Nuclear strike chief calls for missile crew cancer exam
WASHINGTON– The Air Force’s chief general in charge of the nation’s air- and land-launched nuclear missiles has called for a formal investigation into the number of airmen who report blood cancer diagnoses after serving at the airbase of Malmstrom, Montana.
The illnesses became public knowledge this week after the Associated Press obtained a military brief that said at least nine missile launchers – those officers serving in underground bunkers near silo-based Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles and responsible for turning the launch keys if ordered – reported diagnoses of non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. One of the officers died.
Gen. Thomas A. Bussiere, commander of Air Force Global Strike Command, which is responsible for all siled and air-launched nuclear warheads, said in a statement to the AP on Friday that he had requested that the US Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine conducts a formal evaluation of reported cancers.
“Air Force Global Strike Command and our Air Force take the responsibility of protecting Airmen and Guardians incredibly seriously, and their safety and health is always my top priority,” Bussiere said. “As we continue to work through this process, service members and their dependents as well as former service members who may have concerns or questions are encouraged to speak with their healthcare providers.”
Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek added in a statement Saturday that the review will go beyond the initially identified launch officers.
Similar nuclear missile facilities are located at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota and FE Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming.
“Gen. Bussiere has requested a risk assessment for all Airmen and Guardians involved in the missile community who may be at risk,” Stefanek said.
The Air Force told the AP Jan. 22 that its medical teams are looking into the matter. Bussiere’s request elevates this to a formal review conducted by the US Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine.
“We are working together to create action plans moving forward. We are committed to remaining transparent during this process and we are committed to maintaining an open dialogue with members, their families and stakeholders throughout,” Bussière said.
Over the past week, more Missiles who served Malmstrom or their families have reached out to the AP to share their experiences with blood cancer diagnoses and other types of cancer.
Concern about cancers was raised by a Space Force officer during a January briefing at his unit. Many missiles were transferred to the Space Force after its creation; at least 455 Space Force officers, including its highest-ranking officer, the new Chief of Space Operations, General Chance Saltzman, served as missiles.
Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which the American Cancer Society says affects about 19 out of 100,000 people in the United States each year, is a cancer of the blood that uses the body’s anti-infective lymphatic system to spread.
By comparison, only about 3,300 troops are based in Malmstrom at any one time, and only 400 of those are assigned either as missile launchers or as support for those operators. The three bases control a total of 400 enclosed Minuteman III ICBMs.