Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Fallout Continues

Air Force generals aren't the only ones facing the end of their careers because of recent problems in the service's nuclear enterprise.

In From the Cold has learned that several security forces unit commanders, operations officers and superintendents are being purged. Those with more than 20 years of service have been directed to retire; members with less than 20 years of service are being moved to staff jobs, or given the option of "exiting gracefully"--or "not so gracefully," in the words of an Air Force security official.

The exodus is the result of a "forensic autopsy" on the the service's recent nuclear woes, and the role of security forces personnel in those failures. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the review was conducted in recent months by Brigadier General Mary Kay Hertog, the service's highest-ranking security forces officer, and members of her staff.

According to the security official, General Hertog and members of her staff reviewed the results of nuclear inspections over the past three years, the performance of security forces units in those evaluations, and "improvements" implemented by senior leadership before the inspectors arrived.

"They stratified the results to determine who was 'most responsible' for these issues," the source explained. "The people who ended up at the top of the list are going to get (or have already gotten) their gold watch for time served and told that it is time to punch out," the official continued.

While some of the security forces officers and senior NCOs are expected to retire, others face "benching" in staff jobs, or a forced exit from the career field--or the service. The official did not know the exact number of personnel expected to leave, but estimated that Hertog and her team reviewed the records of 50 personnel. Of that total, at least 10 are facing retirement, transfer, or a forced exodus from their career field--or the military.

Air Force public affairs representatives at the Pentagon did not immediately respond to an e-mail request for comment.

Names of personnel affected by the move have not been released. The source tells In From the Cold that most were assigned to "northern tier" bases that perform much of the Air Force's strategic nuclear mission.

Included in that list are Minot AFB, North Dakota; F.E. Warren AFB, Wyoming and Malmstrom AFB, Montana, which host the USAF's three ballistic missile wings. Minot is also home to one of two operational B-52 wings in the Air Force.

The North Dakota base was the scene of a serious nuclear mishap in 2007, which raised questions about the safety and security of the service's nuclear arsenal. As part of a routine transfer operation, ground crews at Minot mistakenly loaded six nuclear-tipped cruise missiles on a B-52 bound for Barksdale AFB, Louisiana. The mix-up was not discovered until hours after the bomber arrived at the Louisiana base.

In response to the incident, the Air Force and the Defense Department launched multiple probes of the service's nuclear program, culminating in reviews by a blue-ribbon panel (appointed by the USAF) and a team lead by Navy Admiral Kirkland Donald.

The Air Force panel recommended dozens of changes in procedures for nuclear weapons handling, storage and security. Many of those revisions have already been implemented.

But the Donald report, issued earlier this year found continuing problems in the nuclear enterprise, including a lack of accountability among senior officers. That prompted Defense Secretary Robert Gates to demand the resignations of the Air Force Secretary, Michael Wynne, and the service's Chief of Staff, General Michael Moseley. The high-level shake-up, unprecedented in USAF history, occurred in early June.

More recently, there has been additional fall-out from the nuclear issue. An assessment by former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger was highly critical of Air Force leaders, including five generals cited in the report.

Last week, various media outlets reported that the flag officers would face punishment for their role in the service's nuclear problems. The names of the generals have not been released, although Congressional sources suggest an announcement may come as early as this week.

The generals listed in the Schlesinger report are expected to receive letters of admonishment, a form of non-judicial punishment that will (likely) end their prospects for promotion.

Still--as evidenced by the security forces purge--efforts at accountability are extending well below the flag level. Most of the personnel being forced out (or pushed into staff jobs) are in the ranks of Lieutenant Colonel, Major, Chief Master Sergeant and Senior Master Sergeant, the commanders, ops officers and superintendents that ran poorly-performing security forces squadrons, assigned to protect nuclear assets.

It is unclear how many of those units fared badly on nuclear surety inspections since 2005. Air Force policy discourages the release of evaluation results, although some units trumpet their scores on key inspections.

One of the events that (apparently) prompted the security forces review was the May 2008 Nuclear Surety Inspection at Minot. A poor performance by the 5th Security Forces Squadron (SFS) resulted in a failing grade for its parent unit, the 5th Bomb Wing. Inspectors found numerous deficiencies in the squadron, and blamed most of them on leadership problems.

The commander of the 5th SFS, Lieutenant Colonel John Worley, was fired after the inspection and reassigned to a staff job at the Air Force Security Forces Center at Lackland AFB, Texas.


Anonymous said...

Those weapons are no joke and the regulations for handling and securing them should be enforced.

Been there, done that.
Had the Nuclear Surety Inspectors on the deck, spread eagle, face down. 3 of them were senior to my CO.
This was during their attempt to breach my ship's security.
Got a 100% score for security.

Unknown said...

SM--There's an urban legend that says the same thing happened to General Curtis LeMay during his long tenure as CINCSAC. LeMay, who was always in a hurry, tried to blow through base security, thinking the sentry had been warned to expect the general.

He had not, and LeMay was eating dirt when the wing commander and his security forces squadron CO showed up. Back in those days, LeMay had spot promotion authority. The airman who did his job got another stripe on the spot; his boss was reduced one grade.

Sadly, in today's AF, Curt LeMay would be on the weight control program and his supervisor would be pushing him to attend tobacco cessation classes. And he'd never advance beyond the grade of Major.

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Anonymous said...

Mine's a true story, no flag officers involved, it was only 3 O-6's eating non-skid, plus the Warrant Officers with them.
My CO almost passed out, when he saw them on the deck.
But the inspectors were not upset, they said it happens to them occasionally.