WASHINGTON - The Air Force will more carefully screen future candidates for nuclear commander positions as a result of the recent firing of the two-star general overseeing land-based nuclear missiles,, the general in charge of the service said Wednesday.
"We're going to add more rigor," Gen. Mark Welsh, the Air Force chief of staff, told reporters, including the addition of an Internet search of the person's name that could turn up any damaging information.
Welsh said the change has nothing to do with the job performance of Maj. Gen. Michael Carey, a 35-year veteran who was relieved of command last month for unspecified personal misbehavior that other officials said was related to alcohol use.
After being removed as commander of 20th Air Force, in charge of the Air Force's fleet of 450 Minuteman 3 nuclear missiles, Carey was shifted to an unspecified job at Air Force Space Command, which has no responsibility for nuclear weapons, pending the completion of an investigation into his alleged misconduct.
Welsh praised Carey's service record but said he had stumbled in a way that could not be tolerated. He said Carey acknowledged to him that he had engaged in an "embarrassing period of behavior" while on a business trip.
"He would say that to you," Welsh said. "It's exactly what he said to me: `I've embarrassed myself, my Air Force, I'm sorry.' "
Carey was fired two days after the sacking of a senior Navy admiral who was second-in-command at U.S. Strategic Command, which is the military's nuclear war-fighting organization.
Their removal came amid a series of disclosures by The Associated Press about security and leadership lapses, training problems, and an assertion by one mid-level nuclear officer that he had found "rot" inside his nuclear missile unit at Minot Air Force Base, N.D.
Welsh said that the hiring process for nuclear commanders will now include a more intensive pre-screening of candidates, to include a review of potential personal health issues -- both physical and mental.
"As a result of our recent relief of one of our nuclear commanders we have changed our hiring process," he said, referring to Carey. "We will now do a pre-screening that is a little more intensive than we've done before." He said the Air Force previously did this kind of screening only after a candidate had been nominated.
The pre-screening will include a Google search, a simple task that hadn't been done before.
"It might be worth knowing that before you nominate somebody for a key job," he said.
Welsh said this change is part of a broader effort to assess more effectively the capabilities and suitability for promotion of general officers in all parts of the Air Force.