News / USA

Top Commanders Take Fall for Cheating at US Nuclear Base

Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James and Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC) Commander Lt. Gen. Stephen Wilson, finish their statements before taking questions during a news conference at the Pentagon, March 27, 2014
Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James and Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC) Commander Lt. Gen. Stephen Wilson, finish their statements before taking questions during a news conference at the Pentagon, March 27, 2014
Nine top officers at one of the premier nuclear missile bases in the United States are being stripped of their duties while another has resigned, as the result of a cheating scandal regarding training tests.  

Following its investigation, the Air Force came down hard on senior leaders at Malmstrom Air Force Base in the U.S. state of Montana, even though none was directly tied to the scandal.

“Nine officers in leadership positions at Malmstrom were recommended for removal.  One officer submitted his resignation and will retire,” said Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James.

The officers fired include the commanders of three missile squadrons that are each responsible for 50 nuclear missiles.  The commander of the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom, Colonel Robert Stanley, is the officer stepping down.

The head of the Air Force's Global Strike Command, Lieutenant General Stephen Wilson, says they bear responsibility for an environment that allowed cheating to flourish.

“There’s been an unhealthy overemphasis on perfection and a marked fear of failure which kept airmen from identifying their weaknesses and working to correct them,” he said.

Military investigators blame the scandal on a group of lower level officers gone bad.  Three of them were implicated in an illegal drug investigation that first uncovered evidence of the cheating.

Wilson says the subsequent investigation showed as many as 100 lower grade officers involved - either actively cheating on the training tests or having knowledge of the cheating and not speaking up.

“These were all bright officers, and as we’ve said before, none of these needed the information to pass the test.  They felt compelled to cheat to get a perfect score,” said Wilson.

As many of 40 officers will be eligible to return to duty.  The others could face a range of penalties, including court-martial.  

U.S. military officials insist that despite “systemic” problems of low morale and micromanagement at all of the country’s missile bases, their investigation did not turn up any evidence of cheating outside of Malmstrom.

Jeff Seldin

Jeff works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters and is national security correspondent. You can follow Jeff on Twitter at @jseldin or on Google Plus.

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