As the arsenal has grown smaller, questions about management of the force have loomed larger. Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, the Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said in August that the Air Force must refocus on its nuclear mission. He urged it to “hold failed leadership” accountable and to “recommit itself from the top down” to the mission of safely operating nuclear weapons.
The decision to sack Carey was made by Lt. Gen. James Kowalski, commander of Air Force Global Strike Command, which is in charge of all Air Force nuclear weapons, including bombers. The case appears to be unrelated to that of Giardina, but the two men are associated in the chain of responsibility for U.S. nuclear weapons.
Carey did not report directly to Giardina, but the ICBMs under Carey’s command would, in the event of war, receive their launch commands through Strategic Command, where Giardina had been the deputy commander since December 2011. By coincidence, Kowalski, who fired Carey, has been nominated to succeed Giardina at Strategic Command. The Senate has not yet confirmed Kowalski.
Kowalski selected the vice commander of Air Force Global Strike Command, Maj. Gen. Jack Weinstein, to temporarily replace Carey.
“It’s unfortunate that I’ve had to relieve an officer who’s had an otherwise distinctive career spanning 35 years of commendable service,” Kowalski said in a written statement from his headquarters at Barksdale Air Force Base, La.
An internal email obtained by the AP on Friday said the allegations against Carey stem from an inspector general probe of his behavior while on an unspecified “temporary duty assignment.” The email said the allegations are not related to the operational readiness of the ICBM force or recent failed inspections of ICBM units.
At a Pentagon news conference, an Air Force spokesman, Brig. Gen. Les Kodlick, would not provide details about the alleged misbehavior by Carey except to say it does not involve sexual misconduct or criminal activity. He said the investigation had been underway for several months.
“There was misbehavior such that (Kowalski) decided that it didn’t exemplify the trust and responsibilities required of a commander who is responsible for the nuclear force,” Kodlick said.
“Especially in the nuclear enterprise, it’s a position of great trust and responsibility. The nuclear deterrence mission is one of great focus, discipline. Personal behavior is vital to that, especially from a commander.”
Separately, two senior defense officials with knowledge of the allegations told the AP that they are at least partly related to alcohol use. The officials spoke only on condition of anonymity because they were was not authorized to discuss an internal investigation that is not yet finished.
Carey began his Air Force career in the enlisted ranks in 1978. He was commissioned as an officer in 1983 and is a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He took command of the ICBM force, at 20th Air Force headquarters at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo., in June 2012.
• Associated Press writer Lolita C. Baldor contributed to this report.