Senators are circling back to scandals that have plagued the nuclear forces this year, ahead of an end-of-the-month review deadline ordered by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
In late January, top Air Force officials said 92 officer — nearly half of the intercontinental ballistic missile crew — at the Malmstrom Air Force base either allegedly cheated on a monthly proficiency exam or allegedly knew about the alleged cheating. The alleged cheating was discovered during an investigation into alleged illegal drug use.
And last month, Adm. Jonathan Greenert, the Navy’s chief of naval operations, said the military branch has launched an investigation into alleged cheating among staff members at its nuclear training school in Charleston, S.C.
“Some of the cheating scandals headlines we’ve seen, some of the other things, what has caused these?” Indiana Democrat Sen. Joe Donnelly asked at an Armed Services subcommittee hearing Wednesday.
The hearing also comes in the wake of an Associated Press report that the Air Force Academy is looking into alleged cheating by 40 cadets.
“I keep coming back to 99.5 percent of our airmen are people we’re real proud of, they get it, they understand the importance of our mission,” said Lt. Gen. Stephen Wilson, the commander for the Air Force Global Strike Command.
And Democratic Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado said he understands the scandals aren’t representative of the larger forces, adding that officials should emphasize “that we expect a great deal from them, but above all, we must demonstrate that we care about their well-being, their families, and their careers.”
Top defense officials have noted that the nuclear forces are often isolated from the rest of the military and often publicly overlooked. But Wilson acknowledged that military officials have “focused on the culture of perfection, and we know that human beings aren’t perfect.”
His comments echoed those earlier this year by Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James. The service’s top official said, at the time, that missileers “cheated because they felt driven to get 100 percent,” and called it an unhealthy environment.
And Wilson said the military is “investigating all kinds of alternative methods of how we train, test, and evaluate,” including meeting with families and behavioral psychologists.
Wilson added that three reviews have been launched in the wake of the scandals, aimed at finding and recommending corrections for any systemic problems in the nuclear forces.
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The House has completed it's business for 2016 by passing a spending bill which will keep the government funded through April 28. The final vote tally was 326-96. The bill's standing in the Senate is a bit tenuous at the moment, as a trio of Democratic Senators have pledged to block the bill unless coal miners get a permanent extension on retirement and health benefits. The government runs out of money on Friday night.
The Senate passed the National Defense Authorization Act today, sending the $618 billion measure to President Obama. The president vetoed the defense authorization bill a year ago, but both houses could override his disapproval this time around.
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