BISMARCK, N.D. — The Air Force announced Thursday that two officers who worked at a missile base in North Dakota have been taken off the job while the military investigates allegations that they took home classified components used in underground launch control centers.
The officers were supposed to have destroyed the two devices and had signed documents stating that they had, said Maj. Laurie A. Arellano, an Air Force spokeswoman. The Band-Aid-sized devices, now obsolete, were used on equipment inside the launch control center to detect equipment tampering.
"The material that was supposed to be destroyed was already superseded and had been replaced," she said. "There is no risk to the security of the weapon system, and no possibility of an inadvertent launch as a result of this being taken from the weapon facility."
The officers worked at the time at Minot Air Force Base's 91st Space Wing, now known as the 91st Missile Wing. They were among the crew members who work 90 feet underground behind huge blast doors, prepared to launch nuclear missiles.
The Air Force said one of the officers notified the military in May that he and the other officer had lied about destroying the components in July 2005. He turned one device over to the government, but the other remains missing, Arellano said. She had no information on why the officers took the devices.
The officers, whose names have not been released, no longer are stationed at Minot. "They are not, obviously, working missile alert duties until the investigation is complete," Arellano said.
The Air Force also announced Thursday that three ballistic missile crew members from the Minot Air Force Base who fell asleep while holding classified launch code devices have been sanctioned and "decertified from missile operations."
The crew members, two lieutenants and a captain from the 91st Missile Wing, were in a missile alert facility about 70 miles from Minot when they fell asleep in a crew rest area on July 12, the Air Force said.
Arellano said the officers received written reprimands and will forfeit a portion of their pay for two months under Article 15 reviews, which allow punishments without a court proceeding or public record. Six other officers, including two squadron commanders, also received disciplinary letters in their military files, Arellano said.
Another unit based at Minot, the 5th Bomb Wing, has been under scrutiny for the past year after nuclear missiles were mistakenly flown to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana. About 65 of the 3,700 airmen at the bomber wing were sanctioned as a result of that incident. The Air Force said an inspection at the bomb wing this month found that it is operating safely.
More Air Force woes
In a separate case, the Air Force said it is investigating alleged "aggravated sexual contact" against a female officer at a launch facility at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana. The officer told Air Force investigators in March that she had been sexually assaulted by a male officer in December while the two were on duty in a launch control facility. The man has been temporarily reassigned.