Secretary Deborah James acknowledged the Air Force does “have a systemic
problem” within its nuclear forces, though she said she is confident the
mission itself remains strong.
Jan. 30, 2014: The Air Force does “have a systemic
problem” within its nuclear forces, Air Force Secretary Deborah James said
during an AFA-sponsored, Air Force breakfast event in Arlington, Va., on
James said USAF and Defense Department leaders are committed to correcting
that problem. In fact, top leaders in the Air Force, Navy, and US Strategic Command met in Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's office later Wednesday for a "candid and wide-ranging discussion on the types of challenges that are faced by people who work in the nuclear enterprise," said Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby.
James noted the cheating
scandal at Malmstrom AFB, Mont., centers around a “failure of integrity”
among certain airmen, “not a failure of the mission.” She said she is very
confident the nuclear “mission is strong” and that it “remains safe, secure,
to offer the exact number of airmen who are under investigation for cheating or failing
to notify commanders of the cheating, saying she wants to see how the investigation plays out.
However, she did acknowledge the numbers are going up.
She also outlined
seven “observations” made during her trip last week to the Air Force’s
three ICBM bases and Air Force Global Strike Command headquarters at Barksdale
"The need for perfection has created way too much stress and way too much fear
about the future," said James, who noted she repeatedly was told by airmen that the
“system feels very punitive,” offering few rewards for good behavior but severe
punishments for anything less than perfection.
needs to be a distinction between training and testing. “In the current
environment, there is no room for error all of the time,” said James. However,
a training environment is supposed to be a learning environment where mistakes
can and will happen. “I think this is wrong,” said James. “We need to correct this.”
Third, there must
be accountability at all levels, not only for those implicated in the ongoing cheating
investigation, but also at the leadership level.
Fourth, the Air
Force needs to re-evaluate its professional and leadership development within
the career field. She suggested the independent
panel, which Hagel has ordered, could offer some
suggestions in this area.
though, the Air Force must look at how its nuclear officers are commissioned,
the training that is done at Vandenberg AFB, Calif., and whether there is an
appropriate level of mentorship for those in the career field.
Fifth, the Air
Force must go back to the basics and reinvigorate its core values. “Airmen have
a responsibility, not only to act with integrity in their own actions, but also
to report wrongdoing,” said James, who noted there are both direct and indirect
ways to report misconduct.
The Air Force
also must examine “incentives, accolades, and the recognition available to the
nuclear force.” This could mean instituting incentive pay, offering
scholarships, or creating a medal or a ribbon for the nuclear force, she said.
Finally, the Air
Force needs to put its money where its mouth is. It should consider additional
manning levels in the nuclear force, possibly place a higher priority on
military construction (she noticed a few “leaky roofs” during her visits), or
fund other quality of life issues.
Over the last
five years, James said “the nuclear enterprise has certainly gotten focused.” However,
she acknowledged the Air Force might not have maintained a “persistent focus”
on the overall operation.
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