To Stop Cheating, Nuclear Officers Ditch The Grades via NPR


The Air Force does not publicly acknowledge that the cheating went on outside Malmstrom, but NPR has interviewed former Air Force officers who claim there was cheating at F.E. Warren. It came down to a choice, former missile officer Edward Warren in March: “Take your lumps and not have much of a career, or join in with your fellow launch officers and help each other out. And that is what most people did.”

The new regime shifts the weight away from paper tests and toward practical skills. Inside a full mock-up of a nuclear launch control center, Andrew Beckner and Patrick Romenafski practice the launch of nuclear weapons with the turn of a key. How these two perform in this simulator will play a greater role in their future promotions, Little says. “Your crew proficiency, your reputation among your peers and your credibility … all weigh in,” he says.

The Air Force is trying to improve morale in other ways as well. They are giving more responsibility to officers in the field, replacing aging equipment and refurbishing old facilities.

Not everyone thinks these fixes will resolve the missile force’s problems. Fundamentally, the mission is a holdover from Cold War days, says , a former missile officer and head of Global Zero, a campaign to eliminate nuclear weapons. Missile crews often feel like “orphans of the Air Force,” Blair says. “Out of the very accurate sense that their mission is no longer the priority it once was, [they] are just trying to do whatever it takes to get by.”

Lt. Col. Little acknowledges more changes are needed to reinvigorate a sense of importance in the job, but he says that changing the perfection culture is an important first step. The pass-fail testing sends a message, he says: “As a team, they need to make the right decisions, but as individuals they’re not required to be perfect.”

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