Nuclear Unit Commander to Step Down Amid Missileer Cheating Scandal

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Peace activists burn cardboard cutouts of nuclear missiles during a protest against the storage of U.S. Air Force nuclear weapons in front of the Netherlands' Volkel military base in 2010. An Air Force missile wing commander in Montana resigned on Thursday following an exam-cheating scandal that has rocked his service.
National Journal
Elaine M. Grossman
March 27, 2014, 10:34 a.m.

Air Force Col. Robert Stan­ley, who com­mands a scan­dal-rocked nuc­le­ar-mis­sile wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., is step­ping down on Thursday, Glob­al Se­cur­ity News­wire has learned.

The news comes just as his ser­vice pre­pares to an­nounce the res­ults of an Air Force Glob­al Strike Com­mand in­vest­ig­a­tion in­to al­leg­a­tions that nearly 100 nuc­le­ar-mis­sile launch of­ficers at the Montana base — and pos­sibly else­where, as well — en­gaged in a cheat­ing ring on job-per­form­ance ex­ams. Air Force Sec­ret­ary De­borah Lee James was ex­pec­ted to be joined by the com­mand­er of the Louisi­ana-based nuc­le­ar headquar­ters — which over­sees nuc­le­ar-armed in­ter­con­tin­ent­al bal­list­ic mis­sile and bomber air­craft units — at an af­ter­noon press brief­ing.

In an email ob­tained by GSN, Stan­ley im­plored his 341st Mis­sile Wing — which con­trols one-third of the na­tion’s 450 Minute­man 3 land-based, nuc­le­ar-tipped bal­list­ic mis­siles — to hold them­selves to high­er eth­ic­al stand­ards. The col­on­el has main­tained that he was un­aware of the test-cheat­ing un­til a mil­it­ary in­vest­ig­at­or dis­covered it. He la­ments in Thursday’s mes­sage that not a single air­man had called to lead­er­ship at­ten­tion il­li­cit pro­fi­ciency-ex­am prac­tices that had ap­par­ently be­come com­mon­place.

“The les­son? Had just one sol­it­ary air­man spoken up for in­teg­rity, our lead­er­ship team would have been able to take ac­tion im­me­di­ately,” Stan­ley wrote. “Tra­gic­ally, peer pres­sure and the fear of be­ing an out­cast pre­vailed.”

He called the in­cid­ent “a wake-up call for every­one who has lost their sense of right and wrong, for those who have be­come cyn­ic­al, and for those in­doc­trin­ated by mod­ern so­ci­ety to ac­qui­esce when faced with bad be­ha­vi­or.”

Stan­ley said he had vo­lun­teered his im­me­di­ate resig­na­tion from the wing com­mand­er post and his re­tire­ment from the mil­it­ary, both of which were ac­cep­ted.

“I rep­res­ent this wing to the world, and we let the Amer­ic­an people down on my watch,” the col­on­el wrote.

He at­trib­uted the er­rors spe­cific­ally, though, to “the ex­traordin­ar­ily selfish ac­tions of of­ficers en­trus­ted with the most power­ful weapon sys­tem ever de­vised by man.

“As you are now learn­ing,” he ad­ded, “the rami­fic­a­tions are dire. Many lives will be per­man­ently changed as a res­ult.”

Some cur­rent and former Air Force of­fi­cials have sug­ges­ted that an ex­pect­a­tion of 100 per­cent scores on monthly read­i­ness tests may have con­trib­uted to pres­sure some per­son­nel felt to share an­swers.

The scan­dal also in­cluded sep­ar­ate rev­el­a­tions about drug pos­ses­sion among a num­ber of Air Force Glob­al Strike Com­mand per­son­nel.

Mean­while, a two-star Air Force gen­er­al who the led ser­vice’s nuc­le­ar-mis­siles op­er­a­tions was fired re­cently after he al­legedly drank heav­ily and ac­ted in­ap­pro­pri­ately dur­ing an of­fi­cial vis­it to Rus­sia last Ju­ly.

The Air Force in­vest­ig­a­tion re­portedly con­tains some 400 find­ings, and could res­ult in as many as two seni­or lead­ers be­ing dis­cip­lined, Break­ing De­fense re­por­ted on Thursday. De­fense Sec­ret­ary Chuck Hagel also has com­mis­sioned an in­de­pend­ent as­sess­ment of eth­ics across the en­tire nuc­le­ar branch fol­low­ing the vari­ous rev­el­a­tions of wrong­do­ing.

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