Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC) Commander Lt. Gen. Stephen Wilson speaks to reporters March 27 at the Pentagon. The Air Force is firing nine mid-level commanders and disciplining dozens of junior officers at a nuclear missile base in response to an exam-cheating scandal that spanned a far longer period than originally reported. (Charles Dharapak / AP)
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Ten officers have resigned or been relieved of command at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., following multiple investigations into cheating and morale problems among missile launch crews.
Col. Robert Stanley, Malmstrom’s commander, resigned Thursday and will retire. Nine other officers — colonels, lieutenant colonels and a major who served in positions such as squadron commander and operations group commander — were removed from command by Maj. Gen. Jack Weinstein, commander of 20th Air Force.
None of these officers was directly involved in the cheating investigation of 100 other officers, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James told reporters.
The nine officers will be able to continue to serve in other roles. They received administrative punishment, such as letters of reprimand or admonishment, Lt. Gen. Stephen Wilson, commander of Global Strike Command, said.
Col Tom Wilcox, commander of the 90th Security Forces Group at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo.,, has taken over command of the 341st Missile Wing from Stanley, Wilson said.
“As the leader of the wing, [Stanley] accepted the responsibility for the actions of all of those people who work for him,” Wilson said.
Of the 100 officers connected to the investigation, nine were cleared of wrongdoing. The other officers could face punishment ranging from letters of counseling to nonjudicial punishment and court- martial, Wilson said.
The investigation focused on four airmen who were connected with taking and texting pictures with test information, including classified answers. The investigation found evidence of cheating going back to November 2011 and as recent as November 2013.
The announcements came as the Air Force wraps up two reviews into the missileers: a command-directed investigation and a force improvement program. The Air Force briefed Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on its findings earlier this week, and the service is beginning its way forward, including changing how officers are tested, funding quality of life and infrastructure improvements, and finding new incentives to help boost missileers’ morale.
The Air Force will “put its money where its mouth is’’ and fund improvements to nuclear bases, James said. This year, the service has $19 million funded for projects such as launch control room refurbishments and repairs, and the 20th Air Force is providing $3 million for quality-of-life improvements. The service is requesting $455 million in fiscal 2015 to sustain its intercontinental ballistic missile squadrons, UH-1N Huey repairs and communication systems, along with another $154 million for readiness training and improvements to launch control facilities, James said.
The first investigation, referred to as the command-directed investigation, was led by Maj. Gen Mike Holmes, vice commander of Air Education and Training Command. It looked at training and testing issues. Commanders in missile squadrons were found to micromanage and place too much of an emphasis on perfection, leading to ethical issues and cheating.
“These were all bright officers,” Wilson said. “None of these officers needed the information to pass the test. They felt compelled to cheat to get a perfect score.”
Current standards showed that 90 percent were passing but officers feared they would be reprimanded for scoring less than 100. Going forward, the missileers will be tested on a pass/fail basis.
The other investigation, called the force improvement program, is looking at ways to improve morale among the missile crews. Global Strike Command is forming “quick look action teams” that will provide recommendations to the Air Force on incentives for airmen, ranging from badges to pay. Wilson said he has a “big list’’ of recommendations from airmen, and the teams will provide their findings within weeks.
The airmen investigated for cheating represent about one-fifth of the entire missileer force, though the investigation only focused on the crews at Malmstrom.
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