A draft U.S. Air Force-commissioned study found a significant number of personnel who oversee the service’s ground-based, nuclear-armed ballistic missiles suffering from “burnout” over what they described as a high-pressure job environment offering few opportunities for advancement, the Associated Press reported on Thursday.
RAND Corp. gathered the findings over three months earlier this year in a bid to explain why the nation’s ICBM crews show a high rate of on- and off-duty misconduct relative to other Air Force personnel. The missile fleet’s top commander lost his position last month for exhibiting alcohol-related problems, and four launch-control officers recently faced disciplinary action over failures to close underground blast doors on two occasions this year.
Roughly 100 ICBM personnel — including technicians, launch crews and protection staff — contributed to the assessment through small-group discussions and anonymous self-assessments, which gauged their experience of indicators such as long-term exhaustion and a lack of professional mobility.
Some study participants and former missile-crew members tied their negative appraisals in part to tedious and isolated work conditions, as well as constant supervision and a managerial emphasis on perfection. U.S. ICBM personnel are drilled to adhere to all nuclear-security and safety regulations 100 percent of the time, because even small missteps have the potential to lead to catastrophe.
A number of higher-level military officials played down the significance of the report, which AP obtained on Friday in preliminary form.
Speaking on Wednesday, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said problems occur in every segment of the U.S. armed forces, and “we deal with the issues as they come up.”
“As far as getting the job done, they’re getting the job done — they do a great job of that every single day,” Welsh said.
The United States maintains 450 long-range, nuclear-armed missiles at Air Force bases in Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming.