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Top commander at US nuclear missile base resigns in wake of test cheating scandal

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The US Air Force has fired nine commanders and accepted the resignation of a senior officer following a scandal involving systemic cheating on proficiency exams at a nuclear missile base in Montana. In January, investigators first stumbled across evidence that officers were using text messages to cheat on exams designed to ensure that they were prepared to handle "emergency war orders" that detail nuclear strike targets.

Since then, the Pentagon has revealed that the cheating involves far more Air Force personnel than first thought: 82 officers are now implicated, according to the Associated Press, though not all participated in cheating. Some were merely aware of the text messages and chose not to reveal it to superiors. Four "librarians," three of whom are also tied to reports of illicit drug use, are said to be at the center of the cheating scandal.

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

The nine mid-level officers were disciplined because "they failed to provide adequate oversight of their crew force," according to an Air Force representative. Colonel Robert Stanley, the commander of the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base, said in a resignation letter that "this is 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 was not tied to the scandal, but he said "I represent this wing to the world, and we let the American people down on my watch."

In response to the scandal, the Pentagon says that it has found problems with the culture of the Missile Wing. A spokesperson said that the system put pressure on officers to achieve a perfect score on the monthly exams. Promotions — and higher pay — were also tied to the scores. The Pentagon is looking to enact a number of changes to address the issues, including a switch to pass-fail grading on the exams.