Military Unit Responsible for Defending the Homeland Under Investigation for Day-Drinking

Norad day drinking
Klearchos Kapoutsis from Santorini, Greece, via Wikimedia Commons U.S. Air Force, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The United States military can’t catch a break this year. Failed audits, officials busted in a human trafficking sting, dismal recruitment numbers, and questionable, at best, mission effectiveness have all plagued the Department of Defense as of late.

To add to the list, due to the poking around of journalists at USA Today, allegations of sanctioned day-drinking at one of the premier military units in the world have bubbled up. The same unit that dealt with uncomfortable questions on how it “missed” the detection of spy balloons traversing our skies is now under the microscope again, this time for possibly hitting the hooch during duty hours.

Howdy Pilgrim!

Sources reaching out to USA Today under the condition of anonymity reported concerns about daytime drinking at the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD as it’s commonly referred to, located at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado. According to these reports, the “John Wayne Saloon” is only open to those who receive an invitation, sometimes via official email.

The name of the “saloon” is a nod to a poster of The Duke outside the room, which requires knowledge of a code to put into the secure keypad to enter. As with all secure locations, no cell phones are allowed, which undoubtedly aided in this on-site bar being allegedly undetected by most for so long.

The anonymous contacts told USA Today that in this “saloon” were six or seven bottles of top-shelf liquor, including bourbon and whiskey, for military officers and leaders to partake in while on duty.

Air Force General Glen VanHerck, who is ultimately in charge of NORAD and the adjoining command USNORTHCOM, told USA Today:

“Based on your inquiry, what I did was immediately direct a walkthrough of all spaces in the command with the intent to corroborate any of the allegations.”

And just like that, the John Wayne Saloon was forced to shutter its doors.

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Real Cowboys

The walkthrough directed by General VanHerck confirmed the reports of a bar of sorts at NORAD:

“We did find the John Wayne poster outside a door. Behind the locked door, what we found was an office space with a refrigerator that did contain some alcohol. We did find some beer…some hard liquor.”

For those of us veterans, alcohol or beer in workspaces isn’t all that unique, even if it should be. In my last office as a senior military leader, I had the pleasure of cleaning out a minifridge filled with skunky beer from my predecessor, a Chief Master Sergeant.

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What is concerning in this particular instance is the ability of members partaking in libations at the John Wayne Saloon to affect missions and possibly change the course of national security.

As General VanHerck explains:

“This facility did have access to classified networks for planning purposes.”

Such a simple phrase filled with all manner of possible chaos and mayhem at the hands of boozed-up, ego-inflated military officers.

But don’t worry, according to a spokesperson for NORAD:

“There is no indication of any impact to operations, and NORAD and USNORTHCOM continue to conduct our missions.”

Isn’t there, though?

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a spy balloon

While most Americans probably associate NORAD with the seasonal favorite Santa Tracker that uses the Department of Defense’s vast array of satellite capabilities to track the whereabouts of Santa and his reindeer as they traverse the globe, it’s primary mission is a bit more tied to national security and less to the Jolly Saint Nick.

According to its website, NORAD:

“conducts aerospace warning, aerospace control, and maritime warning in the defense of North America.”

NORAD was all over the news earlier this year when it shot down, in coordination with USNORTHCOM, a Chinese spy balloon in February. However, it wasn’t due to the shooting down of the balloon but more the fact that NORAD had missed the detection of multiple spy balloons over an extended period dating back to the Trump administration.

Is it possible the men and women charged with detecting and warning of any aerospace threats to the homeland might’ve been too busy sipping some Black Label while basking in their self-importance that they “missed” spy balloons? We won’t know until after General VanHerck’s Commander Directed Investigation, or CDI as it’s known in the military, is complete.

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As someone appointed numerous times in the last few years of my military career to head up CDIs, I can tell you they are anything but transparent. Standard practice for a CDI is to find someone of equal or higher rank to those being investigated outside the chain of command to conduct an internal investigation to be impartial into whatever wrongdoings are alleged.

Good luck finding an officer of the rank required impartial to investigate this doozy.

Indicative of the culture

General VanHerck claims he had no idea that day drinking was happening at NORAD:

“I’ve been here since August of 2020, and all I can tell you is that nobody has come to me and expressed concern about the consumption of alcohol in the workspace.”

Not surprising in the least, you wouldn’t tell the Big Boss about unauthorized day drinking around classified computers, particularly when the Big Boss has already been in the hot seat over spy balloons. However, the military’s struggle with alcohol abuse is well-documented and doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon.

In September, an entire unit assigned to Ramstein Air Base in Germany was banned from late-night drinking due to increased alcohol abuse-related incidents. Drinking and military service have been two peas in a pod since before my generation of veterans.

I can still recall my parents’ stories of Commanders Calls (massive unit meetings) of kegerators and all night parties from their time in the Air Force during the Carter Administration. I can also attest to many “Thirsty Thursdays” at the base clubs when stationed overseas and Friday beers after the duty day with the boss in the back office.

While many of these instances of brews with the crews are merely harmless examples of comradery, this selective invitation-only bar in a unit expected to be on its “A-game” at all times open for business while on duty is an example of a culture of entitled superiority gone awry. All that can be said of this SNAFU is…bottoms up.

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USAF Retired, Bronze Star recipient, outspoken veteran advocate. Hot mess mom to two monsters and wife to equal parts... More about Kathleen J. Anderson

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