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Personnel Reliability Program a necessity for Malmstrom

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Collin Schmidt
  • 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs
Integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do. These are the Air Force core values and guidelines by which every Airman is asked to serve his or her country. Their job is not always easy. In their words, the work can be tough and the days can be long but in the end it's all worth it knowing the American people are safe from harm because of what they do each day.

Within the nuclear community, the responsibilities are incredibly high for individuals who work with and around the missile systems Malmstrom has in place. In order to keep Malmstrom's nuclear arsenal in a constant ready status, the Airmen who spend a majority of their time around these systems are put on the Personnel Reliability Program.

The purpose of PRP is to ensure only the personnel who meet the highest standards of reliability perform nuclear-related duties. The ultimate goal of the program is to prevent any act that could ultimately lead to accidental detonation, launch, theft or loss of nuclear related material.

"We want people to be mentally, physically and even emotionally prepared to work around these systems," said Staff Sgt. Linda Bagwell, 341st Security Forces Squadron PRP monitor. "The mission on Malmstrom is very important, and we need people to be on the top of their game when they are performing PRP duties. A big part of the PRP program is also good wingmanship. We need people to look out for one another and notify their commander when something is wrong. Everyone plays a part in keeping the system running smooth."

The program, which is directed by the Department of Defense, applies to all branches of the military whose mission pertains to nuclear assets. Commanders are generally the certifying officials and have the ability to approve or deny an Airman's PRP status.

With every individual, the commander has the final authority to allow the member to perform their job around nuclear assets. If the member is on PRP status, he or she is allowed access to nuclear assets in order to perform their duties. If the member is taken off PRP status, access is restricted until they are put back on the program with the commander's authority.

For those who are in non-PRP-related jobs, certain aspects of their personal lives may not need to be reported to their supervisors, such as a financial situation at home or relationship troubles. For those on PRP status, these situations must be reported to their certifying official and discussed with their commander. Every situation is different and commanders take time to evaluate all the facts in order to make an informed decision as to whether the individual will be able to perform their PRP duties, which is any job involving access to secure nuclear systems.

"A lot of people think being taken off PRP status is a bad thing when this is not always the case," Bagwell said. "We need everyone to be completely focused on the mission at hand. Certain things in your life can distract you from your duties and a lot of those things can't always be helped. This program assures us that we have the best people working on the job at all times."

At Malmstrom, as well as other nuclear-capable bases, many people are involved in the PRP monitoring process, including medical professionals, all levels of command and, most importantly, the individuals who are on PRP status.

"The PRP program is a contract between the member and commanding officer," said Maj. Hector Stephenson, 341st Medical Group PRP provider. "Where we come in [medical personnel], is we provide a lens to the commanding officer by reviewing everything medically related to a member and informing the CO if something will or will not affect their PRP function. We try to remove the blind spot from the CO regarding medical concerns."

At Malmstrom, Airmen can be removed from PRP duties at any time if their reliability is in question. This can be for something as simple as taking a new allergy medication, or situations more severe, such as a loved one passing away.

"Our reliability is of the utmost importance," said Senior Airman Steven Eubank, 341st SFS member. "Nuclear security is the biggest responsibility we have as Airmen on Malmstrom. There is no room for error with what we do, and we need the most reliable people on the job at all times. I believe the PRP program is a necessity. Even though it can be hard at times, we would not be the same without it."

Commanders do everything they can to observe their Airmen and make sure those who are down on PRP status get the attention they need. Every situation is different and multiple factors come into play when determining if someone is ready to be put back on PRP status.

"We strive to work with every member individually and provide the most accurate information to the commander," Bagwell said. "Without these Airmen, this base would not be able to function as well as it does. I have great respect for the men and women who work in PRP-related career fields and am confident in the program."