At a time of unprecedented scandal in the U.S. Air Force, where troops tasked with launching nuclear weapons have been accused of drug use and cheating on qualification exams on a large scale, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is considering bolstering compensation to those units in an effort to increase morale.
A recent investigation into drug use at Air Force Global Strike Command also revealed that at least 34 missile launch officer stationed at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana had been caught cheating on their proficiency tests, the secretary and the chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force announced Wednesday afternoon in a press conference. The revelations come less than a week after Hagel visited a series of bases that control America's inter-continental ballistic missiles, in an attempt to boost morale among domestic forces largely designed to address Cold War concerns.
A spokesman for Hagel said Thursday afternoon the secretary is considering bolstering incentives for current and prospective missiliers, despite the recent revelations. During Hagel's three-base tour that spanned Texas, New Mexico and Wyoming last week, he at one point spoke with two young launch control officers and asked them whether more money or discounted education would make their jobs more enticing.
"They acknowledge it's something they talk about in the force, the potential value of incentives," said U.S. Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby, who began his new position as Hagel's earlier in January. "They also take great pride in what they do and they weren't sure whether incentives would make that much of a difference."
Hagel says he will look into offering such incentives to these troops, Kirby said.
"He considers the ICBM force that important... he's not going to close any doors," he said.
The incidence of cheating first came about during an Air Force investigation into alleged drug use by two Minuteman 3 launch control officers at an ICBM base in Montana. Kirby said electronic communication between some of the Air Force members "opened up the lid on this cheating problem."
Hagel was first briefed about the broadening investigation Wednesday.
The Air Force is continuing its investigation into these major breaches in discipline among the ICBM troops, which are only the latest in a series of scandals. Maj. Gen. Michael Carey commanded the Air Force's nuclear missile arsenal, before he stepped down in October after it was revealed he engaged in inappropriate personal behavior while on a temporary assignment.
Navy Vice Adm. Tim Giardina, the former deputy commander of U.S. nuclear forces, was fired the same week as Carey following allegations he used counterfeit chips in an Iowa casino.
Newly minted Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James told reporters she stands by these units.
"Based on everything I know today, I have great confidence in the security and the effectiveness of our ICBM force," she said Wednesday. "And very importantly, I want you to know that this was a failure of some of our airmen. It was not a failure of the nuclear mission."
All members of these ICBM units where cheating appears to have occurred will have to go through requalification testing by the end of Thursday, she said.
"I'm disappointed, and I'm concerned, but I am confident in the security of the force," she said.
Gen. Mark Welsh, the Air Force chief of staff, said the scope of this latest cheating scandal is unprecedented.