Nuke missile crews cite morale-sapping pressures

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Nuke missile crews cite morale-sapping pressures

Postby hockey85 on Wed Jun 05, 2013 2:13 pm

Nuke missile crews cite morale-sapping pressures
By ROBERT BURNS, AP National Security Writer
Jun. 4, 2013 2:06 PM ET
http://hosted2.ap.org/APDEFAULT/*/Artic ... 42f393d1b0

WASHINGTON (AP) — Officers with a finger on the trigger of the Air Force's most powerful nuclear missiles are complaining of a wide array of morale-sapping pressures, according to internal emails obtained by The Associated Press.

The complaints shed fresh light on dissatisfactions roiling this critical arm of the Air Force, an undercurrent that has captured the attention of the service's leaders.

Key themes among the complaints include working under "poor leadership" and being stuck in "dead-end careers" in nuclear weapons, one email said. The sentiments were expressed privately by members of the 91st Missile Wing at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., in an unpublished study for the Air Force. The complaints also said there was a need for more experienced missile officers, a less arduous work schedule and "leaders who will listen."

Taken together, the complaints suggest sagging morale in arguably the most sensitive segment of the American military. The 91st at Minot operates 150 intercontinental ballistic missiles — one-third of the entire ICBM force. The missiles stand in underground silos on constant alert for launch within minutes of a presidential order.

In the nuclear missile business, morale is not a trivial matter. Mental state is treated as a vital sign — like physical health, criminal record and technical knowhow — that must be monitored to indicate whether an individual is fit to be trusted with weapons of such destructive power.

The question of morale at Minot coincides with trouble inside the ranks of the 91st. The Associated Press reported on May 8 that 17 launch crew members — representing about 10 percent of the launch crew force — had been taken off duty for remedial training following a poor showing in a key portion of an inspection. The story was based on an April 12 internal Air Force email that said the 91st suffered from "rot" within its ranks, including tolerance of weapons safety rules violations. Air Force leaders told Congress the problem was less about poor performance than about poor attitude.

Last week the Air Force said two additional launch officers at Minot had been sidelined, for a total of 19. An Air Force spokesman, Lt. Col. Ronald Watrous, said that 10 of the 19 had completed the two-month process of regaining certification. Most of the rest are expected to do so by the end of this month.

The AP obtained a second internal Air Force email describing morale issues at Minot, which were hinted at broadly in the first email. Both notes were written by Lt. Col. Jay Folds, deputy commander of the unit in charge of the 91st's three missile squadrons at Minot.

The second Folds email, dated March 21, said complaints were registered in a confidential study initiated by the Air Force's most senior officer, Gen. Mark Welsh, who was considering "solutions to our problems." The study was done between December 2012 and February 2013 by the Rand Corp., a federally funded think tank that Welsh enlisted to study workforce issues inside the three missile wings, including the one at Minot.

The email briefly summarized complaints at Minot; it did not refer to what people at the other two missile wings — at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo., and Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont. — told the researchers.

The Air Force confirmed to the AP that Folds and his immediate superior, Col. Bryan Haderlie, are leaving their posts, but Watrous, spokesman for the Air Force Global Strike Command, said both are being moved in a "normal rotation."

In a telephone interview about the Rand study and the Folds emails, Maj. Gen. Michael J. Carey, who as commander of the 20th Air Force is responsible for all three missile wings, acknowledged a degree of discontent at Minot but said more study is required before he and Welsh can pinpoint all the dimensions of the issue.

Asked about the complaints about weak leadership, Carey said on May 31, "I certainly take it to heart."

Carey, who was briefed on Rand's findings on March 20, said that despite the various complaints, morale at Minot is "not bad." He said that on a recent visit to the 91st he found missile crews optimistic and upbeat.

"They are not unhappy," he said. Carey said some complaints are rooted in a lack of communication from higher headquarters about plans for modernizing the nuclear force even as the Air Force faces tighter budgets.

Carey said he could not provide a copy of Rand's findings because they have not yet been presented to Welsh. The study was based on interviews with missile launch officers as well as enlisted airmen who support that work.

In the earlier email obtained by the AP, Folds said there was "such rot" within the force that launch officers tolerated weapons safety rule violations, possible violations of missile launch codes and other failings deemed unacceptable. The AP story based on that email triggered strong responses from some in Congress, including Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who wondered aloud what lay behind the turmoil inside the missile force.

Part of the answer, in the view of many experts, is the shrinking role and size of the U.S. nuclear force and, consequently, a reduced sense of purpose among launch crews who do 24-hour shifts in control centers buried deep below ground.

The U.S. has 450 deployed ICBMs, down from about 1,000 at the end of the Cold War, and current projections call for only 420 within five years. Some have argued for eliminating the missiles altogether.

Hans Kristensen, a nuclear weapons expert at the Federation of American Scientists, said that ICBM launch crew officers have told him over a period of years that morale has been on the decline.

"You can't take away the fact that the mission they sit and wait for" — to launch a nuclear attack — "is very unlikely to ever happen," Kristensen said. "That affects career choices and morale because they talk to their other Air Force buddies who come home after flying B-52s over Afghanistan or Iraq and it's very exciting to be in that part of the Air Force" while the ICBM launch crews "sit in a hole in the Midwest and wait for nothing."

A Pentagon advisory panel report two years ago cited multiple aspects of a morale problem within the nuclear force. It said the Air Force's traditional emphasis on fighter and bomber operations leaves nuclear officers feeling marginalized, all the more because their work is out of public view and veiled in secrecy.

"They perceive a lack of knowledge of and respect for their mission from within the larger Air Force," the panel reported.

Robert L. Goldich, a military affairs expert formerly with the Congressional Research Service, said the Air Force faces a difficult task in attracting and keeping high-quality officers to fill the missile launch crew positions.

"They can of course assign new second lieutenants involuntarily, as any service does, but that wouldn't exactly create high esprit de corps in a component of the Air Force that just seems less and less relevant — and, importantly, is virtually unknown to the American public," Goldich said in an email exchange.
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Re: Nuke missile crews cite morale-sapping pressures

Postby SAC Killer on Wed Jun 05, 2013 3:32 pm

Regarding the final paragraph. In the 70s we had a number of MCCMs who had been involuntarily sent to missiles as part of the "capsule levy." They were a mix of types: a few pilots as Vietnam drew down; flying school washouts; and some who had been chosen for no apparent reason. And some assimilated better than others (the volunteers were no different in this). I do think AFMPC tried to avoid the levy; but the fact was, there were 100 capsules and 54 TII sites that required crews.
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Re: Nuke missile crews cite morale-sapping pressures

Postby Capt. Bill on Wed Jun 05, 2013 7:13 pm

Hard to say which is worse. Waiting for a nuclear attack that is unlikely to happen or waiting for one that is likely to happen.
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Re: Nuke missile crews cite morale-sapping pressures

Postby TerrorOfTucson on Wed Jun 05, 2013 9:11 pm

Just got an email on this from a T/M buddy from his daily paper.

I'm going with #1. Back in the '70s, we had reason to believe that "any day now" was possible. Still is possible,
but now rated HU for Highly Unlikely. Maybe even NTZ for Next To Zip. Out of sight/Out of mind strikes deep, Into your heart it will creep...
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Re: Nuke missile crews cite morale-sapping pressures

Postby PASMAN II on Thu Jun 06, 2013 2:58 pm

Tell the crews not to despair! I give Russia another year or two to build-up their forces, and it will be MAD all over again!!!
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Re: Nuke missile crews cite morale-sapping pressures

Postby Capt. Bill on Thu Jun 06, 2013 3:59 pm

SAC Killer wrote:Regarding the final paragraph. In the 70s we had a number of MCCMs who had been involuntarily sent to missiles as part of the "capsule levy." They were a mix of types: a few pilots as Vietnam drew down; flying school washouts; and some who had been chosen for no apparent reason. And some assimilated better than others (the volunteers were no different in this). I do think AFMPC tried to avoid the levy; but the fact was, there were 100 capsules and 54 TII sites that required crews.


At Minot Minuteman I reunions I have met many of the guys who were there when the first missiles were being brought on alert. I get that the idea that it was new and desirable assignment, many of the first crews were senior personnel. By the time I go there in 1969, SAC was mostly pulling in junior captains for commanders and new 2nd Lts for deputies most of whom did not want to be in missiles. Many of the 3 or 4 year captains took it as an interruption in their AF career. Most of the 2nd Lts were not career anyway and were in because of the draft. Still they like me were happy they did not get their desired career choice since SAC had first call.
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Re: Nuke missile crews cite morale-sapping pressures

Postby JP2323 on Fri Jun 07, 2013 2:10 am

The AF did not do the ICBM force any morale boosting service when it killed the cross flow between Space and Missiles, now you have people doing 4 years in ICBM's and then being sent to the 4 corners of the AF 4 years removed and 4 years behind anybody in their new career field.
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Re: Nuke missile crews cite morale-sapping pressures

Postby Capt. Bill on Fri Jun 07, 2013 2:51 am

JP2323 wrote:The AF did not do the ICBM force any morale boosting service when it killed the cross flow between Space and Missiles, now you have people doing 4 years in ICBM's and then being sent to the 4 corners of the AF 4 years removed and 4 years behind anybody in their new career field.


Have to update me. When I was in there was no such thing as Space. Just what was it?
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Re: Nuke missile crews cite morale-sapping pressures

Postby keskiyo on Fri Jun 07, 2013 4:22 am

It used to be the case, since space and missile ops were merged into a single AFSC (13S) in the '90s, that your 13S career would be a mix of space and missile related assignments.

Then after the Minot incident in '07, when it was decided that we needed to focus more on the nuclear enterprise, they started a process of "tracking" people for either space or missiles after their crew tour. (At this point, space and missiles were still part of the 13S AFSC.) Most people would leave for space, some would stay in missiles, but wherever you ended up, you'd stay there.

It was pretty much guaranteed at some point that space and missiles would "divorce" at some point - to that end, last year the AF decided to start "crossflowing" missileers finishing out their crew time. The current process is: the year before your crew time is up, AFPC will come up with a list of AFSCs that they project will need people in the next year. Everyone fills out a "dreamsheet" and ranks the jobs they want, then AFPC slots people "accordingly." The theory being that everyone gets racked-and-stacked, and AFPC does their best to get the high performers the jobs they want, commensurate with Needs of the Air Force.
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Re: Nuke missile crews cite morale-sapping pressures

Postby PASMAN II on Fri Jun 07, 2013 1:13 pm

keskiyo wrote:The current process is: the year before your crew time is up, AFPC will come up with a list of AFSCs that they project will need people in the next year. Everyone fills out a "dreamsheet" and ranks the jobs they want, then AFPC slots people "accordingly." The theory being that everyone gets racked-and-stacked, and AFPC does their best to get the high performers the jobs they want, commensurate with Needs of the Air Force.


It's nice to see that AFPC is still playing the "Just the Tip" game. You remember: "I won't stick it in ALL the way... just the tip." Everybody is gettin' screwed.
Bob

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Re: Nuke missile crews cite morale-sapping pressures

Postby bedbug on Sat Jun 08, 2013 1:44 am

I was in the missile in the 1960s.

I think Bill wants to know as I do.

What a person assigned to the space side do as a daily duty?
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Re: Nuke missile crews cite morale-sapping pressures

Postby keskiyo on Sat Jun 08, 2013 4:13 am

The main shreds (now that ICBMs are gone) are satellite C2, missile warning, space surveillance, and spacelift.
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Re: Nuke missile crews cite morale-sapping pressures

Postby orbitman on Sun Jun 09, 2013 10:11 pm

What is Space ? Space OPS in my case was at phased array radar systems. The systems were manned 24/7, so the crew duty was not a whole lot different from MCCC crew duty. Responsibilities were to 'catch' via the radar, orbital satellite launch objects from other counties which were launching satellites. The objects were analyzed, catalogued, and reported upstream. Also to 'catch' and report upstream any SLBM's headed to CONUS. ...or at our site !!!

Probably the most signicant difference between missiles and space OPS was that in Space OPS the things we dealt with were really happening. We did have to go through training scenarios and HHQ inspection scenarios but 95% of the things which went on were 'real world', just saying. And then there were the occasional UFO's the radar picked up, to make it exciting. Just like the UFO's at our missile sites in the late 60's.

I ran into a few former missile OPS officers who had come into Space OPS. They seemed to be enjoying it.

There is a whole lot more to 'space' than I experienced.
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