Researchers for federally funded RAND Corp. submitted an unpublished study to the Associated Press this week, the results of which suggest that members of the Air Force's nuclear missile force are plagued by a "burnout" syndrome.
Chaitra Hardison, RAND's senior behavioral scientist and lead author of the study, describes the symptoms of such a syndrome as feeling exhausted, cynical, and ineffective on the job. In conducting the three-month study, Hardison polled service members (both men and women) working within the intercontinental ballistic missile force, prompting them to rate on a scale of 1 to 7 – 1 meaning "never" and 7 meaning "always" – how often in their work they felt tired, hopeless, trapped, frustrated, aggravated, unappreciated, overworked, micromanaged and at constant risk of failure. Participants who averaged scores of 4 or higher were scored in the "burnout" range. While no participants yielded averages ranging from 5-7, 33 service members averaged a 4.4.
RAND issued confidentiality to all participants so that they could speak freely about their experiences. One service member described morale as being "very low" while another confessed, "We don't care if things go properly. We just don't want to get in trouble."
Gen. Mark Welsh, the Air Force chief of staff, responded to the study this week, assuring that he sees no evidence of fundamental problems in the ICBM force.
"There are issues like there are in every other mission area we have in the United States military, and we deal with the issues as they come up, and we deal with them pretty aggressively. But as far as getting the job done, they're getting the job done — they do a great job of that every single day," Welsh stated.
The study's release was instigated by the AP's filing a Freedom of Information Act request for the study's results, hoping to explain why there are higher levels of personal and professional misconduct within the ICBM force rather than the rest of the Air Force. The Air Force provided a PowerPoint outline last week, along with RAND officials and two senior Air Force generals to explain it.
As to why such feelings are rampant within the ICBM force, some speculate it has to do with the service members' collective duty to safely operate the nuclear missiles, the most destructive weapons known to man. Combined with AP interviews with current and former members of the ICBM force, however, The RAND study offers another possible explanation: a disconnect between service members and missile force leaders.
"There's a perception that the Air Force [leadership] doesn't understand necessarily what's going on with respect to the ICBM community and their needs," Hardison explained.
Hardison went on to clarify, however, that while RAND's study reflects a despondent atmosphere among the ICBM service members, additional studies involving a larger sample demographic polled over a longer period should be required before absolute conclusions are drawn.