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17 officers disciplined in U.S. nuclear mistake

The Air Force and Army have disciplined 17 senior officers, including the three-star general in charge of logistics, for poor oversight.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The Air Force and Army have disciplined 17 senior officers, including the three-star general in charge of logistics, for poor oversight in connection with the mistaken shipment of fuses for nuclear warheads to Taiwan.

Saying he could not ignore the "breaches of trust that occurred on their watch," Acting Air Force Secretary Michael Donley laid out what in some cases were career-ending punishments Thursday for six Air Force generals, ranging in rank from one to three stars, and nine colonels. Two Army two-star generals have also been disciplined.

Speaking to reporters during a Pentagon press briefing, Donley said that, in taking into consideration the future needs of the Air Force, two major generals in the group have been asked to stay on in their jobs.

The Air Force chief of staff, Gen. Norton Schwartz, who also was at the briefing, said those two officers have unique skills and knowledge critical for the nuclear mission.

But, Schwartz added, "they certainly are on notice that there is no room for error here and that, should they abuse this trust, it won't take but about a millisecond to react."

Generals disciplined
The Army, meanwhile, said it disciplined two brigadier generals who worked at the Defense Logistics Agency and were in charge of the military's 26 shipping centers.

Army spokesman Paul Boyce said that while neither officer was directly responsible for the shipping error, they had not fully corrected problems in the supply system that had been identified in earlier audits.

All 17 officers received disciplinary letters, but they varied in seriousness from reprimands, which are the most severe, to letters of admonishment, memorandums of concern and letters of counsel, which are less serious.

The officers are mainly in logistical jobs and were involved to some degree in the mistaken shipment to Taiwan of four electrical fuses for ballistic missile nuclear warheads in 2006. The error did not become known until this past March.

Schwartz, who met with each of the Air Force generals personally, said that while the officers were not accused of any intentional wrongdoing, they "did not do enough to carry out their leadership responsibilities for nuclear oversight. "For that they must be held accountable."

Both Donley and Schwartz gained their jobs as a result of the incident. Defense Secretary Robert Gates sacked Gen. Michael Moseley, then Air Force chief of staff, and Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne, blaming them for failing to fully address a series of nuclear-related missteps, including the mistaken shipment.

Report blasts performance
Gates acted swiftly after Navy Adm. Kirkland Donald completed a sharply critical internal report on the shipping incident that found "a decline in the Air Force's nuclear mission focus and performance" and a failure by Air Force leaders to respond effectively.

The Air Force generals who were disciplined were:

  • Lt. Gen. Kevin J. Sullivan, deputy chief of staff for logistics, who received a letter of reprimand and is retiring.
  • Lt. Gen. Michael A. Hamel, who was commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center. He received a letter of admonishment and had already planned to retire.
  • Maj. Gen. Roger W. Burg, commander of 20th Air Force, who received a letter of admonishment. He will remain in his current job to correct problems.
  • Maj. Gen. Kathleen D. Close, commander of the Ogden Air Logistics Center. She received a letter of admonishment and will stay on.
  • Brig. Gen. Francis M. Bruno, director of logistics for Air Force Materiel Command. He received a letter of admonishment and was already retiring.
  • Brig. Gen. Arthur B. Cameron III, was commander of the 309th Maintenance Wing. He received a letter of admonishment and had already been reassigned.

The Army generals are:

  • Brig. Gen. Lynn A. Collyar, who commanded the Defense Distribution Center from August 2006 to June 2008.
  • Brig. Gen. Michael J. Lally III, who commanded the center from August 2004 to August 2006.

In addition, five colonels received letters of reprimand, including two who were removed from commands. Three other colonels received letters of admonishment, and one colonel received a letter of counseling.