WASHINGTON — Adding to signs of distress in the nuclear force, the Air Force fired two commanders and disciplined a third in response to internal investigations of leadership lapses and misbehavior at two of its three intercontinental ballistic missile bases.
The most senior officer to be relieved was Col. Carl Jones, the No. 2 commander of the 90th Missile Wing at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming, in charge of 150 of the Air Force's 450 Minuteman 3 nuclear ICBMs. He was dismissed "for a loss of trust and confidence in his leadership abilities," and has been reassigned as a special assistant to the wing commander.
The actions Monday were confirmed to The Associated Press in response to an AP inquiry about an internal Air Force investigation of two commanders at the 91st Missile Wing at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, which also is responsible for 150 Minuteman 3 missiles. A separate investigation was conducted at F.E. Warren.
The Air Force nuclear missile corps has suffered a rash of recent setbacks, including the firing last year of its top commander.
It is unusual for disciplinary action to be taken against senior officers at two of the Air Force's three nuclear missile bases on the same day. Officials said the timing was a coincidence. It extends a pattern of leadership failures in the ICBM force over the past year.
Last March nine officers were fired at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana, which is the third of the three nuclear missile bases, in response to an exam-cheating scandal there. Last year, Maj. Gen. Michael Carey, commander of the entire ICBM force, was fired after an investigation into a drinking binge and other misconduct while he was in Russia as head of a visiting U.S. government delegation.
The nuclear missile force, whose work is arguably the most sensitive in the military, has been beset with problems in discipline, training, leadership and morale, prompting Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in February to order an independent review. The results of that review are expected to be announced in coming weeks.
In response to an AP inquiry Monday, Lt. Col. John Sheets, spokesman for Air Force Global Strike Command, which is in charge of the Air Force Minuteman 3 force as well as its nuclear bomber fleet, said that as a result of the Minot investigation a missile squadron commander, Lt. Col. Jimmy "Keith" Brown, was relieved of command Monday "because of a loss of confidence in Brown's ability to lead his squadron."
Sheets said the investigation was directed by Maj. Gen. Jack Weinstein, commander of the 20th Air Force, and "substantiated that Brown engaged in unlawful discrimination or harassment." He added that the probe found that Brown "made statements to subordinates that created a perception within his squadron that pregnancy would negatively affect a woman's career."
The probe also substantiated allegations that Brown had failed to ensure the well-being of his troops. In March a two-person crew operating a Minuteman 3 launch control center at Minot felt ill from fumes created by a refurbishment project, but the crew remained at their post because they believed Brown would have taken action against them had they left. They later were hospitalized, Sheets said.
There are three missile squadrons at each of the three nuclear missile wings. Each squadron is responsible for 50 missiles operated by officers in five underground launch control centers.
The second officer targeted in the Minot investigation was Col. Richard Pagliuco, commander of the 91st Operations Group, which is in charge of the three missile squadrons at Minot, including Brown's.
Sheets said the investigation confirmed that Pagliuco "failed to promote and safeguard the morale, well-being and welfare of the airmen under his command." Pagliuco received administrative punishment in the form of a letter in his personnel file, but Sheets said he could not be more specific about the punishment.
The complaints against Jones, the vice commander of the 90th Missile Wing at F.E. Warren, were the most extensive, according to Sheets' description of the case.
Sheets said Jones' immediate superior, Col. Tracey Hayes, commander of the 90th, removed him following an internal investigation that substantiated allegations of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman, and cruelty and maltreatment of a subordinate.
"In four separate instances, Jones acted in a manner that degraded his status as a senior officer and wing leader including maltreating a subordinate," Sheets said.
The most recent incident involving Jones was in September and occurred at a thrift store operated on F.E. Warren by volunteers, Sheets said. According to the investigation report as described by Sheets, Jones went to the shop, called Airman's Attic, to discuss shopping hour policies.
"He hit the sign on the Airman's Attic door and repeatedly hit the shop's front counter while raising his voice, using profanity" and threatening to shut down the place, Sheets said.
It was this incident which prompted a complaint to the 90th Missile Wing's inspector general, leading to the investigation and the decision by Hayes to remove Jones.
Three other incidents of allegedly inappropriate behavior on base by Jones during 2014 were substantiated in the investigation, including one in May in which his behavior was described by one officer and a witness as shocking.
Sheets said the disciplinary actions at Minot and Warren reflect an effort to ensure that commanders do not behave in ways that detract from the mission.
"Our people must treat each other with dignity and respect," Sheets said. "That applies up and down the chain of command."
Follow Robert Burns on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/robertburnsAP