Nuclear weapons are heavy and heady devices. A ball of plutonium the size of your fist can level an entire city and kill millions — and the United States has, at any given time, several hundred missiles hidden underground at Air Force bases in North Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska, and Montana, ready to launch at a moment’s notice.
If working at a nuclear missile base was your job, how would you cope? In pondering that question, you might find sympathy for the as-yet-unidentified airman at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota, whose very small marijuana stash was discovered on Oct. 9.
In the remote and snowy northern plains, Minot Air Force Base is home to both a B-52 bomber wing as well as a “group” of Minuteman III ballistic missile launch sites, as the Grand Forks Herald reported. About 1,600 airmen are stationed at Minot with the 91st Missile Wing, which operates missiles stashed in solos across an 8,500-square-mile expanse of the state.
As the Air Force Times observed, news that an airman at the base had been busted smoking weed off-duty was first posted to a Facebook page dedicated to Air Force enlisted personnel. That account has not been verified, and the Air Force has not yet provided further information while its investigation is pending.
But according to Lt. Victoria Palandech, a spokeswoman for the 5th Bomb Wing, the discovery of “illegal drugs” at an “above-ground portion of a nuclear missile alert facility” — that is, in an office or in housing or somewhere else not near an actual missile — is “an unacceptable breach of Air Force standards” and “not indicative of our airmen or our mission to defend America and deter our adversaries.”
If only that were true! As Task and Purpose noted, airmen stationed at nuclear-missile sites have been caught drinking or, in one case, using LSD while off-duty.
In 2016, 14 airmen stationed at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming were disciplined for their roles in what officials called an “LSD ring,” six of whom were court-martialed.
Their hallucinogenic experiences didn’t seem to interfere with their work much: As per Task and Purpose, the purported ringleader of the “LSD ring” gave a demonstration to visiting Department of Defense officials how they would retake a missile silo occupied by hostile forces.
And last year, the commanding officer of the security forces group at Minot was fired after a case of grenades and a machine gun went missing.
As important as handling nuclear weapons is and ought to be, there is growing concern that the Air Force neither takes this mission as seriously as it could nor adequately funds it. In his 2014 memoir, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates lamented that after the Cold War ended, “the nuclear mission became a second-class citizen in the Air Force, a backwater starved of proper resources and the best people.”
He may not be wrong and someone maybe smoking cannabis within running distance of a nuclear-missile silo may be the least of the Air Force’s worries with regards to its role in the U.S.’s nuclear deterrent.
Last December, Brig. Gen. Paul Tibbets IV, the grandson of the pilot who flew the airplane that dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima in 1945, was removed from his post as deputy commander of the Air Force Global Strike Command (one of the Air Force’s top officers charged with nuclear weapons readiness and deployment) after he made a series of crude, sexual remarks in public while drinking.
Bad, but worse than that, you could argue, was Tibbets’s failure to report suicide attempts by Air Force personnel under his charge, at least one of whom later killed himself, as USA Today reported.
Though statistics are hard to come by for members of the general public, Air Force insiders posting on social media have identified a “suicide epidemic within” the service branch.
What’s going on at the Air Force? What’s eating away at the men and women working with the most awesome destructive power known to humanity, maintenance of which is central to the United States’s primacy in the world?
Whatever it is, cannabis use appears to be a symptom of a much larger problem.
TELL US, where is the craziest place you’ve smoked weed?