- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 27, 2014

A senior officer resigned, nine commanders were fired and dozens of junior officers face disciplinary action in the wake of a widespread test-cheating scandal at a Montana nuclear base, the Air Force announced Thursday.

News of the resignation of Air Force Col. Robert Stanley, who commanded the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., where the cheating occurred, came as officials in Washington announced plans to improve leadership development, modernize the force’s missile bases and reinforce “core values,” including integrity.

Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James, the service’s top civilian official, told a Pentagon news conference that testing and training for the men and women who work in the nation’s intercontinental ballistic missile systems will be overhauled.

“We will be changing rather dramatically how we conduct testing and training going forward,” while ensuring that performance standards are kept high, she said.

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.

In a resignation letter sent to the airmen under his command, Col. Stanley lamented that the reputation of the ICBM mission was now “tarnished because of the extraordinarily selfish actions of officers entrusted with the most powerful weapon system ever devised by man.”

“We let the American people down,” Col. Stanley wrote, according to the Great Falls Tribune, which first reported on the letter.

In addition to the voluntary retirement of Col. Stanley, the Air Force identified and relieved nine other Malmstrom Air Force Base officers of their command, Ms. James said.

The Great Falls Tribune said the cheating allegations were uncovered initially during a drug investigation at the base. On Jan. 9, it was reported that airmen at Malmstrom were involved in an Air Force drug investigation, the paper reported, adding that, a week later, the cheating investigation was announced.

News that a cheating ring existed first surfaced after Air Force Office of Special Investigations opened an investigation into alleged drug use by a first lieutenant assigned to the military personnel flight and a second lieutenant assigned to the services squadron at Edwards Air Force Base, California, according to an investigation report.

A review of the officers’ cell phones identified text messages from or to an additional 11 Air Force officers assigned to various Air Force bases.

“Two of the 11 identified officers were assigned to Malmstrom [Air Force Base],” the report states. “[The Air Force Office of Special Investigations] was able to determine both officers were communicating via personal cell phones, discussing both illegal drug activity and testing material.”

Initially, there were 34 missile crew officers alleged to have cheated or known that cheating was occurring on monthly proficiency tests at Malmstrom. The investigation was later expanded to include 92 of the roughly 190 missile crew officers stationed at that base.

For Col. Stanley, the allegations have been particularly wrenching because they arrived just as the Obama administration had made moves to promote him to the rank of brigadier general.

Col. Stanley was added to a list of nominees that the Obama administration sent to the Senate for confirmation on Jan. 7. A week later, Ms. James and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh announced that they had uncovered the cheating ring and planned to visit the Air Force bases from which the cheating allegations stemmed.

This is not the first time that Malmstrom has been at the forefront of a scandal: Last year, the 341st Missile Wing failed a safety and security inspection. The wing failed that same inspection in 2008.

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