KNOB NOSTER, Mo. (AP) - Members of an Air National Guard group at Whiteman Air Force Base in western Missouri have become the first citizen airmen certified to drop nuclear bombs.
The Air National Guard's 131st Bomb Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base passed the Pentagon's stringent Initial Nuclear Surety Inspection earlier this month, which means it can assist in delivering nuclear bombs.
"They're very proud of what they've done," said Col. Mike Francis, the wing's commander.
The certification by the Air Force Global Strike Force Command enables more than 700 guardsmen, working alongside active-duty airmen, to load nukes into B-2 Spirit stealth bombers and fly them if the president orders.
Details of certifying air units for nuclear missions are kept secret by the Air Force. The inspection at Whiteman, located about 60 miles east of Kansas City, stretched over four days.
Francis said it makes sense to partner the Guard's 131st wing with the Air Force's 509th Bomb Wing - the active-duty caretakers of the B-2. The Whiteman base has been home to the B-2 for 20 years, many in the Guard once served in active duty and more than 200 are employed as civilians at Whiteman.
"We've hired some of the best the 509th ever had," Francis said. "If someone in the 509th is looking to get out of the Air Force, having them in the Guard allows them to contribute to the mission in a different way."
As part of what the Air Force calls Total Force Integration, longtime pilots and Guard aircraft technicians work with fresh recruits of the 509th wing.
"When you walk on the flight line at Whiteman," said Brig. Gen. Thomas Bussiere, who commands the 509th, "you can't tell the difference between an active-duty or Guard pilot, maintainer or load crew team."
Passing inspection enabled the Guard members to become, according to a Missouri National Guard statement, certified "caretakers of an unrivaled combat power" in the "no-fail nuclear mission."
"It's a very demanding process, and it's meant to be that way," said Dick Cole, public affairs officer at the Pentagon's Defense Threat Reduction Agency, which was formed in 1998.