WASHINGTON The Navy has suspended about 30 instructors from duties at a nuclear propulsion school over alleged exam cheating, officials said on Tuesday, adding to concern over honesty in U.S. ranks after a similar scandal involving nuclear missile officers.
The alleged cheating took place at the Nuclear Power Training Unit in Charleston, South Carolina, with senior enlisted sailors accused of sharing answers to an exam meant to help qualify them to operate training reactors there.
Two Navy officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said some 30 sailors had been implicated so far. Still, officials cautioned the figure could change as the investigation gets underway.
"To say that I'm disappointed would be an understatement," Admiral Jonathan Greenert, chief of naval operations, told a Pentagon news conference.
The disclosure comes just days after the Air Force said it had a systemic problem with the ranks of its nuclear missile forces after discovering widespread cheating on a nuclear missile launch officer proficiency exam.
The Navy case, however, involved nuclear reactors and did not involve training related to safeguarding or operating nuclear weapons. It also did not come to light because of a renewed Pentagon focus on America's nuclear forces in the wake of the Air Force scandal, officials said.
Admiral John Richardson, the director of the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, said he learned of the alleged cheating on Monday after one sailor came forward and disclosed it.
"It's hard for me to say right now what specifically motivated this sailor (to come forward), but I think at the foundation he understands the importance of the value of integrity and made his report," Richardson said.
Richardson said the incident involved staff at the school in Charleston, which offers hands-on training using reactors from converted submarines.
The roughly 30 suspended instructors, known as engineering watch supervisors, represent about a fifth of the 150 or so qualified engineering watch supervisors at Charleston, one Navy official said.
The two discoveries leave the Pentagon to address tough questions about behavior in U.S. military ranks, including whether the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001 may have taken some of the focus off matters of integrity when it comes to basic issues such as testing.
"One thing is for sure: We need to and we will remain vigilant," said Greenert, chief of naval operations.
"We will continue to drive home to our people the importance of integrity."
(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)