On Thursday, the Air Force fired nine mid-level nuclear commanders at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana for their role in a recent, widespread exam-cheating scandal. The military branch is expected to discipline a number of additional junior-level officers at the same base. The commander of Malmstrom’s nuclear wing, Col. Robert Stanley, also resigned, expressing frustration that “I represent this wing to the world, and we let the American people down on my watch.”
The Air Force has begun looking into allegations regarding not just nine, but at least 100 other officers at the Montana base who may have been part of a cheating ring. The exam in question, a proficiency test, had been taken by an estimated 180 officers during the last quarter of 2013. Pentagon sources have noted that the cheating was primarily carried out by way of text messaging.
While none of the nine who have been fired so far had any involvement themselves in cheating, they were considered to have been responsible to a great extent because of a serious lapse in their leadership. Even when the allegations were originally made, leaders in the Air Force were quick to criticize those involved, whether directly or not. It has been supposed by officials that commanders had been feeling an undue amount of stress over needing to obtain test scores of 100 percent. A perfect score, in fact, has been a requirement of the Air Force. When the tests were administered, they were part of an evaluation process that is in place to ensure nuclear commanders have a solid expertise for carrying out job requirements. It is quite alarming, then, that the Air Force has already fired nine commanders amid revelations of widespread cheating on those exams.
Some of those commanders who have so far been fired were overseeing the base’s several 341st Wing’s missile squadrons, a unit of Malmstrom which is in charge of 50 Minuteman III nuclear missiles. The 341st Operation Group also lost its commander and deputy commander. Cheating at the base was first uncovered in January, when officials began looking into an unrelated drug use matter.
During the course of this most recent investigation, 100 individuals have so far been suspected of having some involvement in the cheating scandal, although nine were cleared of charges. Excepting a number of people who are eligible for retraining or a separate process for being dealt with, nearly 40 are liable to face some type of discplinary action. Such discipline, officials confirm, could very well include being removed from the Air Force.
Even as early as January, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced that the Department of Defense would begin conducting in-depth reviews in order to better understand why so many scandals have been occurring recently within the Air Force’s missile program. This latest one involving cheating on Air Force exams, which so far has resulted in the firing of nine commanders, has only added to an already massive list. When shamed Col. Stanley wrote this week about the cheating scandal, he referred to those particular violations as reflecting “the extraordinarily selfish actions of officers entrusted with the most powerful weapon system ever devised by man.”
Written by Chris Bacavis
CBS 12 KWCH