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The missile scandal

Jan 22, 2014 - By Steven R. Peck

Appalling offenses by the operators of our ICBM system hit close to home in Wyoming

Top officials from the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Department of Defense say that the situation involving embarrassing and dangerous misconduct by numerous Air Force officers who run this nation's nuclear missile system are "being corrected."

Let's hope so.

On second thought, let's do more than hope so. Let's absolutely demand it in no uncertain terms.

This is a scandal for the entire nation, brought close to home because one third of the land-based Intercontinental Ballistic Missile network deployed by the United States either is in Wyoming or under the direct command of Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne.

So it is particularly uncomfortable for those of us in our state to hear and read the seemingly unending litany of reports of top-level nuclear missile commanders and launch officers involved in misconduct ranging from alcohol abuse, illegal drug use, contact with prostitutes, inappropriate and confrontational remarks while representing this country at international events, and cheating on highly sensitive written tests required for certification in operating the nuclear weapon system. Some of the behavior is new, and some dates back nearly a decade.

It is well worth noting that these dangerous shortcomings were exposed through the expertise and diligence of a team of traditional newspaper-style journalists from The Associated Press, of which this newspaper is Wyoming's senior member.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel paid a visit to Warren Air Force Base earlier this month. Everything was smiles, salutes, handshakes and pats on the back as the secretary was walking across the runway to greet local officials. Behind closed doors, the secretary is reported to have had "frank and candid discussions" with base personnel.

Translation: The gruff, no-nonsense Secretary of Defense raised holy hell, took names and kicked butt -- as well he should have.

It is deeply unsettling, even frightening, to consider the ramifications of drunken, cheating, illegal, dangerous behavior by uniformed personnel sworn to protect our nation and its interests. Nowhere is that obligation more vital than in the safe monitoring, maintenance and preparation in their custodial responsibilities for our nation's arsenal of nuclear weapons, which are capable of destroying civilization worldwide.

The situation is being corrected. That is about the only thing the top brass dares say in this situation, the alternative being "the situation is not being corrected."

A significant portion of these offenses occurred in our state or by people who work here. The people of Wyoming, as well as citizens of the nation and the world, will need more assurance than a press release. From the president down, everyone involved must insist on receiving a full accounting of how this happened, sharing it publicly, and implementing demanding new safeguards to ensure that it never happens again. A few court-martials and trips to the stockade probably wouldn't be out of order either.

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