Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The Double Standard?

As the Air Force works on a "road map" for fixing its nuclear program (see yesterday's post), the service is still meting out punishment for the incidents that caused the mess.

Late last week, the USAF announced administrative sanctions for 15 officers connected to the mistaken shipment of ICBM fuses to Taiwan. The accidental transfer occurred at Hill AFB, Utah in 2006, but wasn't discovered until this year.

The officers who were punished include six generals, in leadership positions with various staff, logistics and operational organizations involved in the shipment. The Air Force flag officers who received administrative actions included:

* Lt. Gen. Kevin J. Sullivan, deputy chief of staff for logistics, installations and mission support, Air Force Headquarters

* Lt. Gen. Michael A. Hamel, commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center

* Maj. Gen. Roger W. Burg, commander, 20th Air Force, F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo

* Maj. Gen. Kathleen D. Close, commander, Ogden Logistics Center, Utah

* Brig. Gen. Francis M. Bruno, director of logistics, Air Force Material Command, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio

* Brig. Gen. Arthur B. Cameron III, director of Resource Integration, Air Force Headquarters.

The Ogden Logistics Center, located at Hill, was the organization that shipped the ICBM components to Taiwan. General Sullivan was the center commander at the time of the transfer; he was replaced by Major General Close after being selected for promotion, and reassignment to the Pentagon.

Sullivan received a Letter of Reprimand for his actions; the other generals received Letters of Admonishment. Both forms of punishment are usually enough to end the career of a flag officer, virtually eliminating prospects for future promotion.

Along with the generals, at least nine Air Force Colonels also earned administrative punishment. Three of them lost their commands--another career-killer. Additionally, the Army has sanctioned two of its generals who were involved in the mistaken shipment.

The Hill incident--and the subsequent punishment of senior officers--stands in stark contrast to the Air Force's other, recent nuclear mishap. When nuclear-armed cruise missiles were inadvertently flown from North Dakota to Louisiana in August 2007, the list of those sanctioned ended at the grade of Colonel.

Never mind that the operational chain extended well beyond the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot, and the 2nd Bomb Wing at Barksdale. And, never mind that subsequent investigations have revealed serious problems in nuclear operations, assessments and accountability--functions controlled by another set of generals, many of them pilots.

Still, no flag officers at Eighth Air Force (which "owns" the USAF nuclear bomber mission), it's parent organization (Air Combat Command) or the Pentagon have been punished over the missile transfer.

Is this another example of the Air Force "double standard," which often provides preferential treatment for members of the pilot mafia? The p.r. flacks say "no," and they may be right--up to a point. After the Minot incident, it became certain that future nuclear mishaps would result in wider punishment, extending higher up the chain of command. The generals punished last week had the misfortune of presiding over a subsequent screw-up.

On the other hand, we can't help but notice that the six flag officers sanctioned last week have something in common. None of them wear pilots' wings.

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