An Intercontinental ballistic missile control team at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., demonstrated a poor understanding of missile firing procedures during a March audit, prompting the Air Force to pull 17 personnel from their assignments , the Associated Press reported on Wednesday.
The incident marked the service's largest removal to date of missile control personnel, Air Force Global Strike Command spokeswoman Lt. Col. Angie Blair said. The 91st Missile Wing earned a rating analogous to a "D" for its grasp of Minuteman 3 ICBM firing activities; the unit contains 150 senior-level service members charged with overseeing such weapons on an ongoing basis.
One more unit staffer could face punishment for purportedly violating operating standards through an unidentified action that threatened the security of codes for firing the weapons. None of the issues endangered nuclear arms at the base, according to the Air Force.
The unit faces internal "rot" and a state of "crisis," deputy chief Lt. Col. Jay Folds stated by e-mail. "You will be a bench warmer for at least 60 days," he wrote to team members.
The development follows a series of embarrassing nuclear mishaps for the Air Force in past years, including the unintended 2007 flight of six nuclear-armed cruise missiles across several U.S. states and the accidental 2006 shipment to Taiwan of ICBM nuclear fuses. Those incidents led to the 2008 dismissals of the service's civilian and military leaders and caused the Air Force to consolidate its bomber wings and nuclear missile squadrons under the Global Strike Command.