There seems to be an on-going problem in the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) world these days, and that problem can be described in military terms as failure to pay attention to detail.
It does not appear that a shiny new checklist will correct the problem, either (that’s military humor in case you were wondering).
On Tuesday, the Associated Press (AP) reported, “Twice this year alone, Air Force officers entrusted with the launch keys to nuclear-tipped missiles have been caught leaving open a blast door that is intended to help prevent a terrorist or other intruder from entering their underground command post.
One incident happened at Minot Air Force Base (AFB) in North Dakota; the other happened at Malmstrom AFB in Montana.
Of course commanders and the public affairs personnel at these bases will tell the public and the media that all is safe, secure, and that we civilians shouldn’t worry because everything is under control. With so many screw-ups recently, that song is starting to grow old. In August, Malmstrom failed a nuclear inspection. In April, Minot failed a nuclear inspection. Something needs to change and to change quickly.
I served in the Air Force and I was actually stationed at two missile bases (I never lost a missile). The layers of security are deep, but these recent problems with nuclear weapons should alarm us all. It appears that too many people working on and around nuclear weapons don’t care anymore.
Someone needs to make them care again.
It’s not good for the safety and security of our nation. For those who support the continued operation of the three missile bases, they should be concerned, too. Some people in authority are probably thinking if we can’t properly secure the 450 nukes placed at Malmstrom, Minot, and F.E. Warren (WY) Air Force Bases, maybe fewer missiles would be easier to control and secure – maybe none.
At the end of the AP story it was reported that an “official” alerted the AP of the incident at Malmstrom because the official felt “it reflected a more deeply rooted disciplinary problem inside the ICBM force.”
That may be the key to this problem. The AP reported “A RAND Corp. survey of officers and airmen in the missile force found complaints about poor leadership, poor working conditions and concern that they were in a dead-end career field.”
Being a missile launch officer is not a glamorous job (like being a military pilot), but it is important nonetheless. You still get to wear a flight suit…
Fresh leaders up and down the chain of command might be the only way to gain back the public’s trust – and to make people who are in that chain of command care again. There are great people serving in our military – they are patriots. Sadly, the chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
“Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” -General Dwight D. Eisenhower
J. Michael Brown honorably served his country in the United States Air Force from 1981 to 1992 and also served as a military advisor to a U.S. senator from 1995 to 2007.