Pesky Insect Cited in Air Force Firing

Moral of this story: When transporting military material, just let the bug go.

ByLuis Martinez
October 14, 2009, 10:35 PM

Oct. 14, 2009 — -- A pesky insect may be partly to blame for an Air Force colonel losing his job today.

A missile wing commander at North Dakota's Minot Air Force Base was relieved of command for a loss of confidence in his command abilities following a series of recent incidents that included the rollover of a semi-trailer carrying missile parts, an accident caused when the driver tried to swat away a large insect that had landed on his back.

In a statement, Air Force Space Command said Col. Christopher Ayres was not being relieved of his command of the base's 91st Missile Wing for "any alleged misconduct or wrongdoing," but for "recent incidents during his command."

According to Andy Roake, a spokesman for Air Force Space Command, the recent incidents at the base included vehicle rollovers, some instances of misconduct and the wing's negative performance during a nuclear surety inspection.

The command's action, he said, "was the result of various events that caused a loss of confidence in his ability to effectively command."

The Associated Press attempted to reach Ayres at Minot Air Force Base but reported it was unsuccessful.

Two other officers also were relieved of their duties overseeing the wing's maintenance units.

"We must uphold the highest standards within the nuclear enterprise," said Gen. C. Robert Kehler, commander of Air Force Space Command, in announcing the action against Col. Ayres. "We must have complete confidence in our leadership as we continue the revitalization of the nuclear enterprise."

The Air Force has refocused its energy on the security of its nuclear mission ever since a series of missteps that in 2008 ultimately led Defense Secretary Robert Gates to fire the then-Air Force secretary and chief of staff for their handling of the incidents.

At the time of the Aug. 31 rollover, the semi-trailer was carrying missile engine parts and a pair of 14-gallon containers of rocket fuel, but there were no nuclear materials aboard the truck. Neither the driver nor a passenger were injured in the accident.

An investigation board recently concluded that the rollover was caused by "driver error" when the driver became "distracted and failed to maintain control of the vehicle's route of travel when a large insect flew into the driver's open window and landed on the driver's back."

The investigation board found the driver's focus on "trying to remove the insect" led the vehicle to drift to the edge of a gravel road where it tipped on its side. The board found "no additional factors contributing to the cause of the mishap."

The accident was the second crash of a base vehicle carrying missile materials in more than a year at Minot AFB. In July 2008 another Air Force truck carrying the booster rocket of a Minuteman III ICBM missile had also overturned into a ditch.

Minot is the command center for 150 Minuteman III missiles, sunk in hardened silos around the base, and is also home to half the Air Force's B-52 bomber fleet.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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