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   WASHINGTON (AP) — A widening cheating scandal within the Air Force's nuclear missile corps is revealing systemic personnel problems in the force and is setting off high-level meetings to search for solutions.
   For the first time, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel summoned 15 of his top Air Force, Navy and nuclear mission leaders to the Pentagon, where they worked Wednesday to figure out whether cultural problems within the nuclear force make launch officers feel more compelled to cheat on their proficiency tests.
   Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said the officials spent the bulk of the meeting discussing the breadth of the problems, which include low morale, cheating and serious security lapses, and how to begin solving them.
   "I think the general consensus in the room was that we all need to accept the reality that there probably are systemic issues in the personnel growth and development inside the nuclear mission," Kirby told Pentagon reporters after the two-hour meeting with Hagel. "The secretary made it clear at the end of the meeting that he intends to do these on a regular basis."
   The cheating scandal is the latest revelation in a growing morass of problems among the men and women who maintain and staff the nation's nuclear missiles.
   The number of officers in the nuclear corps who have been implicated in a cheating investigation has more than doubled to at least 70, officials said Tuesday. That means that at least 14 percent of all launch officers have been decertified and suspended from missile launch duties.
   All are at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., which is responsible for 150 Minuteman 3 nuclear missiles, or one-third of the entire Minuteman 3 force. The officials who disclosed the higher number spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose the information by name while the investigation is ongoing.
   It wasn't immediately clear whether the additional airmen suspected of being involved in cheating on proficiency tests are alleged to have participated in the cheating directly or were involved indirectly.
   The meeting Wednesday included the heads of the Air Force and Navy nuclear weapons organizations, as well as U.S. Strategic Command, which is responsible for nuclear war planning and for oversight of the nuclear forces.
   The Air Force announced on Jan. 15 that while it was investigating possible criminal drug use by some airmen, it discovered that one missile officer at Malmstrom had shared test questions with 16 other officers. It said another 17 admitted to knowing about this cheating but did not report it. The 34 officers had their security clearances suspended and they were taken off missile launch duty.
   The Air Force has 450 intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs, on alert at all times, with a contingent of about 500 launch control officers, some number of which are unavailable on any given day due to illness or other reasons. So the number temporarily unavailable for duty because of the cheating scandal is substantial. It's not clear how that affects the mission, beyond requiring the remaining crew members to bear a bigger share of the work.
   Each day, a total of 90 officers work in pairs inside 45 underground launch control centers, with each center monitoring and controlling a group of 10 ICBMs. They work 24-hour shifts in the missile field and then return to their base. They generally do as many as eight of these shifts per month.
   The tests in question are designed to ensure proficiency by launch officers in handling "emergency war orders," which involve the classified processing of orders received through their chain of command to launch a missile. These written tests are in addition to two other types of monthly testing on the missile system and on launch codes.
   Malmstrom is home to the 341st Missile Wing, which is one of three ICBM groups. The other two are in North Dakota and Wyoming.
Published in National News

WICHITA FALLS, Texas (AP) - U.S. Air Force investigators have confirmed that a bird strike caused an $8 million jet to crash in Texas during a training flight in July.

Two pilots suffered minor injuries when they ejected from the T-38 Talon before it plummeted to the ground south of Sheppard Air Force Base and burst into flames.

Maj. Christopher Thompson was instructing a member of the German Air Force at the time. They were part of the base's Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program. The program trains students from nine NATO countries.

Sheppard officials said Tuesday the bird struck the jet's canopy, shattering it and sending fragments into an engine that then failed.

The incident was compounded by the pilots' attempts to execute a turn that increased drag. The jet lost airspeed, then stalled.

Published in National News

Crews at Scott Air Force Base have a massive project ahead of them.

The workers are in charge of moving military equipment out of Afghanistan back to the US. Troops are withdrawing from the country at the end of next year.

In total, 750,000 pieces of equipment with a value of $36 billion will be brought back. About $7 billion worth of equipment will be left behind of destroyed.

Published in Local News

SAN ANTONIO (AP) - A top Air Force training commander says he's retiring after leading the response to a sexual misconduct scandal involving trainers.

 

   Gen. Edward Rice Jr. has headed the San Antonio-based Air Education and Training Command since November 2010. In a statement, he said he will retire in "several months." He didn't provide a date.

   He will be succeeded by Lt. Gen. Robin Rand, now commander of the 12th Air Force at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base near Tucson, Ariz.

 

   Gen. Mark Welsh III, the Air Force chief of staff, told the San Antonio Express-News that it was Rice who worked to get to the bottom of the scandal that implicated 33 basic training instructors. Ex-Air Force Secretary F. Whitten Peters credited Rice with replacing the entire scandal-tainted instructor cadre.

 
Published in National News

WARRENSBURG, Mo. (AP) - A low-flying military jet from a western Missouri Air Force base clipped several power lines, but officials said no injuries were reported.

The Springfield News-Leader reports that the A-10 Thunderbolt military jet from Whiteman Air Force base hit several power lines crossing Stockton Lake on Wednesday afternoon. A-10 Thunderbolts are single-seat, twin-engine attack jets.

Danielle Johnston, spokeswoman for the Air Force Reserve's 442nd Fighter Wing at Whiteman, said the plane hit the power lines near the unincorporated town of Bona, which is about 30 miles northwest of Springfield. The jet clipped the lines where they cross the southeast arm of Stockton Lake.

Crews have been working to mark the area with buoys to keep boaters away from submerged power lines.

Published in Local News

   MASCOUTAH, Ill. (AP) - Air Force streamlining efforts mean nearly three dozen civilian jobs have been cut at Scott Air Force Base in St. Clair County.

   The Belleville News-Democrat reports the 33 jobs at Scott's Air Force Network Integration Center were eliminated when a contract with the workers' employer ended at the end of last month.

   But Col. Brenda Campbell, a spokeswoman for the Air Force Space Command at Colorado's Peterson Air Force Base, says the lost Illinois jobs will translate to nine new in-house positions at Peterson.

   Campbell says the Air Force will save money long-term through the consolidation.

 

Published in Local News

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