Nuclear War on Drugs

These Air Force security teams in their armored cars followed Barb Katt and me as we drove around the Minuteman missile fields doing research for the book Nuclear Heartland. Photo by John LaForge
These Air Force security teams in their armored cars followed Barb Katt and me as we drove around the Minuteman missile fields doing research for the book Nuclear Heartland. Photo by John LaForge

During the 1991 Gulf War, after we learned that US pilots were taking amphetamines to keep them alert during bombing runs into Iraq and Kuwait, I called it our “War on drugs.”
Last week’s US Air Force revelations prompted an updated version. According to records obtained by the Associated Press, Air Force guards in charge of protecting Minuteman III long-range nuclear-armed missiles in Wyoming, Colorado and Nebraska bought, distributed and used LSD “and other mind-altering illegal drugs as part of a ring that operated undetected for months.” Call it, “Nuclear war on drugs.”

The other drugs included ecstasy, cocaine and marijuana, and altogether, 14 Air Force personnel at the F.E. Warren Air Force Base’s 90th Missile Wing near Cheyenne, Wyoming were disciplined for their off-duty drug use, and six were court martialed for LSD use, or distribution or both.
Remember, these people trained to race out to the remote missile silos from their posts in remote Launch Control Centers and “force their way into and regain control of a captured missile silo.” Adding insult to addiction, it was a similar team of Air Force missile silo guards from the Minot Air Force Base in NorthDakota that recently lost a 42-pound box of grenades for their grenade launcher. Driving between two missile silos, the back hatch of their APC popped open and it fell out. After two weeks, 100 AF searchers couldn’t find it, so the Air Force has offered a reward.

The AP got hold of transcripts of seven court martial proceedings in the Wyoming cases and they show that the airmen who used the illegal drugs were “supplied by colleagues with connections to civilian drug dealers.” According to the AP, Airman 1st Class Nickolos Harris testified that he had no trouble getting LSD and other drugs from civilian sources. Reportedly the leader of the drug ring, Harris pleaded guilty to using and distributing LSD and using ecstasy, cocaine and marijuana” and was sentenced to 12 months in jail.

While none of the 14 including Harris was accused of using drugs while in duty, Air Force prosecutor Capt. C. Rhodes Berry argued that Harris should be jailed for 42 months for “using hallucinogens and other drugs on a nuclear weapons base.” Air Force investigators found those implicated in the drug ring “used LSD on base and off.”
Another Airman 1st Class, Devin Hagarty, admitted in court to using LSD four times in 2015-16 and distributing it once, the AP said. “He also admitted to using cocaine, ecstasy and marijuana multiple times.” He was sentenced to 13 months in a military jail.
The AP reported that one airman’s blunder on social media (posting a pic of himself smoking pot) alerted investigators to the illegal partying, and they were then able “to crack the drug ring at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in March 2016.”

Tedium of mission-free service

It’s an old story that “missile field” duty in the Great Plains states is known as a “backwater” assignment, a string of months or years filled with boredom, tedium, and monotony with little chance for advancement. The cow town outposts of the country’s 450 land-based missiles offer little to Air Force personnel who see their counterparts assigned to US war zones in Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and Libya where their “betters” can even earn hazard pay.

The fact that the land-based, Cold War missiles have no mission partly explains how drug use could become a means of escape. Airman Kyle Morrison testified at his court martial that “… colors seemed more vibrant and clear. In general, I felt more alive,” the AP reported. For his part, Harris said to a military judge, “I absolutely just loved altering my mind,” according to the AP. 

Morrison admitted distributing LSD on the missile base in February 2016, and with a plea deal involving ratting out 10 other druggies, Morrison was sentenced to five months in jail, 15 days of hard labor and loss of $5,200 in pay.
Full disclosure: I was sentenced to three weeks in jail in 1981, two months in prison in 1982, and six months in prison in 1987 for separate misdemeanor trespass protests at Offutt Air Base in Omaha. Offutt controls all the Minuteman missile bases (FE Warren, Malmstrom, and Minot) and chooses the cities and bases that are targeted by the weapons guarded by the drug-addled Air Force.

Having known prison, I don’t advocate it as punishment for anyone, but both Harris and Morrison “avoided punitive discharges” from the service. But what message does the Air Force send when drug ring leaders in the nuclear missile fields aren’t slapped with a less-than-honorable discharge? 
What Airman Morrison told the judge must be true. Lying about prior drug use was “normal” in the Air Force.