Amid test scandal, U.S. Air Force sees 'systemic problem' in ranks

WASHINGTON Wed Jan 29, 2014 1:46pm EST

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Air Force is likely suffering from a "systemic problem" among the officers who oversee America's nuclear missile launch systems, the new head of the military branch said on Wednesday as an exam-cheating scandal widened.

"The need for perfection has created way too much stress and way too much fear about the future," Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James told an Air Force Association forum near the Pentagon.

The scandal over a monthly proficiency exam was the largest single case of cheating in recent memory in America's nuclear missile forces, which already face growing questions over discipline and morale in the post-Cold War era.

An initial investigation implicated 34 officers, but a U.S. official told Reuters on Tuesday that the number has roughly doubled.

"We likely do have ... a systemic problem in this," James said.

She also raised concerns about the force's testing culture, key to promotion within the force, that many nuclear missile officers felt was largely punitive.

James, who visited the officers last week, said the Air Force needed to "reinvigorate our campaign on core values."

"Airmen need to understand that being a good wingman does not mean protect others who lack integrity," she said.

"I heard over and over again, airmen don't want to be perceived as reporting on their buddies. That's not good when it comes to matters of integrity."

She said an ongoing review would also examine whether the Air Force needs to provide better incentives -- perhaps pay or scholarships -- to make the career field more attractive.

She added that despite the review, the nuclear mission and the weapons themselves were "safe, secure and reliable."

The scandal emerged earlier this month after the Air Force said missile launch officers at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana shared answers on a monthly proficiency exam through text messages last year.

The Air Force also is investigating claims of illegal drug possession by other nuclear officers. That comes months after the head of the U.S. intercontinental ballistic missile force, Air Force Major General Michael Carey, was fired in October for getting drunk and carousing with women while leading a government delegation to Moscow for talks on nuclear security.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Amanda Kwan)

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Comments (4)
Mylena wrote:
Of course. any doctor can tell you how to live in one envorinment like this one affects our healthy system. For example In Antartic, the soldiers can not live more than six months there because winter is like six month living in total darknest and when the soldiers are coming back home maybe in the City, they need teraphy, because they forgot the value of the money and another several problems.Any trained doctor must know that.

Jan 29, 2014 2:34pm EST  --  Report as abuse
Zeken wrote:
Affirmative action blowback?

Jan 29, 2014 2:43pm EST  --  Report as abuse
WhyMeLord wrote:
The care and maintenance activities of our nuclear missile launch system should be outsourced to prisoners qualified for work release.
They have a lot to lose if things go poorly, and have an incentive to stay out of jail. The more technical aspects should be in the hands of one of NSA;s super-computers; they hopefully have all the skinny on things relevant to our national security, or do they?
This would put an end to our volunteer military being in charge.

Jan 29, 2014 3:58pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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