Opinion

Air Force changed testing program to resolve cheaters' concerns

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Air Force officials changed the scoring system for the certification tests administered to the strategic missile force to address the concerns of service members caught in a recent cheating scandal who felt pressured to receive a perfect score.

"We have made the monthly tests that the crew members take pass-fail, as opposed to scoring them, which was kind of the underlying concern of the crew members, was that if you don't score 100 percent, you're seen as not being competent enough to move on to other jobs," Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh told reporters Wednesday at the National Press Club.

Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said that the need for perfection drove service members to cheat. "I heard repeatedly from teammates that the need for perfection has created a climate of undue stress and fear," James said in January. "I believe that a very terrible irony in this whole situation is that these missileers didn't cheat to pass, they cheated because they felt driven to get 100 percent, getting 90 percent or 95 percent was considered a failure in their eyes."

The Air Force fired nine commanders and disciplined dozens of other officers implicated in the scandal. "The certification test was a monthly launch officer proficiency test. One missile officer texted answers to the monthly test to 16 other officers. Air Force investigators found out that an additional 17 missile officers knew about the cheating and didn't take part, but failed to report it," as Defense Tech explained at the time.

The cheating scandal played out at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana, home of "150 missiles, providing strategic [nuclear] deterrence for the nation as the wing has continuously done since 1962 — remaining America's 'Ace in the Hole'," according to a Malmstrom fact sheet.

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