May 8th, 2013
11:55 AM ET

17 Air Force officers stripped of authority to launch nuclear missiles

By Barbara Starr

In an unprecedented action, an Air Force commander has stripped 17 of his officers of their authority to control and launch nuclear missiles.

The 17 are being sent to undergo 60 to 90 days of intensive refresher training on how to do their jobs. The action comes after their unit performed poorly on an inspection and one officer was investigated for potential compromise of nuclear launch codes, according to Lt. Col. John Dorrian, an Air Force spokesman.

The story was first reported by The Associated Press.

The action was taken by the deputy commander of the 91st Operations Group, Lt. Col. Jay Folds, whose officers run launch control centers for the Minuteman III nuclear missiles from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota.

Folds announced the action in an emotionally charged April e-mail to his unit, saying in part, "Did you know that we, as an operations group, have fallen - and its it time to stand ourselves back up?"

In that e-mail, Folds says, "We're discovering such rot in the crew force," while they are on alert status - standing watch over the nuclear force - that the unit is accepting of violations of weapons safety rules, and code compromises.

In words not often used by military officers, Folds told his troops to "crush any rules violators" and said, "We are, in fact, in a crisis right now."

CNN obtained a copy of the e-mail, which was also first obtained by the AP.

Dorrian confirmed that Folds was referring to a potential deliberate violation of Air Force rules regarding nuclear launch codes and the failure of his troops to report when they see potential violations.

The Air Force action affects only the 17 personnel deemed to need the training; others remain on duty.

The unit underwent a regular comprehensive inspection in March, according to Dorrian. The inspection consisted of an evaluation of 22 tasks. At the time, the unit was announced as having passed with a 'satisfactory" rating, which is third on a scale of five.

But on one of the 22 tasks involving launch operations, it was rated "marginal" which is one step above "unsatisfactory." Dorrian called it the equivalent of a "D" grade.

Then the incident of potential compromise of launch codes occurred. Dorrian said the investigation found no compromise, but did find the codes were "potentially handled improperly," by one officer, who is now facing discipline. All of this then led to Folds' e-mail and action, according to Dorrian.

Dorrian noted that while some in the Air Force might view Folds' e-mail as "emotional," his actions are fully supported at the highest levels of the Air Force. In other portions of his e-mail Folds told his unit:
– "Turn off the TVs."
– "Clean your patches, uniforms and get your hair cut."
– "Bring to my attention immediately any officer who bad mouths a senior officer."

While some nuclear officers are sent for retraining every year, this is the most extensive action taken to date, Dorrian confirmed. It comes after a 2008 Pentagon report was sharply critical of the Air Force for not focusing on the post-Cold War nuclear mission, and for a bomber that, in a flight over multiple states, carried nuclear-tipped missiles without the Air Force realizing it.

soundoff (18 Responses)
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    November 22, 2013 at 7:58 am | Reply
  2. b

    Only a nation of cowards would have nuclear weapons

    May 17, 2013 at 7:32 am | Reply
  3. jeff

    There's a lot that can be said about the affairs at Minot AFB. I was stationed there, and biggest mistake the Bush Administration made was to stand down the alert pad. The we're safe syndrome has set in, and like in the past we are going through the same thing now, people let their guard down when the threat is perceived to be gone. What is happening at Minot is a systemic problem.

    May 16, 2013 at 10:03 pm | Reply
  4. dsom1973

    I was stationed at Minot, 1978 – 80 and had a few missle cop friends. I heard the stories of missileers wearing pajamas down in the capsules, etc. AF people by and large are a laid-back group. LTC Folds is lighting a fire next to some of them.

    May 14, 2013 at 10:07 am | Reply
  5. Big Greasy

    ummm.....

    I thought Whistle-Blowing was Treason these days

    May 11, 2013 at 3:47 pm | Reply
  6. Raptor Pete

    Where is General Curtis Lemay when you need him. The 17 officiers in question are NO better than their superiors. And that includes up to and including the Pentagon. For a commanding officier to, supposedly, be so unaware of these inexcusable conditions existing within his command for such an apparent long time is inexcusable. And for no one, including the enlisted force, to report these conditions and actions to their superiors cannot be tolerated at any level of command.

    May 9, 2013 at 6:50 pm | Reply
    • Reflecto

      "Where is General Curtis Lemay when you need him"?

      Burning in an eternal pit of fire, one hopes. In the Tokyo section.

      August 27, 2013 at 7:36 am | Reply
  7. jark

    I don't understand how, "Bring to my attention immediately any officer who bad mouths a senior officer.", in a field of all officers, is not an emotional comment. I understand reporting violators. However, reporting complaining or "bad mouthing" seems like a reflection of insecurity about personal leadership. Focusing effort on tracking down people making a negative comment seems trivial if nuclear surety/safety is/was actually at risk.

    May 8, 2013 at 7:23 pm | Reply
  8. J Cressy

    This is what happens when you disolve the Strategic Air Command and focus on Conventional Munitions only. It wasn't that long ago that B-52 bombers from the 5th Bomb Wing Minot, ND ended up at Barksdale AFB LA with Nuclear loaded cruise missiles on the aircraft and no one knew it. Duh! and were told it would never happen again.

    May 8, 2013 at 5:40 pm | Reply
  9. Pete

    This what happens with complacency with you at the same job for more years than you can count and its boring ,slow conditions almost lulling you to sleep...And trust me Minot,N.Dakota isn't the NY of the north,far from it especially winter time unless you enjoy freezing cold all the time..

    May 8, 2013 at 5:29 pm | Reply
  10. DeCailce

    The fact remains that control of nuclear missiles was left to people who incompetent,
    Tighten up people before WW3 starts due to some idiots with authority.

    May 8, 2013 at 4:42 pm | Reply
  11. Portland tony

    You can liken this incident to a school principal complaining that their students failed a standard test. The Commanding Officer and his staff are responsible for the disciplined training required in this facility and the launch, worker bees if you will, are only as good as the command structure they are a part of!

    May 8, 2013 at 1:40 pm | Reply

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