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All-out nuclear war isn't something Americans worry about too much these days, which is good, because the people in charge of fighting that war have apparently been doing a lousy job lately. According to the Associated Press, an internal inspection at the Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota found the unit that oversees nuclear missile launches to be so woefully unprepared that an unprecedented 17 officers had to be stripped of their duties.

The group—which is responsible for launching nuclear-armed Minutemen missiles all around the globe at a moment's notice—was lambasted in internal emails last month, after coming as close to failing the inspection as you can get without actually failing. (The group received a "D" grade on its most important function, launch proficiency.) Members of the group were accused of safety violations, questioning orders, and showing general disrespect to superior officers. In the most serious incident, one officer was even accused of intentionally violating a rule that could have compromised the launch codes that enable the missiles to be fired from their underground silos. 

The deputy commander of the unit said the inspection uncovered "such rot" that the unit needs to be rebuilt" from the ground up." The 17 officers have been "benched" for 60 days, but have not lost their jobs or rank.

The Air Force's nuclear weapons crews have been under fire in the recent past, thanks in part to a post-Cold War "malaise" that experts say has demoralized these formerly central units. After all, sitting in an underground bunker in the middle of North Dakota on 24-hour apocalypse watch is not what many people hoped to be doing when they signed up for the Air Force. (That doesn't even begin to address other issues that have plagued the service, like its growing sexual assault problem.) Let's hope they get their nuclear issues sorted out—and that they're still never called upon to do that duty anyway.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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