October 23rd, 2013
08:34 PM ET

Missile doors left open while Air Force nuclear officer slept

By Barbara Starr


In another public embarrassment for the Air Force's nuclear missile program, two crew members were disciplined earlier this year for leaving silo blast doors open while they were on duty in an underground facility housing nuclear missiles.

The incidents, first reported by the Associated Press, were confirmed Wednesday by the Air Force.

Under Air Force regulations, a two-man missile launch crew is required to keep the underground blast door shut when one crew member is asleep during the 24-hour shift.

In April a crew member was found "derelict in his duties in that he left the blast door open in order to receive a food delivery from the onsite chef" while the other crew member was on an authorized sleep break, Air Force spokesman Lt. Col. John Sheets said in a statement.

The crew member who was found "derelict" received a punishment of forfeiting $2,246 in pay for each of two months. The other crew member admitted to similar misconduct "on a few occasions" and received a letter of admonishment. The April incident occurred at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota.

In May, at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana, a maintenance team was allowed into an underground launch control center while one crew member was sleeping, in violation of rules. In this case, the commander of the crew, when questioned about the incident, told the deputy to lie about being asleep, which she initially did, according to officials.

The incident was investigated, and both crew members were disciplined. The commander is forfeiting $3,045 in pay for each of two months and facing a discharge board.

Air Force officials insist security was not compromised in these incidents because there are multiple layers of security above ground that would keep unauthorized personnel from gaining access to a launch control center. The centers are generally 40 feet to 100 feet underground, and the two-man crew controls as many as 10 missile silos.

There also are multiple layers of security surrounding nuclear launch codes.

But the disclosures come on the heels of the firing of the two-star general in charge of the Air Force's three nuclear wings. Earlier this month, Maj. Gen. Michael Carey was "relieved" of command "due to a loss of trust and confidence in his leadership and judgment," the Air Force said at the time. Carey's removal had to do with reports of alleged misbehavior on a business trip.

In August, one of the Air Force's nuclear wings failed a safety and security inspection and a separate wing did poorly in an inspection earlier in the year, which resulted in 17 military personnel being decertified from their jobs. They have since undergone retraining and are back at work.

soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. Karl Mular

    The weapons are not colocated with the crew. Get your facts straight.

    November 11, 2013 at 10:19 am | Reply
  2. just wondering

    surprise, surprise.... SAC would of hung them by their balls from the flagpole

    October 27, 2013 at 12:49 pm | Reply
  3. George

    During my four year stint on a missle crew during the early seventies, we always had two, two man crews on site, with rotating 12 hour shifts topside and underground. It seemed to work well. Boredom was seldom a problem, as we had plenty to keep us busy coordinatng security and maintenance crews working among our ten interconnected launch facilities, launch exercises and frenquent com checks. The AF nuclear program has always had high standards and has demanded nothing short of excellence from its crews. I'm proud of the time I served with SAC. Its motto was "peace is our profession".

    October 25, 2013 at 9:53 pm | Reply
  4. Fish

    The redundancy of personnel is necessary and has worked for many years, they were simply fortunate that an alert was not received in which they would have failed our nation even if it were an exercise. This wouldn't have happened in the early days of SAC or even the days of Reagan as they had people constantly checking for these types of lapses in fact the regs or procedures must have been changed since HQ once called regularly to ensure everyone was on the ready. Since the President still carries the football to launch on an instant he must be confident that all his systems are reliable!!!

    October 24, 2013 at 2:11 pm | Reply
  5. Powder

    Shiver my timbers!

    October 24, 2013 at 7:31 am | Reply
  6. Yankee57

    This is Truly Frightening !

    October 24, 2013 at 5:54 am | Reply
  7. Portland tony

    Boredom is our worst enemy in facilities like Nuclear launch installations. There is virtually no chance we are going to launch our land based nuclear weapons in today's political environment. Worst case scenario today would be airborne or submarine launched strikes. The Airforce should begin to take steps to modernize their procedures and duty protocols. After all the land based portion of the nuclear triad was to be used only as the last defense against a massive nuclear attack by the former USSR!

    October 23, 2013 at 11:22 pm | Reply
    • NNN

      Amazing, the insight developed sitting in an armchair!

      October 27, 2013 at 8:26 pm | Reply
      • War Hammer

        Tony was right. You must be a libtard.

        October 29, 2013 at 6:39 pm |

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