Share This Page

Airmen cite pressure 'to be perfect' on monthly proficiency exams for nuclear missile corps

| Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014, 9:21 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Top Air Force officials described a persistent culture of “undue stress and fear” that led 92 out of 550 members of the military's nuclear missile corps to be involved in cheating on a monthly proficiency test on which they felt pressured to get perfect scores to get promoted.

Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said on Thursday that at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana, roughly half of the 183 missile launch officers have been implicated in the cheating.

The cheating scandal is the latest in an array of troubles that now have the attention of senior Defense officials, including Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. The Associated Press began reporting on the issue nine months ago, revealing serious security lapses, low morale, burnout and other issues in the nuclear force. The Air Force recently announced the cheating scandal that grew out of a drug investigation.

But James and Lt. Gen. Stephen Wilson, who heads Global Strike Command, insisted that the failures haven't affected the safety of the military's nuclear mission.

James and Wilson suggested that so far it appears the cheating was confined to the Montana base.

“These tests have taken on, in their eyes, such high importance, that they feel that anything less than 100 could well put their entire career in jeopardy” even though they only need a score of 90 to pass, said James, who only recently took over as secretary. “They have come to believe that these tests are make-it-or-break-it.”

The launch officers didn't cheat to pass the test, “they cheated because they felt driven to get 100 percent,” she said.

Of the 92 officers implicated so far, as many as 40 were involved directly in the cheating, Wilson said. Others may have known about it but did not report it. Separately, James said that an investigation into drug possession by officers at several Air Force bases now involves 13 airmen, two more than initially announced.

All 92 officers have been decertified and suspended while the scandal is being investigated, meaning other launch officers and staff fill in, performing 10 24-hour shifts per month, instead of the usual eight, Wilson said. Staff members from the 20th Air Force, which oversees all of the nuclear missile force, are also being tapped to do the shifts.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.