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9 Missile Commanders Fired, Others Disciplined In Air Force Scandal

A mockup of a Minuteman 3 nuclear missile used for training by missile maintenance crews at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo.
Robert Burns
A mockup of a Minuteman 3 nuclear missile used for training by missile maintenance crews at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo.

The Air Force has announced the firing of nine midlevel nuclear missile commanders and the disciplining of dozens of junior officers involved in cheating on ICBM proficiency exams.

The measures come after an extensive investigation into a string of security lapses and failed safety inspections at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., where the cheating occurred.

The Associated Press reports:

"In a bid to correct root causes of the missile corps' failings — including low morale and weak management — the Air Force also announced a series of new or expanded programs to improve leadership development, to modernize the three ICBM bases and to reinforce 'core values' including integrity.

"Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James, the service's top civilian official, had promised to hold officers at Malmstrom accountable once the cheating investigation was completed and the scope of the scandal was clear. None of the nine fired commanders was directly involved in the cheating, but each was determined to have failed in his or her leadership responsibilities."

Col. Robert Stanley, the commander of Malmstrom's 341st Missile Wing and the senior-most officer implicated, has been allowed to resign. He was responsible for 50 Minuteman 3 ICBMs. The AP says the commander and deputy commander of the 341st Operations Group were also dismissed.

AP says:

"No generals are being punished. Maj. Gen. Michael Carey, who was fired last October as commander of the 20th Air Force, which is responsible for all three 150-missile wings of the ICBM force, is still on duty as a staff officer at Air Force Space Command but has requested retirement; his request is being reviewed.

"A total of 100 missile launch crew members at Malmstrom were identified as potentially involved in the cheating, but nine were cleared by investigators. Another nine of the 100 are being handled separately by the Air Force Office of Special Investigation; eight of those nine involve possible criminal charges stemming from the alleged mishandling of classified information."

As NPR's Tom Bowman says, the Air Force "found a culture of cheating throughout the nuclear missile community" related to promotions.

"It revolves around proficiency exams," Bowman tells Morning Edition.

These exams, he says, consist of questions about administrative procedures and other protocols, but "Air Force officials insist there was never an issue of safety."

The cheating, Bowman says, "centers around promotion and the belief that you needed a perfect score to move on in your career."

"These aren't glamorous jobs like being an Air Force fighter pilot," he says. "So, many try to become instructors, and to do that you have to achieve absolute perfection on these tests."

We have been following this story for many months. Here are some of the links in chronological order:

-- Air Force Strips 17 Officers Of Nuclear Missile Launch Authority (May 8, 2013)

-- Air Force Fires Top U.S. Missile Commander (Oct. 11, 2013)

-- Nuclear Missile Officers Reportedly Implicated In Drug Probe (Jan. 9, 2014)

34 Officers At Nuclear Site May Have Cheated On Exams (Jan. 16, 2014)

-- Air Force Cheating Scandal Widens; 92 Nuclear Officers Linked (Jan. 30, 2014)

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.
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