- Associated Press - Friday, February 20, 2015

MINOT, N.D. (AP) - Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James and Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh are visiting Minot Air Force Base for a quarterly meeting of the Nuclear Oversight Board, as the military works to address problems in the nation’s nuclear force.

Board members normally meet in Washington, D.C., but are getting a firsthand look this week at the Minot base’s B-52 bomber and intercontinental ballistic missile missions. Both are part of the nuclear force.

Then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered a top-to-bottom overhaul of the force last November, just days before he announced his resignation. Air Force officials and Pentagon civilian leaders acknowledged in December that problems in the force run deep and wide. That occurred after a series of Associated Press stories revealing that the nuclear force is suffering from years of neglect, mismanagement and weak morale.

The Minot base has had its share of missteps, including a 2007 incident in which a bomber was mistakenly armed with nuclear weapons and flown across the country to a base in Louisiana.

About two years ago, the AP disclosed an internal email from the 91st Missile Wing’s deputy operations group commander that decried “rot” in the ranks, including a disregard by some for safety and security rules and what he considered a lack of professional pride.

North Dakota’s two U.S. senators, Republican John Hoeven and Democrat Heidi Heitkamp, issued statements stressing the importance of continued efforts to upgrade the nation’s nuclear force.

“It is absolutely critical that we continue to modernize our nuclear forces and support the service members who maintain this critical mission,” Heitkamp said.

Hoeven said he worked with Air Force officials last year to start and fund a nuclear force improvement program and was glad to see the Nuclear Oversight Board visit the Minot base “to see firsthand the good work that our airmen and women are doing.”


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