For more than two weeks now a container of grenade rounds has been missing in western North Dakota. It fell off a vehicle from the Minot Air Force Base. There is a reward on offer for anyone finding the container, and a way to submit tips (even anonymously) if you have information.
“The ammunition is considered safe as long as the container is intact, the Air Force said,” Amy Dalrymple reports for the Bismarck Tribune. That’s cold comfort given that someone finding a container like that is likely to want to open it.
And if they do?
“If the ammunition is located and is damaged, the area should be evacuated and people should call 911.”
But hey, at least it wasn’t a nuclear weapon this time.
Back in 2007 the Minot Air Force Base got another black eye when six AGM-129 ACM cruise missiles, each loaded with a W80-1 variable yield nuclear warhead, were mistakenly flown in a B-52 all the way down to the Barksdale base in Louisiana. The warheads were supposed to have been removed before the missiles were loaded on the plane.
Nobody noticed the warheads were missing for 36 hours.
Unfortunately the Minot Air Force Base has had some pretty consistent problems over the years.
In 2014 Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel visited the base after a review of the nuclear programs there found major problems with crumbling infrastructure and morale. “Officials warned that if ‘the current trend of complacency’ in managing the facility continues, it could lead to failure with major consequences,” the Washington Post reported at the time.
I wonder if dropping an ammo can full of grenade rounds counts as “complacency?” And let’s not forget a B-52 bomber from the Minot Air Force Base dropped an engine northeast of Minot just last year. The pilots made the right decision to dump the engine into an unpopulated wildlife preserve.
But still. It’s an engine falling out of the sky.
There is always a lot of political wrangling about keeping bases like the one in Minot open. In fact, a citizen task force was just in Washington D.C. to outline “the importance of the missions at the Minot Air Force Base to officials at the Pentagon,” as a press release from Senator John Hoeven’s office states.
Military bases drive a lot of economic activity, and that’s important for the communities they’re near. It also makes people reticent to speak out when the military does things worthy of criticism.
Like losing grenades. Or an engine. Or nuclear weapons.
Lots of people want to protect the Minot Air Force Base, and with the recent announcement that the B-52 mission there has been extended for another few decades the facility seems safe.
That shouldn’t give us pause, though, in expecting more care and professionalism from our military neighbors.