Air Force fires commander of land-based U.S. nuclear arsenal

The Air Force on Friday fired the general in charge of all land-based nuclear missiles, the second time in a week that a senior commander of the country’s nuclear arsenal has been let go for allegations of personal misconduct.

Maj. Gen. Michael Carey, commander of the 20th Air Force, was removed from his job “due to a loss of trust and confidence in his leadership and judgment,” said Brig. Gen. Les Kodlick, an Air Force spokesman.

Air Force officials said Carey has been under investigation since this summer for allegations of “personal misbehavior” but would not specify what prompted his firing.

Pressed by reporters at a Pentagon news conference, Kodlick said the case did not involve drugs, sexual misconduct, gambling or any form of criminal activity, but he declined to comment when asked if alcohol played a role. He said he could not give further details because the investigation was still underway.

“We wanted to make it very clear it wasn’t operations-related,” Kodlick said.

Carey’s firing comes two days after the Navy announced it had fired a three-star admiral from his post as deputy commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, which oversees all nuclear-armed missiles, bombers and submarines.

In that case, Vice Adm. Tim Giardina remains under investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service after a casino in Iowa allegedly caught him using $1,500 in counterfeit gambling chips. The casino is near the Strategic Command headquarters in Omaha.

The U.S. military has seen a rash of generals and admirals lose their jobs over the past year for alleged personal misconduct. But the firings of Carey and Giardina were especially unusual, given their responsibility for nuclear weapons.

The 20th Air Force is responsible for operating intercontinental ballistic missiles. Overall, the Air Force maintains about 450 Minuteman III missiles at three bases in North Dakota, Wyoming and Montana.

The Air Force said Carey’s alleged misconduct occurred during a temporary duty assignment away from the 20th Air Force headquarters in Cheyenne, Wyo., but officials declined to say when or where it happened.

The decision to relieve Carey of command was made by Lt. Gen. James Kowalski, head of the Air Force Global Strike Command, after he received an interim report from the Air Force’s inspector general, officials said.

Air Force officials said Carey’s actions had not compromised the security or effectiveness of the nuclear arsenal. The 20th Air Force “continues to execute its mission of around-the-clock nuclear deterrence in a safe, secure and effective manner,” Kowalski said in a statement.

The Air Force, however, has been dogged by persistent concerns about its management of nuclear forces.

In August, the Air Force relieved a colonel in charge of a nuclear-weapons unit at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana, citing a “loss of confidence” in his leadership. In June, a commander in charge of training missile crews at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota was fired after an unusually large number of launch operators performed poorly on tests.

In 2008, Robert M. Gates, then the secretary of defense, fired the Air Force’s top general and civilian leader after a series of nuclear gaffes occurred on their watch, including an incident in which a B-52 bomber crew flew across the country without realizing that six cruise missiles on board had been armed with nuclear warheads.

Craig Whitlock covers the Pentagon and national security. He has reported for The Washington Post since 1998.
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