Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said Wednesday that officers nominated for certain nuclear jobs and all four-star general officers will have initial screenings before their nominations are announced. (James Varhegyi)
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In the aftermath of a two-star general being relieved of command last month, the Air Force will implement new prescreening procedures for two- and three-star officers nominated for positions in the nuclear enterprise and all four-star general officers, Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said Wednesday.
“Typically, the screening was done once a nomination was made — the Department of Defense IG [Inspector General office] and others would get into a detailed screening process — we are now going to do more of that prior to the slate being built that we would pick a nominee from,” Welsh said.
General officers nominated for commands in the nuclear enterprise will undergo a medical review and those nominated as nuclear task force commanders will have an interview with the head of U.S. Strategic Command, Welsh said. The screening process will also include a Google search.
“What pops up when you type someone’s name into Google?” he said. “It be might be worth knowing that before we nominate someone for a key job.”
In October, Maj. Gen. Michael Carey was removed from command of 20th Air Force and its 450 intercontinental ballistic missiles due to “personal misbehavior” during a temporary duty assignment over the summer. Carey is currently assigned to U.S. Space Command.
The Air Force decided to implement the new prescreening measures before considering who Carey’s successor at 20th Air Force will be, Welsh explained.
“We realized the process by which we quickly jump to a conclusion probably wasn’t a comprehensive enough process,” he said. “We tended to look at professional background. We looked at job skills. We looked at what kind of assignments had these people had and therefore someone would quickly say, ‘That’s the obvious choice.’ Well just assuming an obvious choice in this business is probably dangerous.”
Welsh insisted the new prescreening measures do not reflect worries that Carey was not properly vetted for command of 20th Air Force.
“This had nothing to do with Gen. Carey,” Welsh said. “Gen. Carey was relieved for something that Gen. Carey would tell you was an embarrassing period of behavior while he was on a TDY.”
While Carey has served honorably in the Air Force for more than 20 years, Welsh said he does not cut any slack to general officers who misbehave.
“I expect an awful lot from a general officer and if you put yourself in a position where you don’t meet that standard for any period of time, you’ve given up the right,” he said.
Air Force officials have declined to provide details about the behavior that led to Carey’s firing. Brig. Gen. Les Kodlick, in a press briefing Oct. 11, said Carey was not accused of behavior related to sexual misconduct, drugs or gambling. Kodlick would not rule out alcohol as a factor in the personal misconduct.
Lt. Gen. James Kowalski, then-head of Global Strike Command, received reports of personal misbehavior from other service members who were traveling with Carey on the TDY trip, which he passed along to the IG, Kodlick said.
In a separate matter, the Air Force is looking to eliminate two four-star and 15 three-star positions as part of a larger plan to reduce staff.
The Air Force has not identified which positions will be cut “although we have an idea where they’ll be,” said Welsh, who declined to elaborate until the review is completed. He expected to have more information in “the next couple of months.”
Also Wednesday, Welsh said the Air Force needs to change its intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance structure by investing in new aircraft after the drawdown in Afghanistan is complete. That would involve providing fewer combat air patrols using unmanned aircraft, he said. Right now, the Air Force is supposed to be able to provide 65 combat air patrols by May.
“We’d like to bring that down — the vicinity of 45 [combat air patrols] would be a good start — and see how we do,” Welsh said. “I think there are some people who would like to keep that number higher and that will be one of the debates that goes on in budget discussions this year.”