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Editorial: Get nuclear house in order

Jan. 21, 2014 - 11:04AM   |  
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The Air Force, charged with protecting the nation’s supply of nuclear missiles, has suffered one embarrassment after the next since a B-52 flew across the country loaded with six nuclear warheads in 2007.

That episode contributed to the firings of then-Air Force Chief of Staff T. Michael Moseley and Secretary Michael Wynne. Since then, more commanders have been fired and tougher inspections put in place.

But reports of airmen sleeping on the job, leaving safety doors open and a general “rot” in the force have followed. Add to those the most recent escapades of the two-star general in charge of 20th Air Force — and the nuclear arsenal — who drank heavily and was rude to the hosts of a delegation he led to Russia, according to an inspector general investigation.

Now, 34 officers are ensnared in a cheating scandal, brought to light during an investigation into a narcotics ring. Two of the 34 are suspects in the drug investigation.

The latest comes just after Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel wrapped up his tour of Air Force bases to buck up airmen who manage the nuclear enterprise. The airmen feel neglected and underappreciated, and morale is low. Hagel and Air Force leaders are looking to change that.

One idea Hagel is considering is a pay incentive for missileers. That might help attract and retain the best airmen for the job. But the first order of business should be a top-down review of the force to make sure the right airmen and leaders are in these critical jobs.

Awarding any pay increasenow could be perceived as rewarding bad behavior.

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