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Jun 15, 5:17 PM EDT

5 added to drug probe at Air Force nuclear base


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WASHINGTON (AP) -- Five more airmen are under investigation for illegal drug activity at a nuclear missile base in Wyoming, bringing the total to 19 and expanding the probe beyond the security forces group initially implicated, the Air Force said Wednesday.

An Air Force spokesman, Capt. Mark A. Graff, said that two of the accused have been convicted in courts-martial proceedings held since the investigation was first disclosed in March. The trials were not previously announced. Graff said the two convicted individuals, whose names were not disclosed, have been sentenced and are serving time in confinement. He says that once they have served their sentences they will be considered for removal from the Air Force.

Graff did not say when or how the number of airmen under investigation was expanded from 14 airmen to 19. All are members of the 90th Missile Wing at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, which operates 150 Minuteman 3 nuclear missiles.

Sixteen of the 19 are members of the 90th Missile Wing's security forces group, Graff said, adding that the other three are junior enlisted Air Force members belonging to an unspecified unit at F.E. Warren.

"In all of the cases a thorough investigation has been conducted or is still occurring," Graff said in a statement to The Associated Press.

This is not the first recent drug investigation at F.E. Warren. Two years ago, while then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was visiting the base, officials disclosed that a number of missile launch officers, known as missileers, were under investigation for illegal drug use. That investigation led to the discovery that dozens of missileers had been cheating on their proficiency tests at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana, which also operates a fleet of 150 Minuteman 3 missiles.

When the Air Force announced the original investigation in March, Gen. Robin Rand, the four-star commander of all Air Force nuclear forces, declined to say what kind of drugs the 14 were accused of using or possessing. Other officials said they included cocaine.

Rand had said the 14 ranged in rank from airman 1st class to senior airman and were members of the security group at F.E. Warren that is responsible for securing Minuteman 3 missile fields in Wyoming, Colorado and Nebraska as well as the vehicle convoys that move nuclear weapons. At the time, he called the allegations against them "credible."

Shortly after he learned of the drug allegations that surfaced during his 2014 visit to F.E. Warren, Hagel ordered a broad investigation of problems inside the Air Force nuclear missile corps, which had been extensively documented by the AP starting in May 2013.

The Hagel-ordered review led to numerous changes, including providing billions more in resources to the nuclear missile corps and elevating the rank of the commander of Global Strike Command, which is responsible for the Minuteman 3 force, from three-star to four-star. Rand is the first four-star to hold the job.

Prior to the Air Force's disclosure Wednesday that five more airmen are included in the latest F.E. Warren drug probe, Gen. Mark Welsh, the soon-to-retire Air Force chief of staff, told reporters that while he was not fully satisfied with progress toward improving morale and other conditions in the nuclear missile corps, he believed the effort is on the right track.

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