Nuclear Base Fired 6 Service Members Over Failed Safety Inspection, Defense Official Says

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The transporter erector is raised during an annual proofload test at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota.
The transporter erector is raised during an annual proofload test at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, April 2, 2019. (Senior Airman Ashley Boster/U.S. Air Force photo)

Six service members who were abruptly fired from their jobs at Minot Air Force Base were relieved due to a failed safety inspection, a defense official told Military.com. 

Col. Gregory Mayer, the commander of the 5th Mission Support Group, and Maj. Jonathan Welch, the commander of the 5th Logistics Readiness Squadron, as well as four subordinates were fired earlier this week.

A defense official, who spoke to Military.com on condition of anonymity to speak about the incident, said the service members were not fired for any improper personal conduct but rather due to safety concerns. Air Force officials have publicly said that the removals were due to a "loss of confidence" in the service members' ability to do their jobs, a catchall justification often cited by the services. 

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"It was not misconduct," the defense official told Military.com. "It was a non-compliant vehicle and equipment safety inspection. ... In this case, it was based on one inspection, but the non-compliance had been there for a while."

The installation, located in North Dakota, is a crucial component in America's nuclear triad -- the combination of land, sea and air-fired missiles that can react at a moment's notice in a national security emergency.

Minot Air Force Base is the only installation in the service that operates two legs of the triad, housing the 5th Bomb Wing's B-52 Stratofortress strategic bombers and the 91st Missile Wing's Minuteman III Intercontinental Ballistic missiles. 

Col. Brus Vidal, a spokesman for Air Force Global Strike Command, did not disclose additional details regarding the firings or inspection but said, due to the base's important mission, that shoddy practices would not be tolerated. 

"We have deliberate and disciplined inspection protocols, and we expect 100% compliance," Vidal said. "Anything less than 100% compliance is unacceptable. It's that important to us."

The firings were first announced by Air Force Global Strike Command on Monday.

"These personnel actions were necessary to maintain the very high standards we demand of those units entrusted with supporting our Nation's nuclear mission," Maj. Gen. Andrew J. Gebara, commander of 8th Air Force, said in an Air Force Global Strike Command press release Monday.

The names of the subordinates were not disclosed in the press release announcing the firings. 

The services often don't disclose specifics of why commanders are relieved of their duties, typically citing the federal Privacy Act.

The news of the failed inspection leading to the shake-up echoes a similar incident a decade ago at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana.

In 2013, the 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs Office issued a statement after the base received an "unsatisfactory" rating following the Nuclear Surety Inspection conducted by the Air Force Global Strike Command Inspector General.

Specific results of those inspections are not disclosed, and the test is pass or fail. Officials said in a statement at the time that the inspection found the base was "rated 'Outstanding' or 'Excellent' in 10 of 13 areas. In one, we earned a 'Satisfactory.' But, we were rated 'Unacceptable' in two related areas due to the same deficiency," according to an August 2013 press release.

The shake-up in leadership also comes as Air Force officials are now investigating whether service members in a wide assortment of jobs who have served at any of the nation's intercontinental ballistic missile bases, including Minot, are at risk for Non-Hodgkin lymphoma and other cancers.

-- Thomas Novelly can be reached at thomas.novelly@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.

Related: 2 Commanders Among 6 Fired from Jobs at Minot Air Force Base

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