Already reeling from reports about alleged drug use by some officers in its nuclear missile corps and the alleged "drunken and inappropriate behavior" of that command's top general, the Air Force now has another scandal on its hands.
Thirty-four nuclear launch officers at Malmstrom Air Force base in Montana have been suspended because they allegedly either cheated on a proficiency test or knew about cheating by others, NPR's Tom Bowman tells our Newscast Desk.
As Tom reports:
"The investigation began into possible illegal drug use, and ended up widening into a cheating scandal. [According to the Air Force] officers took part in sharing answers in monthly proficiency tests or knew about the cheating."
Stars and Stripes says that:
"The Air Force's Office of Special Investigation found evidence that a missile launch officer from the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom texted answers to monthly missile launch officer proficiency tests to 16 other officers.
" 'We subsequently approached the entire missile crew force at Malmstrom and 17 other officers who self-admitted to at least being aware of material that had been shared. We don't yet know how or if each of those officers used that material, but we do know that none of them reported the incident to their leadership,' Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III said."
The Washington Post calls it "an unprecedented exam cheating scandal." The Post adds, though, that:
"Despite those problems, as well as other shortcomings involving nuclear crews in recent years, the Air Force's top general and civilian leader sought to reassure the public Wednesday about the security and reliability of their land-based arsenal of 450 intercontinental ballistic missiles.
" 'The nuclear missile force remains ready and able to accomplish its mission,' Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, the Air Force chief of staff, told reporters at the Pentagon. 'This is not about the compromise of nuclear weapons. It's about compromise of the integrity of some of our airmen.' "
The Air Force says that all members of its nuclear launch corps will have been re-tested by the end of Thursday. As of Wednesday afternoon, Welsh told reporters, "100 people had completed that test — that's about 20 percent of our missile crew force. Ninety-seven percent of them passed the test, and there were three failures. ... That 97 percent pass rate matches our historical averages."
Military Times, a Gannett Co. publication, reports there are "about 190 missile officers at Malmstrom. Welsh said he doesn't yet know if any of those involved were supervisors. The airmen were reportedly second lieutenants through captains."