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Two wings get F on nuclear inspection

Nov. 24, 2009 - 08:15PM   |   Last Updated: Nov. 24, 2009 - 08:15PM  |  
Col. Richard M. Stuckey is commander of the 498th Nuclear Systems Wing, Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico.
Col. Richard M. Stuckey is commander of the 498th Nuclear Systems Wing, Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico. (AIR FORCE)
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Col. Michael S. Duvall is the commander, 377th Air Base Wing, Kirtland Air Force Base, Albuquerque, N.M. The wing provides world-class nuclear surety, expeditionary forces and support to base operations. (AIR FORCE)

Two Air Force wings failed nuclear inspections in November, showing that the service's nuclear mission still isn't back on track.

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Two Air Force wings failed nuclear inspections in November, showing that the service's nuclear mission still isn't back on track.

The 377th Air Base Wing and 498th Nuclear Systems Wing, both at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., received grades of unsatisfactory from Air Force Materiel Command and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency [DTRA] for problems in personnel reliability, maintenance operations and nuclear weapons security.

The 498th maintains nuclear warheads and cruise missiles while the 377th oversees training and installation security for the DTRA, the Air Force Inspection Agency and the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center, all based at Kirtland. The Nuclear Weapons Center maintains the service's nuclear stockpile inside the U.S. The U.S. stockpile in Europe is overseen by U.S. Air Forces in Europe.

"Unsatisfactory inspection results should not be interpreted as suggesting that the ultimate security, safety or health of the American people has been put at risk," AFMC commander Gen. Don Hoffman said in a statement. "However, we must meet the highest standards of safety, security and reliability in maintaining the nuclear force. Anything less than full compliance is not acceptable."

The wings are already working to correct the problems, according to the statement. Hoffman did not take away the wings' certification to handle nuclear weapons.

"The mission of the inspected units continues while they work to refine their capabilities, processes and procedures," the statement read.

Inspectors will return to both wings by late February.

Hoffman did not say if the wings' commanders, Col. Michael Duvall of the 377th and Col. Richard Stuckey of the 498th, will keep their jobs. The Air Force sacked Col. Joel Westa and Col. Christopher Ayers in October after their nuclear wings at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., failed nuclear surety inspections.

Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz has instructed his numbered Air Force and major command leaders to hold wing commanders accountable.

"We owe it to our airmen and to the American public to ensure we have the right people for the times in these key positions, and this is what our numbered Air Force and major command commanders have done," Schwartz told Air Force Times in a telephone interview Oct. 30, the same afternoon Westa was fired.

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