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2 on nuclear launch crew linked to narcotics probe

F.E. WARREN AIR FORCE BASE, Wyo. – Hoping to boost sagging morale, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel made a rare visit Thursday to an Air Force nuclear missile base and crews who operate and safeguard the nation’s Minuteman 3 missiles.

But his attempt to cheer the troops was tempered by news that launch officers at another base had been implicated in an illegal-narcotics investigation.

Two officers at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana are being investigated for allegations of drug possession, said a service spokesman in Washington, Lt. Col. Brett Ashworth. Both of those being investigated are ICBM launch officers with responsibility for operating intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The launch officers’ access to classified information has been suspended, and they have been prohibited from serving on missile launch control duty while the Air Force is investigating, another defense official said. That official provided no further details and spoke only on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly by name.

At the Wyoming nuclear missile base, meanwhile, Hagel addressed officers and airmen after a series of security lapses and discipline problems that were revealed in Associated Press stories in 2013.

Officials have said the service members are increasingly tired of working in what can seem like oblivion. They win no battles, earn no combat pay and only rarely are given public credit of any kind.

“You are doing something of great importance to the world,” Hagel told the group. Lest they sometimes doubt that importance, he said, “You have chosen a profession where there is no room for error – none.”

He made no direct reference to the problems revealed in the past year but declared, “How you do the job is really as important as the job itself. We depend on your professionalism.”

A day earlier, he said he realized the ICBM workforce has morale problems.

“It is lonely work,” he said. “They do feel unappreciated many times.”

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