Lieutenant General Stephen Wilson, head of the Air Force's Global
Strike Command, said Colonel Robert Stanley, commander of the 341st
Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base, had resigned on Thursday
and would retire from the service.
The nine other officers, mainly colonels and lieutenant colonels,
were removed from their positions of command at the Montana base
that is home to a third of the nation's nearly 450 intercontinental
ballistic missiles. They will be reassigned to staff jobs and face
discipline ranging from reprimands to courts martial for failures of
Wilson said the root of the problem was the emphasis on perfection
in the nuclear mission at the Montana base and throughout the
missile force, which led to cheating on exams in an effort to
achieve the sort of perfect scores perceived to required for
advancement and promotion.
The exams were classroom tests to check staff knowledge of how to
carry out the nuclear mission and security procedures.
"Leadership's focus on perfection led commanders to micro-manage
their people. They sought to ensure that the zero-defect standard
was met by personally monitoring and directing daily operations,
imposing unrelenting testing and inspections, with the goal of
eliminating all human error," Wilson told a Pentagon news
He and Air Force Secretary Deborah James said the evaluation and
assessment of missile launch officers would be radically overhauled
in an effort to change the culture and behavior that has developed
in the missile wing.
Nuclear critics say the problem is deeply rooted and has been going
on for years, becoming increasingly acute since the end of the Cold
War as the nuclear mission has increasingly come to be seen as a
dead-end career that's relevance is in decline.
"Many of these issues come back to the fundamental fact that a lot
of these people who sit in the holes out there are in a way
demoralized. They are sitting ready for a scenario that is unlikely
to ever happen," said Jon Wolfstahl, a former nonproliferation
official with the White House's National Security Council who is now
with the Monterrey Institute.
"During the Cold War, the ICBM force on high alert was very ...
prominent in the nuclear posture," he told reporters this week. "It
seems far less relevant in the day we live in ... and in the
The cheating scandal was discovered earlier this year as officials
were investigating several officers for illegal drug activity.
Investigators looking at the officers' cell phones found test
material, including answers and a photograph of a classified test
answer, Wilson said.
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The cheating investigation eventually involved 100 officers who were
believed to have received test material, sent test material or who
were aware the cheating was going on. Allegations against nine were
not substantiated and they will be retrained and returned to duty,
Of the 91 remaining cases, nine are still being
probed by the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, including
eight suspected of mishandling classified information and three for
alleged illegal drug activity, Wilson said. The remainder have been
implicated in the cheating scandal.
James said the investigation following the cheating incident found
"systemic issues in our missile community," including "spotty morale
and micro-management issues at all of the bases." She said the Air
Force would implement a "holistic plan" to address the problems.
The Air Force will spend $19 million this fiscal year to refurbish
the launch control center and repair infrastructure across the
missile wing, James said. Another $3 million will go for "quality of
life requirements" at the missile bases, which are in remote areas
of the country where weather is often harsh.
She said substantially more funding would be devoted to improving
the force in 2015 and beyond, but equally important would be the
emphasis on the importance of the missile launch job and ensuring
young officers in the specialized field have a realistic career
James said it was "terribly important that people see a path to rise
through the ranks, so that it will be in fact and in perception
viewed as a good job."
(Reporting by Phil Stewart and David Alexander;
editing by Doina
Chiacu, Sandra Maler and Cynthia Osterman)
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