Gates visits Minot, says nuclear gaffes unacceptableDefense Secretary Robert Gates, hours after being named President-elect Barack Obama’s choice to stay on the job, told airmen at the Minot Air Force Base that last year’s lapses in nuclear weapons procedures were unacceptable and the department is doing a “top to bottom” review of its nuclear stewardship.
By: By James MacPherson, The Associated Press, The Jamestown Sun
MINOT — Defense Secretary Robert Gates, hours after being named President-elect Barack Obama’s choice to stay on the job, told airmen at the Minot Air Force Base that last year’s lapses in nuclear weapons procedures were unacceptable and the department is doing a “top to bottom” review of its nuclear stewardship.
The Minot base drew attention last year when nuclear cruise missiles were mistakenly loaded onto a B-52 bomber and flown to Louisiana. The incident was cited by Gates as one factor leading to the ouster of Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Michael Moseley and Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne. About 65 airmen at the Minot base were sanctioned.
Gates, speaking to the airmen Monday in a B-52 hangar, said the missteps stemmed from a “long-standing slide of nuclear stewardship” that did not get the attention, personnel or funding it deserved. Now, he said, the changes and more emphasis on the nuclear program are moving it in the right direction.
“You must never take your duties lightly,” he told the airmen. “There is simply no room for error.”
Gates came to Minot from Chicago, where Obama announced he had asked the 65-year-old Pentagon chief to stay on the job. Gates said it was not his “expectation or desire,” but said he was persuaded to “serve a little while longer.”
He said he feels honored to serve under Obama, who will be the eighth president he has served.
A spokeswoman for the Minot base, Maj. Elizabeth Ortiz, said 6,000 uniformed airmen are attached to the base’s bomber and missile wings and about 1,000 of them currently are deployed around the world.
“I have very confidence in you,” Gates told the group at the base Monday.
Gates was joined by Gov. John Hoeven and the state’s congressional delegation, who want the Minot base to be the site of a new nuclear command headquarters being planned by the Air Force.
A statement from the congressional delegation stressed that Minot is the only base in the country to have both bombers and nuclear missiles.
Gates said the B-52 remains a “critical component of nuclear deterrence.”
The abolition of nuclear weapons is a worthy long-term goal that three presidents have supported but the weapons are a grim reality, he said.
“Try as we might and hope as we will, the genie that has come out cannot be put back in the bottle, at least not for a long time,” Gates said.
The Minot bomb wing commander, Col. Joel Westa, called the Minot base a strategic prairie outpost. He told Gates: “I’m convinced when you leave here, you’ll be able to rest comfortably.”