The USAF’s Office of Special Investigations is looking into "reports of suspected illegal drugs at an above-ground facility” at the service’s Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota, 2nd Lt. Gabriel M. Cushing, a spokesman for the base's 5th Bomb Wing, told Task & Purpose Wednesday.
Task & Purpose noted the investigation first became known to the public thanks to an image posted on the Facebook group Air Force amn/nco/snco, which is popular for sharing memes about military life as well as general watering hole chitchat for servicemembers.
The text in the image describes an incident at Minot in which “there was an airman who was caught smoking marijuana in one of the MAFs during 791 MSFS shift,” noting that during the subsequent investigation, “there was a rolled joint found in one [of] the interior couch cushions” at the MAF.”
“The 791 commander is trying to keep this under wraps for fear of losing his job for this along with ignoring the suicide epidemic within the airforce when he has had airmen voice their concerns about taking their own lives,” the post continues.
However, Cushing told Task & Purpose that "there is no indication that any illegal substances were found below ground near any missile operator."
"We take this matter seriously and will investigate this fully," Cushing said. "No further information will be provided until the investigation concludes."
The missile alert facility is the above-ground component of a missile base. Also called the launch-control facility, it is responsible for several missile silos housing nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles, according to the National Museum of the US Air Force website.
The above-ground part, where basic living facilities such as a security control office, dining room, kitchen and sleeping areas are, connects to an underground bunker housing launch control equipment. Crews stationed in the facility serve 24-hour “tours,” with eight-hour shifts during which they must be ready to launch missiles at a moment’s notice.
The problem isn’t new, sadly. This past May, two maintenance workers at Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming were found to have consumed alcohol in the missile alert facility during off-duty hours, the Air Force Times reported at the time. An Air Force spokesperson told the Times the airmen “were not in contact [with], nor had any access to, weapons or classified material” at the time of the incident, but noted that the practice was prohibited by Global Strike Command.
At the same Wyoming base in 2015 and 2016, at least 14 airmen were found to have used LSD, cocaine and other illegal drugs during off-duty hours.
The United States has roughly 450 Minuteman III ICBMs scattered between Minot, Warren and Malmstrom Air Force Bases. The missiles have a 6,000-mile range and form one of three components of the US’ nuclear triad. The triad, which also includes air-dropped bombs from bombers as well as submarine-launched ballistic missiles, is a strategy designed to ensure the US is able to respond to even the most comprehensive nuclear attack.
The Pentagon is currently in the early phases of developing a replacement for the Minuteman III, known at the present as the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent.