MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. — Programs aimed at empowering airmen and boosting morale are making headway at the Minot Air Force Base, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said in her fourth visit to the base in the past year.
James and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh visited the base Friday along with other top generals for a quarterly meeting of the Nuclear Oversight Board, as the military works to address problems in the nation's nuclear force.
Board members normally meet in Washington, D.C., but got a firsthand look this week at the Minot base's B-52 bomber and intercontinental ballistic missile missions. Both are part of the nuclear force.
Then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered a top-to-bottom overhaul of the force last November, just days before he announced his resignation. Air Force officials and Pentagon civilian leaders acknowledged in December that problems in the force run deep and wide. That occurred after a series of Associated Press stories revealing that the nuclear force is suffering from years of neglect, mismanagement and weak morale.
The Air Force instituted the Force Improvement Program last year to foster a culture of empowerment among nuclear enterprise airmen and help restore the nation's trust in the Air Force's management of the nuclear missile system.
"My impression from this trip is we're moving very much in the right direction and our airmen are telling us that there are many positive changes in the works so I'm very, very encouraged by that," James said at a news conference on Friday.
The Minot base has had its share of missteps, including a 2007 incident in which a bomber was mistakenly armed with nuclear weapons and flown across the country to a base in Louisiana.
About two years ago, the AP disclosed an internal email from the 91st Missile Wing's deputy operations group commander that decried "rot" in the ranks, including a disregard by some for safety and security rules and what he considered a lack of professional pride.
In addition to discussing the progress of its programs, James also said she wanted to touch of the dangers of sequestration, or automatic spending cuts. She said the recent Air Force budget given to Congress is about $10 billion more than what would be available if sequestration cuts return in 2016.