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Amid strains in Air Force nuclear missile force, Pentagon chief visits to buck up troops

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is making a rare visit to an Air Force nuclear missile base, hoping to boost morale among those who operate, maintain and safeguard the nation's Minuteman 3 nuclear missiles.

Hagel on Thursday was to fly to a Minuteman 3 launch control center in Nebraska from F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo., headquarters for the organization in charge of all 450 intercontinental ballistic missiles. Besides Nebraska, the missiles are in underground silos in Wyoming, Colorado, Montana and North Dakota.

The last Pentagon chief to visit an ICBM base was Robert Gates in December 2008, when the Air Force was reeling from embarrassing lapses in its handling of nuclear weapons. It since has made strides to improve nuclear operations but problems remain, including attitude issues and leadership lapses.

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