Last month, the U.S. Air Force fired the commander and nine senior officers of a Montana air base who were responsible for 150 nuclear missiles because of a cheating scandal that occurred on their watch.
The officers at the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base were dismissed because they weren’t aware of, and consequently failed to stop, widespread cheating on proficiency tests that went on for as long as two years. At least 82 crew members who violated the military’s clearly stated honor code that forbids cheating did so because they believed that getting a score of 100 percent was a prerequisite for promotion.
An internal review turned up evidence of widespread cheating at the Montana missile site, but at none of the bases in other states. The Air Force then got serious about holding the top base commanders responsible for the conduct of their crew members.
The leaders could and should have known of the pressures that caused the crew members to cheat, and addressed the problem earlier. Dozens of junior officers who cheated on the tests will also be punished for sharing their answers once they are identified.
The Air Force assures Americans that nuclear secrets, launch codes, and weapon readiness were never compromised. It says the cheaters know their material and are qualified to do their jobs, but sought an edge on the tests. They displayed poor judgment and lack of honor, not incompetence.
This is the most dramatic purge of the upper ranks of the Air Force because of cheating. Let’s hope that when the investigation is over, all of the misbehavior will be shown to have been related to test-taking, and not keeping the nation secure.