Defense Media Network

Newest Defense Media Network Promotion

Nuclear Force Flag Officers Fired

A two-star general in charge of all U.S. Air Force nuclear missiles was fired October 11 following a probe into alleged personal misbehavior — only days after another flag officer with key nuclear responsibilities was relieved of duty. The Associated Press quoted two officials as saying Air Force Maj. Gen. Michael Carey had an issue involving alcohol use.

He is the second flag officer in a few short weeks to be removed from sensitive duties overseeing atomic weapons.

Carey was removed from command of 20th Air Force, which is responsible for the nation’s three wings of 450 LGM-30G Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Maj. Gen. Michael Carey

Maj. Gen. Michael Carey was removed as commander of the 20th Air Force on Oct. 11. U.S. Air Force photo by Andy Morataya

He is the second flag officer in a few short weeks to be removed from sensitive duties overseeing atomic weapons. The number two officer at U.S. Strategic Command, which is in charge of all U.S. nuclear warfighting forces, was suspended from his duties Sept. 3 (although the move wasn’t disclosed until three weeks later). U.S. Navy Vice Adm. Tim Giardina is suspected in a case involving $1,500 in counterfeit gambling chips used in a western Iowa casino.

The U.S. armed forces have long enforced a “zero tolerance” approach to infractions by anyone in the military’s nuclear establishment. A nuclear Personnel Reliability Program (PRP) has been part of Pentagon policy since the early days of the Cold War – the program is often attributed to Air Force Gen. Curtis E. LeMay, who led Strategic Air Command from 1948 to 1957 – and includes monitoring the lives of men and women of all ranks, civilian and military, who have access to nukes. Given the emphasis on reliability (the manual of instructions for the PRP is 48 pages long), the number of incidents in the past half-dozen years is remarkable.

In 2008, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates sacked Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne and Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael “Buzz” Moseley. The official reason was a series of incidents in which nuclear components were mishandled.

Given the emphasis on reliability (the manual of instructions for the PRP is 48 pages long), the number of incidents in the past half-dozen years is remarkable.

In August 2007, six AGM-129 advanced cruise missiles (ACMs), each loaded with a W80-1 variable yield thermonuclear warhead, were mistakenly loaded aboard a B-52H Stratofortress and transported from North Dakota to Louisiana without anyone, including the bomber crew, noticing that real nukes were aboard. The movement of the missiles was part of a program to retire the AGM-129.

The nuclear warheads in the missiles were supposed to have been removed before taking them from their storage bunker. An investigation faulted numerous people, including the B-52 crew, which did not conduct a proper pre-flight check. Some observers wonder, however, if Gates had other reasons for firing Wynne and Moseley: the two were lobbying for a force of 381 F-22 Raptor fighters while Gates wanted, and got, a truncated production run of 187 F-22s.

Last spring, the nuclear missile unit at Minot Air Force Base (AFB), N.D. removed 17 missile launch officers from duty after an inspection unearthed procedural problems. In August, a nuclear missile unit at Malmstrom AFB, Mont., failed a nuclear safety and security inspection due to “tactical-level errors.” At both Minot and Malmstrom, officers in charge of the missile units were relieved of duty.

Referring to the most recent incident involving Carey, Lt. Gen. James Kowalski, head of Global Strike Command, said in a statement, “It’s unfortunate that I’ve had to relieve an officer who’s had an otherwise distinctive career spanning 35 years of commendable service.” Facing criticism from Capitol Hill for a series of sexual assault cases, the Air Force went out of its way to list infractions Carey was not accused of, including sexual misconduct, adultery or drug use. The service also said the Carey matter did not relate to operations or readiness.

Vice Adm. Tim Giardina

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel walks with Strategic Command Commander Gen. C. Robert Kehler, Strategic Command Deputy Commander Vice Adm. Tim Giardina and Strategic Command Sgt. Maj. Patrick Alston at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., June 20, 2013. Vice Adm. Giardina was suspended from his duties on Sept. 3 after he turned up as a suspect in a case involving counterfeit gambling chips. U.S. Department of Defense photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo

The trade journal Air Force Times reported that a law enforcement investigation of Giardina took place and the state of Iowa planned no legal action against him. He could still face charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Both Carey and Giardina are expected to retire below their current military ranks.

Both Carey and Giardina are expected to retire below their current military ranks.

20th Air Force is headquartered at Francis E. Warren AFB, Wyo. The Minuteman missiles are in silos around the Wyoming base, Malmstrom AFB, Mont., and Minot AFB, N.D.

By

Robert F. Dorr is an author, U.S. Air Force veteran, and retired American diplomat who...