At the working level, criticism of how the Air Force runs its nuclear missile groups is widespread, if not often voiced publicly. The nuclear commanders have their counterarguments. The anonymous comments came from participants, all members of the nuclear missile force, in a RAND study commissioned by the Air Force, who were allowed to air their feelings confidentially. RAND and the Air Force provided The Associated Press with the report.
"If the nuclear mission was so important, then why were we constantly undermanned and worked with technology from the 1960s? ... Leadership quickly forgets how terrible crew life really is and looks at it through rose-colored glasses." — Andrew Neal, 28, a former missile crew officer who completed a four-year tour of duty at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo., in September 2013. In an AP interview.
"We don't care if things go properly. We just don't want to get in trouble." — Anonymous participant in a RAND Corp. confidential survey in early 2013 of officers and enlisted men and women at each of the three ICBM bases.
"Our leadership are there so we never feel comfortable. When they ask, they look at me and give me that look, that stare, like, 'Don't say it.'" — Another anonymous RAND interviewee, on the reluctance of most to speak freely about shortcomings in the force.
"I understand their concern, but that doesn't say to me that there is some fundamental issue here." — Gen. Robert Kehler, who began his Air Force career as a missile crew member in 1975 and stepped down Nov. 15 as commander of U.S. Strategic Command, the highest position within the military's nuclear war-fighting hierarchy, in an AP interview.
To any missile launch officer who grumbles about his work: "Yes, I know you think (it) is challenging, but if you've been to Afghanistan and been shot at ... you would realize that in relation to that, this is a great job." — Col. Robert Vercher, commander of the 91st Missile Wing at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., in an AP interview.
"My sense is, we've been doing this a long time. We know what some of the issues and concerns are. And to a large extent this is a leadership problem and this is a need for us to make sure our airmen understand the importance of what they do." — Lt. Gen. James Kowalski, in an AP interview days before he relinquished command of Air Force Global Strike Command, which is in charge of ICBMs as well as nuclear bombers.