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Navy Expels 34 Sailors in Nuclear Cheating Scandal

moored training ship Daniel Webster (MTS-626) begins its tow from Norfolk Naval Shipyard to Charleston, S.C. on 21 August 2012. US Navy Photo

The moored training ship Daniel Webster (MTS-626) begins its tow from Norfolk Naval Shipyard to Charleston, S.C. on 21 August 2012. More than 70 sailors assigned to the training ship had cheated on engineering watch stander exams. US Navy Photo

A Navy investigation of a seven-year long cheating ring in one of its most renowned training schools has resulted in the expulsion of 34 sailors from the Navy and another 10 sailors remain under investigation, the service announced today. The investigation, begun when a sailor tipped off authorities in February, found more than 76 senior enlisted staff instructors (E-6s and E-7s) at the Naval Nuclear Power School (NNPS) in Goose Creek, S.C. had participated in a system to cheat on the classified engineering watch supervisor (EWS) qualification.

The Petty Officers and Chiefs — assigned to the nearby Moored Training Ship 626 (the former USS Daniel Webster) Staff Training Group — created a network of thumb drives, CDs and emails known as the “Pencil File” aligned to the five versions of the EWS test, according to the Navy’s report of the investigation dated March 15 and released on Wednesday.

Due to their positions, the sailors knew which version of the test would be scheduled and pass out the so called, “Pencil Number” to the cheaters.

The Navy adjudicated 68 cases at Admiral’s Mast and found 36 sailors at the unit had been involved.

“Punishment was suspended for two of the 36 sailors based on their minimal involvement and their strong potential for rehabilitation,” according to the report. The remaining 34 had their security clearances stripped and were booted from the service.

A total of 78 personnel were found to have cheated on the EWS exam over the seven year period.

Authorities were made aware of the cheating when a sailor reported the ring on Feb. 2. The next day both chief of naval operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert and head of Naval Reactors Adm. John Richardson held a press conference to address the issue.

The Navy is now in the process of evaluating procedures in its nuclear testing enterprise and continuing to investigate how the ring operated for so long without being detected.

“Appropriate actions will be taken to hold accountable officials bearing responsibility for allowing incidents of cheating at NPTU Charleston to continue undetected for at least seven years,” read a June 6 endorsement of the investigations findings by head of Naval Reactors, Adm. John Richardson.

The Navy is now undertaking a comprehensive review into its nuclear training pipeline following the discovery of the ring.

“This incident identified a number of areas in need of improvement in the Program. The NNPP has taken this as an opportunity to conduct a thorough self-evaluation, establish root causes, and apply appropriate corrective actions,” wrote Richardson.

The Navy has 16,000 nuclear trained sailors who operate the reactors that power the service’s aircraft carriers and submarines.

Unlike the Air Force, which continues to make headlines for cheating scandals related to the network of nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles, Navy cheating on this scale has been rare and isolated to ongoing qualifications underway — most recently in 2010 onboard the USS Memphis (SSN-691).

  • Robohorseman

    Time for blanket parties to return. Cheaters suck. I worked so hard to learn and earn. I was too stupid to cheat, so I HAD to learn.

    • OLD GUY

      I can hear ADM Rickover crying

  • Pete Youseff

    Don’t these people realize that by cheating in the armed forces they gain positions that they may not be qualified to hold, thus weakening the effectiveness of their military? That borders on treason in my opinion.

    • WolfNippleChips

      That borders on Congress if you ask me.

    • James Bowen

      I am familiar with these exams they are talking about here, and what you say is not true. These exams are little more than an administrative burden imposed for political purposes, and quite frankly nuclear-trained sailors have better things to do than take them. However, they are a requirement, and these sailors crossed the line in distributing answer keys.

  • NavySubNuke

    This is the inevitable consequence of having 8 hour exams that have nothing to do with safe plant operations. Add in the forcing function of getting the grades “right” – not too high because that means it is too easy, not too low because that means it is too hard – and you have cheating. You need X number of folks to fail every time you give the test to “prove” it is a good test but only God can save you if X+1 or X-1 fail — then it is your fault.
    The mistake these guys made was in taking the easy way out. As sea returnees they should have been smarter about how they played the game. You don’t send out answer keys – especially over unclass/personal email. You don’t warn people which test from the bank they are going to have. Idiots.

    • James Bowen

      I agree. If this had been relating to exams at Nuclear Power School for initial trainees I would be a lot more concerned. However, the EOOW/EWS exams are more political in nature and have less to do with training and safe, effective reactor operation.

  • Way back in 1964 at basic nuclear power school at Mare Island, CA. We had to retake our final exam because one trainee broke into the testing office and stole the exam.
    Back then there was short investigation about four hours. The sailor caught had his sub qualification pulled, got orders to the surface fleet, and his sea bag and him were gone within a day. Actually is was my best friend, boot camp, sub school. and my first diesel boat, never the less when he came up to me after getting caught, I used a few then in vogue naval terms, and told him if he stole and cheated here (the school) what might he have done at sea. MMCS(SS)(SW) USN ret

    • gunnerv1

      They (The Navy) finally quit sending “Sub-Trash” to the Surface Fleet(s). Whenever they cought a “doper”, they would send them to us, we didn’t want them either. They finally quit doing that about ten years back.

  • TruthInCFL

    These kind if exams are bullcrap. The Navy operates what, 60 nuclear vessels now? Under the old ways and over decades since the Nautius, high stakes, graded B.S. tests for fleet sailors and instructors were almost unheard of. After my very short comp at Goose Creek, the only ever written tests I took that even counted in the least were my rating exams and my ETMS final. This is sure not my Navy. None of the tests had any bearing on whether I was safe, deceptive, evil or plotting.

  • Served My Time

    The problem I see here is that this exam cheating is common place, both at sea and in port, and these same admirals, captains, chiefs, etc who are coming down so hard on these sailors, more likely than not, cheated on these same tests years ago when they were in the same position. In the time that I served, I don’t think I can name a single officer or enlisted person, of any rank, who didn’t cheat on an exam or condone cheating on an exam at one point or another. The exams only show what you can memorize, they don’t actually prove that you can do your job. You do tons of practical evolutions to prove that you can handle these positions prior to ever taking the exam. Like so many other people have said, the exam is purely political in nature.

    • Happy to be done

      I remember sitting at a daily meeting with the Reactor Officer/CHENG (really doesn’t matter if it was a surface/sub platform) with the department SEL in attendance and the RO/CHENG discussing a visit from 08 actual (the 4-starred one) following the MEMPHIS scandal and other issues at the time. We were, of course, talking about these breach of integrity happenings and, I assume, like much of the rest of the Nuke Propulsion Program, were planning to do a sort of stand down to ‘discuss’ morals/integrity, our own ‘cheating’ issues, etc, etc… before N08 arrived for his visit/tour the following week… the RO/CHENG says something to the effect that ‘they’ (N08 and the Naval Reactors legion) had ‘no previous idea’ as to the extent of this and other cheating scandals that the Power Program was faced with. The SEL (a man I very much liked b/c he was straight laced, non-politically motivated, and called things EXACTLY like he saw them) looks right at the departmental senior officer and says “I don’t see how they COULD NOT have known it was happening, even through the rose colored glasses and looking down from their ivory tower”. Personally, I’d like to give an honest (and I mean BRUTALLY honest) but non-attributable and anonymous survey to all Nukes present and past and ask them if they have every ‘cheated’ on a qual/test, or radioed logs, or blown off maint., or short cut a procedure, etc… The fact that the Program senior leadership has done it themselves and gotten away with it (and I am confident with a 100% certitude and a 1.0 confidence interval that they have at Numerous Times in their career… plural for emphasis) only goes to further illuminate the incredible hypocrisy of that organization. Some do it more than others.. this one was systematic and needed to go away.. but the program has had a big fat and rather smelly pink elephant parked in the room ever since Rickover created the thing.

  • Alfredo C. Magdalera

    I am saddened by this reported cheating in the Navy.


    I find the navy’s reaction to be interesting, enlisted Sailors cheat they are dismissed from the service, the Air Force has a group of officer who do exactly the same thing and they stay in the service with some punishment. Why the different standards.

  • Secundius

    These are the 34 that got caught, what about the ones we haven’t caught. I’m sure there more out there somewhere???

  • Capt Woody Sanford

    How many commissioned officers were assigned to NPTU Charleston during the cheating period? I saw 1LT and 1ENS as ? students.

  • Robert

    Cheating is widespread due to the pressures but on commands to meet ever more stringent requirements. The problem is systemic. I saw people passed at Nuclear Power School in Orlando for writing gibberish on exams. It’s simply faked metrics to keep commands out of trouble.