According to ABC News, 34 missile launch officers, or “Missileers,” were caught cheating on a monthly test last summer at Malmstrom AFB, in Great Falls, Mont. Why is this a problem? Aside from a serious integrity lapse in the Missileer officer corps, these officers were also in charge of, and trusted with, the nation’s ATOMIC missile systems (the Minuteman missile). Would you want a Missileer who “fakes” their knowledge trying to run a nuclear weapon system? Me neither.
In a normal month, every month, Missileers must take at least three tests: weapons system (care and maintenance of the missile ground infrastructure and missiles), codes (to make sure communications between the missile and launch center are secure), and Emergency War Orders (EWO—the Top Secret orders regarding missile launches during war). Since the cheating Missileers were texting answers to each other, classified EWO tests were hopefully not compromised—unless the Missileers just ignored that altogether.
It’s obvious the investigation was already done by the Office of Special Investigations in the Air Force. That means there’s probably a lot of evidence against these officers. So what should happen next—before the Air Force potentially charges them?
The first thing the Air Force already did was to “decertify” 34 cheating Missileers. That means these Missileer are no longer “licensed” to operate the nuclear weapon system. It also means they are taken out of the pool of people who usually “pull alert.” Pulling alert is when the Missileer crew commander and deputy crew commander drive out to the Missile Alert Facility, where they relieve the other crew that’s been pulling alert. The new crew then starts a 24 hour vigil, watching the 10 Minuteman missiles they accepted responsibility for. That’s an alert.
The 34 Missileers will have also have had their PRP (Personnel Reliability Program) pulled. Pulling a PRP is normally non-punitive, but since cheating is an indicator of unreliability, it sort of hammers the punishment home. Chances are also good their Top Secret clearances will be revoked, at which point they can’t do much in their chosen career field (and no one wants to work with a lying officer). I don’t know if the Air Force will charge these officers.