One of the most infamous episodes in recent Air Force history, and the firings that followed, should serve as an example for another part of the government — the Department of Energy, lawmakers said Thursday.
The 2007 incident in which nuclear weapons were mistakenly loaded on a B-52 at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., and flown to Barksdale Air Force Base, La., ultimately led to the resignation of then-Air Force Chief of Staff T. Michael Moseley and Secretary Michael Wynne. This accountability should be the example for the Department of Energy after the 2012 incident in which three elderly activists trespassed onto the Y-12 National Security Complex at Oak Ridge, Tenn., and spray painted anti-war messages on an enriched uranium facility, said Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., the chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee on strategic forces.
“When (former Defense Secretary) Robert Gates ran off the secretary of the Air Force and the chief of staff, it got everyone’s attention. … I don’t hear anybody calling for that,” Rogers said at a Thursday hearing.
Retired Maj. Gen. C. Donald Alson, the former commander of 20th Air Force and assistant chief of staff for strategic deterrence and nuclear integration, said at the hearing that initially, low-level leadership, the wing commander, squadron commander and group commanders faced responsibility for the loose nukes. But after new Air Force Secretary Michael Donley and now retired Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz took over, more accountability followed.
The Air Force incident followed a time where the Air Force had been flying combat missions for so long and there was an emerging emphasis on irregular warfare that led to “a de-emphasis in the nuclear part of our mission set. And we were born in that strategic attack mindset and capability, but we had lost that focus because of other competing priorities.”
Since the incident, the nuclear enterprise has re-emerged as a top priority for the Air Force, with current Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh saying from the outset that it is a foundational mission.
“It’s a big deal for us; we can’t afford to ever get this wrong,” Welsh said when he was sworn in last fall.