Air Force Searches For Lost Launch Devices

Senior Airman Nathan Jacobson (left) and Airman 1st Class Tyler Lyght monitor the engine start and run-up of a B-52 Stratofortress at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., Aug. 21.
The Air Force says at least three ballistic missile crew members at bases in North Dakota and Montana have been taken off the job while the military investigates allegations ranging from sexual abuse to missing classified components used in underground launch control centers.

The Air Force announced Thursday that an officer who earlier worked at Minot Air Force Base's 91st Space Wing notified the military in May that he and another officer had lied about destroying classified launch components in July 2005.

"They were supposed to destroy them and they signed documents saying they destroyed them," said Maj. Laurie A. Arellano, an Air Force spokeswoman. Instead, she said, "they took them home."

In May, one of the officers notified the Air Force of the incident and "turned his launch components over to the government."

Arellano said the devices are about the size of a Band-Aid, and are used on equipment inside the launch control center to detect equipment tampering. One of the devices remains missing.

"We only know of the whereabouts of one for sure," Arellano said. There is no security threat, she said.

"The material that was supposed to be destroyed was already superseded and had been replaced," she said. "There is no risk to the security of the weapon system, and no possibility of an inadvertent launch as a result of this being taken from the weapon facility."

The officers, who have not been identified, no longer are stationed at the Minot Air Force base. "They are not, obviously, working missile alert duties until the investigation is complete," Arellano said.

The Air Force also said it is investigating alleged "aggravated sexual contact" by a woman officer at a launch facility at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana. The officer told Air Force investigators in March that she had been sexually assaulted by a male officer in December while the two were on duty in a launch control facility.

"The male has been temporarily reassigned while it's being investigated," Arellano said.

She did not know the duty status of the female officer.

The Air Force also announced Thursday that three ballistic missile crew members from the Minot Air Force Base who fell asleep while holding classified launch code devices have been sanctioned and "decertified from missile operations."

The crew members, two lieutenants and a captain from the 91st Missile Wing, were in a missile alert facility about 70 miles from Minot when they fell asleep in a crew rest area on July 12, the Air Force said.

Arellano said the officers received written reprimands and they will forfeit a portion of their pay for two months under Article 15 reviews, which allow punishments without a court proceeding or public record.

Six other officers, including two squadron commanders, also received disciplinary letters in their military files, Arellano said.

The bomber wing at the Minot base has been under scrutiny for the past year, after nuclear missiles were mistakenly flown to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana. About 65 of the 3,700 airmen at the bomber wing were sanctioned as a result of that incident. The Air Force said an inspection at the bomb wing earlier this month found that it is operating safely.

The Minot base, home to about 4,530 active duty military personnel, is the command center for 150 Minuteman III missiles, sunk in hardened silos, and is one of two B-52 bomber bases in the country.