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Sailors suspected in spreading nuke cheating scandal

Feb. 4, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert, left, and Adm. John Richardson, director of the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, brief the press Feb. 4 at the Pentagon about alleged cheating among senior enlisted personnel in the Navy's nuclear propulsion program.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert, left, and Adm. John Richardson, director of the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, brief the press Feb. 4 at the Pentagon about alleged cheating among senior enlisted personnel in the Navy's nuclear propulsion program. (Mike Morones / Staff)
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Other incidents

This is the nuclear Navy’s fifth cheating scandal in seven years. Here’s a run-down of the previous incidents:
Attack submarine Hampton

When: Late 2007
What: An investigation found widespread cheating on exams and the falsification of signatures on radiological control logs.
Results: Commanding officer fired. Three officers and seven sailors were disciplined. At least two officers were stripped of their nuclear designator and two sailors lost their nuclear Navy enlisted classification. Afterward, Vice Adm. Jay Donnelly, then-commander of Submarine Forces, ordered “deep dive” teams on the waterfront to assess morale, climate and retention issues in the submarine fleet.
Carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower

When: Late 2008
What: Widespread cheating by senior nuclear sailors discovered in the course of a written exam, given as part of the Operational Reactor Safeguards Examination.
Results: One junior officer and seventeen senior enlisted nukes were disciplined. Eleven senior enlisted lost their nuclear NECs.
Carrier Harry S. Truman

When: May 2009
What: A test-giver caught sailors with notes during a level of knowledge exam.
Results: Thirteen sailors were disciplined. Eight of them lost their NECs and were kicked off the ship.
Attack submarine Memphis

When: Late 2010
What: A network administrator aboard the sub shared answer keys for level of knowledge tests with shipmates for nearly 15 months.
Results: Fourteen crew members took part in the conspiracy, including a lieutenant commander, three lieutenants, a lieutenant junior grade and a chief machinist’s mate. Roughly 10 percent of the crew was expelled from the sub.

Dozens of senior enlisted instructors at a Navy nuclear propulsion school are accused of cheating on the written tests that help them qualify to operate nuclear reactors, Navy officials said Tuesday.

A Naval Criminal Investigative Service probe at the Nuclear Power School near Charleston, S.C., began this week after a sailor inside the school stepped forward to report an invitation to participate in the cheating, Navy officials said.

“We are at the very early stages of this” investigation, Adm John Richardson, the director of the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, said in a press briefing at the Pentagon.

Richardson declined to say precisely how many sailors were stripped of their nuclear certification and barred from the school’s nuclear facilities. A Navy official said that 30 sailors have been implicated as of Tuesday.

In addition to the NCIS investigation, Richardson said he’s sent his own team of senior officers to South Carolina to “assess the command climate ... with the goal of ensuring that we do not have a broader problem with this command.”

The school is one of two Navy training facilities where officers and enlisted sailors learn how to operate the reactors that power Navy submarines and aircraft carriers. The training facilities use live, operational nuclear reactors.

The sailors accused of cheating were instructors teaching reactor operations and helping younger sailors qualify to serve on the 11-person watch teams that operate on-board nuclear propulsion systems, Richardson said. They are accused of cheating on their own qualification tests that permit them to operate the nuclear reactors aboard two decommissioned subs used at the school.

It’s the latest scandal involving cheating by troops inside the military’s nuclear enterprise. In January, an Air Force investigation uncovered cheating by nearly 100 missile launch officers, those who are responsible for turning the launch keys on the U.S. arsenal of 450 intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The nuclear force has become a growing concern for Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. He recently launched an force-wide review of the military’s nuclear enterprise and potential personnel problems among the troops who operate it. Hagel believes there may be a “larger cultural issue here that needs to be addressed” inside the ICBM community, Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said in January.

The Navy cheating scandal differs from the Air Force’s in several ways. One, the sailors involved were working on propulsion systems, not weapons. And the Air Force scandal involves officers in the operational force, not a training command.

The Navy’s latest cheating scandal came to light after a report from a sailor inside the command.

“One of our sailors from the nuclear power training unit in Charleston, South Carolina, was offered to comprise his integrity, recognized it was wrong and reported it to the command,” Richardson said.

It’s not the first cheating scandal for the Navy’s nuclear force. In 2010, the commanding officer of the attack submarine Memphis was fired when a probe found 14 crew members engaged in a conspiracy to cheat on routine proficiency tests. An enlisted computer network administrator used his access to secretly feed answer keys for nuclear exams to members of the engineering department over a span of nearly 15 months.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert also attended Tuesday press briefing, highlighting the sensitive nature of the new scandal.

“To say that I’m disappointed would be an understatement,” Greenert told reporters.

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