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Drug probe undercuts Hagel talk to nuke force

Jan 10, 2014 - The Associated Press

Two officers in Montana have been removed from duty because they are under investigation for illegal narcotics.

F.E. WARREN AIR FORCE BASE -- Moments before he launched a carefully planned pep talk to members of the Air Force's nuclear missile force, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was undercut by yet another sign of trouble in their ranks: a drug probe of two missile officers.

Hagel flew here Thursday to deliver a message he felt needed to be heard by men and women who sometimes tire of toiling in a job that can seem like military oblivion. He wanted to buck them up, while also insisting they live up to their own standards, which he said should never be compromised in a business as potentially dangerous as the launching of the world's deadliest weapons.

"We depend on your professionalism," he declared to an assembly of the 90th Missile Wing, which operates 150 Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missiles, one third of the entire ICBM force.

What Hagel did not count on was the news -- disclosed just as he was preparing to deliver his words of praise and encouragement -- that two Minuteman 3 launch control officers at an ICBM base in Montana had been removed from duty because they were under investigation for illegal narcotics.

Details of the illegal narcotics case were not released, but the two officers were members of the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont. The Air Force Office of Special Investigations was handling the probe.

Hagel did not mention the news, which he was told about by aides while he was visiting a missile launch control center in "Flight Echo" of the 319th Missile Squadron at a remote site just across the state line in Nebraska. The Pentagon's press secretary, Rear Adm. John Kirby, said Hagel was the first defense secretary to visit an ICBM launch control center since Caspar Weinberger in 1982.

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