ROBERT BURNS/ASSOCIATED PRESSA Minuteman 3 missile launch officer, at the console of a launch simulator used for training at F. E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo. Air Force leaders had originally insisted the drug and cheating trouble was episodic, correctable and not cause for public worry.
WASHINGTON - The Air ForceNine Air Force nuclear commanders relieved of their duties after ma... has yanked nine nuclear missile commanders from their jobs after as many as 91 missile launch crew members were implicated in a cheating scandal on proficiency tests.
The nine officers - majors, colonels and lieutenant colonels - will face administrative punishment, the Air Force said Thursday.
A tenth commander - Col. Robert Stanley, leader of the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force base in Montana - was permitted to resign.
The scandal at the Montana base, which is responsible for maintaining and operating 150 nuclear-armed missiles, involved launch-crew members who cheated on proficiency tests or knew about cheating and did nothing about it.
Those crew members face punishment ranging from mild "letters of counsel" to criminal courts martial, said Lt. Gen. Stephen Wilson, head of the Air Force Global Strike Command.
APCol. Robert Stanley, leader of the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force base in Montana, was permitted to resign after a massive cheating scandal on proficiency tests by missile-launch personnel at his base.
The nine commanders were pulled from their posts not because they were involved in the cheating, but because the wrongdoing was widespread and they did not know about it.
The investigation began because of suspected drug use by personnel handling intercontinental missiles.
Investigators discovered that the cheating occurred as far back as 2011. The launch crews allegedly shared answers on proficiency tests by sending texts and exchanging photos of tests.
The wrongdoing and lax oversight was the latest in a series of embarrassing scandals in the Air Force.
ROBERT BURNS/APA mockup of a Minuteman 3 nuclear missile used for training by missile maintenance crews at F. E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo.
But the problems at the Montana base were especially troubling because Air Force missile crews are supposed to meet the highest standards of performance.
The Air Force said it will launch a new push to instill integrity in the ranks and discourage demands for perfect test scores, which brass said factored in the Malmstrom scandal.
"This perfection-as-the-standard made people micromanage folks, that didn't empower them, and that's part of the culture that we're going after right now," Wilson said.
Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James cited the need for an honor system in which wrongdoing is not tolerated.
"If one person had spoken up, this could've been very different," she said.
Wilson said that "missileers" are subject to three proficiency exams monthly of roughly 30 questions each. The tests require a 90% score to pass. The Air Force will no longer "keep score" on the tests beyond passing or failing grades, Wilson said.
Another colonel responsible for nuclear missile operations at Malmstrom was relieved last year when his unit failed a routine safety and security inspection.
Also last year, Maj. Gen. Michael Carey, in charge of all the branch's intercontinental ballistic missile forces, was pulled from the job after drunken misconduct on an official trip to Russia. He is seeking to retire.