March 28, 2014 in Nation/World

Air Force fires nine missile corps leaders

Dozens of others face discipline in cheating scandal
Robert Burns Associated Press
 

WASHINGTON – The Air Force took the extraordinary step Thursday of firing nine midlevel nuclear commanders and announcing it will discipline dozens of junior officers at a nuclear missile base in Montana, responding firmly to an exam-cheating scandal that spanned a far longer period than originally reported.

A 10th commander, the senior officer at the base, resigned and will retire from the Air Force.

Air Force officials called the discipline unprecedented in the history of America’s intercontinental ballistic missile force. The Associated Press last year revealed a series of security and other problems in the ICBM force, including a failed safety and security inspection at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., where the cheating occurred.

In an emotion-charged resignation letter titled “A Lesson to Remember,” Col. Robert Stanley, who commanded the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom, 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.”

Stanley, seen as a rising star in the Air Force, had been nominated for promotion to brigadier general just days before the cheating scandal came to light in January. Instead he is retiring, convinced, as he wrote in his farewell letter Thursday, that “we let the American people down on my watch.”

Separately, another of the Air Force’s nuclear missile units – the 90th Missile Wing at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo. – announced that it had fired the officer overseeing its missile squadrons. It said Col. Donald Holloway, the operations group commander, was sacked “because of a loss of confidence in his ability to lead.”

The 90th Missile Wing offered no further explanation for Holloway’s removal and said it “has nothing to do” with the firings announced by the Air Force in Washington.

In a bid to correct root causes of the missile corps’ failings – including low morale and weak management – the Air Force also announced Thursday a series of new or expanded programs to improve leadership development, to modernize the three ICBM bases and to reinforce “core values” including integrity.

Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James, the service’s top civilian official, told a Pentagon news conference that a thorough review of how testing and training are conducted in the ICBM force has produced numerous avenues for improvements.

James had promised to hold officers at Malmstrom accountable once the cheating investigation was completed and the scope of the scandal was clear. 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.

Lt. Gen. Stephen Wilson, commander of Air Force Globe Strike Command, said investigators determined that the cheating, which officials originally said happened in August or September last year, began as early as November 2011 and continued until November 2013.

The cheating involved unauthorized passing of answers to exams designed to test missile launch officers’ proficiency in handling “emergency war orders,” which are messages involving the targeting and launching of missiles.

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