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Nuclear Unit Commander to Step Down Amid Missileer Cheating Scandal

By Elaine M. Grossman

Global Security Newswire

Signs in the shape of missiles pointing the direction and distance to nuclear weapons-capable nations stand in front of a 50-foot mock missile set up by Greenpeace protesters outside Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., circa 2000, as a Minuteman 2 missile was being readied for test launch. Signs in the shape of missiles pointing the direction and distance to nuclear weapons-capable nations stand in front of a 50-foot mock missile set up by Greenpeace protesters outside Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., circa 2000, as a Minuteman 2 missile was being readied for test launch. (Mike Nelson/AFP/Getty Images)

Air Force Col. Robert Stanley, who commands a scandal-rocked nuclear-missile wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., is stepping down on Thursday, Global Security Newswire has learned.

The news comes just as his service prepares to announce the results of an Air Force Global Strike Command investigation into allegations that nearly 100 nuclear-missile launch officers at the Montana base -- and possibly elsewhere, as well -- engaged in a cheating ring on job-performance exams. Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James was expected to be joined by the commander of the Louisiana-based nuclear headquarters -- which oversees nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missile and bomber aircraft units -- at an afternoon press briefing.

In an email obtained by GSN, Stanley implored his 341st Missile Wing -- which controls one-third of the nation's 450 Minuteman 3 land-based, nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles -- to hold themselves to higher ethical standards. The colonel has maintained that he was unaware of the test-cheating until a military investigator discovered it. He laments in Thursday's message that not a single airman had called to leadership attention illicit proficiency-exam practices that had apparently become commonplace.

"The lesson? Had just one solitary airman spoken up for integrity, our leadership team would have been able to take action immediately," Stanley wrote. "Tragically, peer pressure and the fear of being an outcast prevailed."

He called the incident "a wake-up call for everyone who has lost their sense of right and wrong, for those who have become cynical, and for those indoctrinated by modern society to acquiesce when faced with bad behavior."

Stanley said he had volunteered his immediate resignation from the wing commander post and his retirement from the military, both of which were accepted.

"I represent this wing to the world, and we let the American people down on my watch," the colonel wrote.

He attributed the errors specifically, though, to "the extraordinarily selfish actions of officers entrusted with the most powerful weapon system ever devised by man.

"As you are now learning," he added, "the ramifications are dire. Many lives will be permanently changed as a result."

Some current and former Air Force officials have suggested that an expectation of 100 percent scores on monthly readiness tests may have contributed to pressure some personnel felt to share answers.

The scandal also included separate revelations about drug possession among a number of Air Force Global Strike Command personnel.

Meanwhile, a two-star Air Force general who the led service's nuclear-missiles operations was fired recently after he allegedly drank heavily and acted inappropriately during an official visit to Russia last July.

The Air Force investigation reportedly contains some 400 findings, and could result in as many as two senior leaders being disciplined, Breaking Defense reported on Thursday. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel also has commissioned an independent assessment of ethics across the entire nuclear branch following the various revelations of wrongdoing.

Note to our Readers

GSN ceased publication on July 31, 2014. Its articles and daily issues will remain archived and available on NTI’s website.

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