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ICBM boss taking pulse at Malmstrom amid drug, cheating scandal

May. 4, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Maj. Gen. Jack Weinstein
Maj. Gen. Jack Weinstein (Air Force)
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Less than four months after drug and cheating investigations were announced at Malmstrom Air Force Base, a number of changes have already been implemented.

It’s “foundational change” within the Air Force’s nuclear community, said Maj. Gen. Jack Weinstein, commander of 20th Air Force, which oversees Malmstrom.

Weinstein visited this week to talk with airmen about their needs and get their feedback on the Force Improvement Program that was established after the cheating investigations were announced.

Malmstrom has received $2.86 million for upgrades identified through the program, plus $1 million for quality-of-life improvements. The funding received so far at Malmstrom includes $467,000 for intercontinental ballistic missile weapons system parts and $200,000 for parts for the minuteman integrated life extension program known as Rivet MILE.

The base also received $2.19 million for launch control center refurbishment.

The quality-of-life improvements at Malmstrom include updated kitchen equipment and working gear for the missile alert facilities, as well as reopening the base pool and resurfacing the gym floor in the fitness center. Other improvements include: wall lockers at the missile alert facilities, computer chairs, fire station mattresses and box springs, paint and security cameras for dormitories, carpet steam cleaners, light bulbs, pool table equipment, computers and more.

Weinstein said he’s received positive comments from airmen for these improvements. While here, he spent a night in the missile field and watched security forces exercises.

He and other Air Force officials are still looking at other incentive options such as incentive pay and deployment credit for time in the missile field.

“Sometimes it’s the little things,” Weinstein said.

Charlie Simpson was a missile crew member in the 1960s and spent most of his 30-year career in Air Force Strategic Air Command, the precursor to Air Force Global Strike Command. He’s now the executive director of Association of Air Force Missileers.

“It always helps to when you get things like that,” Simpson said.

During his tenure, they had Air Force manuals to read, he said. Years later, they got televisions and were able to get master’s degrees through the Minuteman Education Program, which Weinstein said could make a comeback.

It helps to make improvements when budgets aren’t so tight, but the Air Force “can always find ways to make things better for people,” Simpson said.

About one third of the 91 officers implicated in the cheating investigation are back in the training pipeline, according to AFGSC.

Each airman was treated as an individual and evaluated by their squadron commanders to make the determination to allow them back into training, Weinstein said.

“The commander believes they should have another chance to show they have integrity,” he said .

Col. Tom Wilcox, Malmstrom commander, said there are still about 10 missile crew officers from other bases aiding the Malmstrom missile crew force.

Wilcox and Weinstein said that mix has allowed for sharing lessons learned and best practices, and they hope to continue that mix.

Some media reports have said the Air Force already tried these changes after past nuclear missteps, but Weinstein disagrees.

“To me it’s vastly different than what we’ve done before,” he said.

The FIP is an effort in which thousands of airmen were interviewed and of the nearly 400 recommendations, Weinstein said he and his boss, Lt. Gen. Stephen Wilson, AFGSC commander, rejected six.

The two generals have been calling airmen to get their feedback on the program and changes, as well as meeting with smaller groups at the missile bases, Weinstein said.

The Air Force is looking to use the same model across the branch, starting with the bomber community in June.

In the last month, Weinstein has issued 10 decision memos containing 26 actions. Those included changing the missile crew tests to pass/fail instead of receiving scores. Previously, the missile officers needed to score 90 to pass, but an Air Force investigation found that many felt they needed 100 for career advancement, which lead to the cheating.

Officers are still required to score 90 or better to pass, but Weinstein said the scores won’t be documented, only whether an officer passed or failed.

Simpson said that he and other missileers felt pressure in the early days of ICBMs, but “we also knew that was our job. You’ve got to have that pressure when you’re dealing with nuclear weapons.”

Some other changes in the ICBM force, like adjustments to the Personnel Reliability Program will also affect other career fields since that program applies to all military and civilian personnel throughout the Department of Defense who perform nuclear duties.

Everyone on PRP is obligated to report any factor of their work life or personal life that could affect their performance or affect their peers. Coming off PRP means that an airman cannot perform nuclear duties until they are recertified on PRP.

One of those changes is dropping the requirement that airmen come off PRP every time they have a doctor’s appointment, Weinstein said.

The House Armed Services Committee’s subcommittee on strategic forces recommended this week that Congress consider language for the National Defense Authorization Act for 2015 that would require a review of PRP.

The program has been in existence for decades and hasn’t changed much, Simpson said.

During his time on PRP, he said there was nothing wrong with turning yourself in for things that could include a change in medication, family issues or money problems, to more serious issues. The program also requires that airmen report their peers for behavior that could impact their ability to perform their duty.

On one alert shift during the Vietnam War, Simpson said his deputy commander told him he was going to be a war protester. Simpson said he called the base and the team was replaced for that shift. Simpson said it was his deputy’s last alert shift since their jobs would require turning keys to launch a nuclear weapon.

Weinstein said many of the changes being made in the ICBM force will streamline that force with the way the Air Force operates with other weapons systems.

Many of the morale problems experienced in the ICBM force, Weinstein said, have been “totally related to the way we were micromanaging them.”

The changes have improved morale, he said.

He’s also considering expanding the number of slots in the missile career field since there are more people wanting to stay in than they have slots for.

Weinstein said the approach to improving the nuclear force is different than past attempts and believes this will stick.

“We listen to them and now we’re implementing what they said,” he said. “It doesn’t get any better than that.”

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