire, pension and other retirement benefits intact. With an Article 15 on their records, the non-commissioned officers sanctioned in the nuclear mishaps will probably be denied reenlistment, dashing any hopes for a military career.

There is one other intriguging element in this game waiting for the hammer to fall. We're wondering if the punishment was imposed by the SecDef, and not the Air Force chain. If that was the case, then it would be another black eye for the service, suggesting that Mr. Gates waited for the service to discipline its own, and finally stepped in when the USAF failed to act.

Friday should be a very interesting day.


Ed Rasimus said...

A bit on the inflammatory side here. Some things to note:

While there were procedural violations, some egregious such as the parts shipment to Taiwan and the entire security sequence failure on the transfer of the missiles, there was no nuclear MISHAP. That's a terminology that covers damage to weapons and or yields.

And, while you seem to insinuate some sort of officer favoritism compared to the Art. 15 punishment, be aware that an Art 15 is "offered" and can be turned down in favor of a court martial. It is essentially pleading guilty to the charge.

Officers of general grades as well as colonels often are serving in temporary grades above their permanent grade, so a letter of reprimand which you correctly assert would lead to retirement would mean retirement at the lower grade and hence significant financial punishment.

I'm not saying that significant errors were not made, nor that heads should not roll, simply trying to keep it factual.

During the days when I signed for tactical nukes on an F-4, such security lapses were inconceivable.

Unknown said...

I dunno what it was like then, but nowadays, if an officer receives an LOR, LOC, etc, it can end their career. Promotion boards will pass by you, and you'll be required to separate from the Service. This could end a career, but as stated, thes eguys have 20+ years in already, and can just punch out, bennies intact. The NCOs that got hammered are suffering more, as a stripe lost is a lot of pay lost.
Bouncing back from a lost stripe (you start back at day 1 on time in grade), and you must meet time in grade minimums to compete for the next grade. It adds up to a 2-3 year period of time to catch back up.
Granted over the years after SAC was dissolved, standards in the nuclear enterprise have dissolved as well. Not saying this is a bad or good thing, but with these NCOs on the front lines of each operation and technical task, they should be well-steeped in the utmost technical data adherence, and uphold the strictest standards. These folks knowingly let their guard down, and now are paying for it. There's no excuse to be so complacent. At least the nuke world has increased attention again, and the bar is being raised again to where it needs to be. While the attention can be a bad thing, the senior leaders in the Pentagon sees the problems, and can address them. Problems like chronic manning shortages, funding shortages for all sorts of projects, training deficiencies, etc. The numbered air force offices are being re-staffed, manning is being beefed-up, and numerous other things that will make life better in the long run. Whether this super "SAC" MAJCOM deal happens or not is still up in th air. What it can/will do to revitalize the enterprise is also unknown; but we can only go up from here. I say bring back SAC--its proud heritage, hitory, and excellence. The "Iron Fist" patches and all.

Unknown said...

Ed--a couple of counterpoints. First, while the term "mishap" may not technically describe what happened at Minot and Hill, it has been used, along with such labels as "accident."

Clearly, use of the word "accident" (in this context) is an even more perjorative term, which would cover the types of events you refer to. In our estimation, "mishap" and "incident" are less inflammatory, and do a better job of describing gross mistkaes by AF personnel.

On the military justice issue, you are correct--any member of the armed forces can decline an Article 15 and opt for a courts-martial. But, in a system with a 95%+ conviction rate, few service members want to roll the dice. Additionally, very few junior or mid-level enlisted members (or officers, for that matter) can afford the type of legal counsel who might be able to win an acquittal. They're stuck with area defense counsels, who (for the most part) are junior officers with limited legal experience. That's not to say there aren't good ADCs--Colonel Sinwell, who is representing the infamous Col Michael Murphy--fashioned a defense that will apparently let his client walk free, despite the fact that Murphy was a fraud, having practiced military law for more than 20 years after being disbarred in two states.

Finally, I've never bought the argument that a Letter of Admonishment and retirement is equivalent to an
Article 15. Losing a stripe, paying a fine and being denied reenlistement is a harsher sentence than walking out the door with stars or eagles on your shoulders, with full retirement benefits intact.

And, sadly enough, only a few of those senior officers get demoted. Sure, Generals Fiscus and Hassan retired as Colonels, but they still collect a healthy pension check. And there are other examples like Maj Gen Goldfein, the AWC commander who steered that "Thundervision" contract to his former mentor, Hal Hornburg. Goldfein got the usual Letter of Admonishment and retired as a two-star. Maybe I'm a little bit "old school," but that kind of behavior merits something tougher than an administrative slap on the wrist.

One last thing: having been a spook in two "dual mission" fighter units (F-4s and F-16s), I agree with you: the kind of mistakes that happened at Minot and Hill were inconceivable in that era.

kitanis said...

The more I read about the incident and the punishment.. the more I think we have a impression that bringing back SAC will solve it all..

Hate to say it.. but a Resurected SAC would not be anything like the the origional organization. Too many orgaizational and force structure changes have come about after SAC was dissovled..that you will never get it back.

I would like to see SAC come back.. but I know the damage from ACC has been done

Derf said...

I think that all of you are following the Red Herring that is making the Pink Elephant invisible.

Folks, this USAF problem did NOT start with any of the nuke "irregularities". The "talking head" commentators have followed the lead of the Pentagon briefers and leakers and now you are in trail... w/eyes wide shut.

This mess goes back to the 2005 Thunderbirds Air Show contract. See General Moseley slid out from that mess free as a bird. And, like a bird, he had cover. But, he was damaged goods with USAF eminence grise community. They were rightfully upset by the immorality they perceived in the whole Thunderbird deal. Note the "Guns of August" result. They might be slow, but they're sure.

You may talk all you like about Minot -- they want you to do that. But the real deal was the stinking immoral and unpunished Thunderbird video mess on the E-Ring. The GOB network is (thank God) getting the rest of the crap out of the wound.