A Cultural Change, 85 Feet Underground

Minot AFB, N.D. The biggest change from the Air Force’s attempt to revitalize the morale of its the nuclear community hasn’t been money spent on new equipment, it has been the change away from intense inspections to more personal accountability, airmen in the service’s missile fields say. Lt. Col. Jared Nelson, commander of the 742nd Missile Squadron at Minot AFB, N.D., said since the move away from regular, intense inspections where airmen felt pressured to always post perfect scores, he has seen an improvement in both morale and overall performance of his airmen. “We’re better today,” Nelson said. The Air Force’s missileers for years felt intense pressure to receive perforce scores on inspections, a culture that reached a breaking point in 2014 when almost 100 missileers at Malmstrom AFB, Mont., were caught cheating in their proficiency exams. After that incident broke, the Air Force began a grassroots effort to review morale issues in the nuclear community, called the Force Improvement Program, that focused on what airmen said needed to be changed. One of the first changes was a move away from constant testing and inspections, to pass/fail tests and a system where airmen can use more personal accountability to track their proficiency. Airmen are less stressed about the exams, and in turn have been able to focus on improving in their jobs. About “85 percent of what was wrong” with morale has been fixed by issues raised in the FIP, Nelson said.