Fear & Loathing (& Death) At The Air Force’s Nuclear Command

Analysis
Airmen from the 90th Missile Maintenance Squadron prepare a reentry system for removal from a launch facility, Feb. 2, 2018, in the F. E. Warren Air Force Base missile complex. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Braydon Williams)
U.S. Air Force photo / Airman 1st Class Braydon Williams.

Times are tough at the Air Force’s command for nuclear bombers and missiles.


The colonel and chief master sergeant from a security forces group were fired after the unit lost a machine gun and grenades – there’s still a $5,000 reward for the grenades, in case you find them.

Another bunch of security forces airmen guarding nuclear missile silos in Wyoming was disciplined for dropping acid – ironically, the writer Hunter S. Thompson was an Air Force veteran.

And an airman is in custody, having been charged with murder in connection with the death of another airman in Guam.

Lest you think these events are out of the ordinary, just remember that Global Strike Command was born after the Air Force made two colossal screw-ups involving nuclear weapons – accidentally flying a B-52 with six nuclear warheads from North Dakota to Louisiana and accidentally sending fuses for nuclear missiles to Taiwan – which prompted then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to unceremoniously fire the Air Force secretary and chief of staff at the time.

“After the end of the Cold War, I believe the nuclear mission became a second-class citizen in the Air Force, a backwater starved of proper resources and the best people,” Gates wrote in “Duty,” his 2014 memoir.

Dude, where’s my ordnance?

On May 23, Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota issued a news release saying that Col. Jason Beers had been canned as commander of the 91st Security Forces Group after the unit lost a box of 40mm MK 19 grenades and an M240 machine gun had turned up missing during an inventory.

The news release did not mention that Chief Master Sgt. Nikki Drago was also fired as the unit’s superintendent, as first reported by the unofficial Air Force amn/nco/snco Facebook page. Lt. Col. Jamie Humphries, a spokesman for the 5th Bomb Wing, confirmed to Task & Purpose that Drago had been relieved on the same day as Beers.

“He was removed from his leadership position due to a loss of trust and confidence in his ability to effectively lead the airmen of the 91st SFG,” Humphries wrote in an email.

The security forces unit guards 150 Minuteman III nuclear missiles, but fortunately it does not have any fighter aircraft so there is no danger of anyone drawing a dong in the sky.

Fear and loathing at F.E. Warren

They were somewhere in Wyoming when the drugs began to take hold. A total of 14 security forces airmen at F.E. Warren Air Force Base have been disciplined after the Air Force broke up an LSD ring there, the Associated Press reported on May 24. Six airmen have been convicted at court-martial of drug-related offenses.

The drug ring was first discovered in 2016 and most of the airmen involved came from the 790th Missile Security Forces Squadron and the 90th Security Forces Squadron, according to the AP. A top Pentagon official visited the base one month before the LSD investigation became public and the alleged drug ring leader demonstrated how the airmen would retake a captured missile silo.

“There is no evidence of drug use on duty, nor any evidence that the airmen were under the influence of drugs while on duty,” said Lt. Col. Uriah Orland, a spokesman for Global Strike Command.

No word if investigators were tipped off to the airmen tripping balls by unusual reports of “huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving” around F.E. Warren.

Law & Order

On a much more serious matter, Airman 1st Class Isaiah Edwards has been charged with murder in connection with the March 26 death of Airman 1st Class Bradley Hale while the two were deployed to Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, according to the 2nd Bomb Wing.

Edwards is in custody at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, a May 24 wing news release says. Both he and Hale were assigned to the 2nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron as electric warfare journeymen.

On May 11, Edwards appeared before an Article 32 hearing and now Air Force Maj. Gen. Thomas A. Bussiere, head of 8th Air Force, will decide whether to send Edwards to a general court-martial, said Capt. Andrew Caulk, a spokesman for the 2nd Bomb Wing.

Hale was pronounced dead in his quarters. Security forces who were first to arrive on the scene, “Saw a lot of blood at the scene and what appeared to be a stab wound on the victim,” Linda Card, a spokeswoman for the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, told Task & Purpose on March 28.

Keep calm and Air Force on

Orland stressed that although these three unfortunate events have been in the news recently, the incidents themselves took place over the past two years.

“The F.E. Warren drug cases date back to 2016 and the death of a Barksdale AFB Airman deployed to Guam occurred in March,” Orland said in an email. “The loss of ammunition and the M-240 machine gun in early May at Minot AFB are currently under investigation. These incidents were independent events, and do not represent a systemic issue across the command nor do they represent the high-caliber airmen supporting the Global Strike mission each and every day.”

For now, the Air Force does not appear to have any plans to take humans out of the loop and place control for all nuclear weapons at the disposal of one super-intelligent computer.

If science-fiction has taught us anything, it’s that there is absolutely nothing to fear about letting artificial intelligence have access to launch codes.

Suggestions, thoughts or another Air Force acid trip to share? Tell our fearless Pentagon correspondent via email or @JeffSchogol

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