October 10, 2006:
The U.S. Air Force is finishing up an investigation into a group of NCOs who sold the answers to the tests, that airmen take in order to see who gets promoted to NCO (sergeant, E-5 and above). Over 100,000 airmen take the test each year, and the cheating ring operated from 1996 to 2004. So far, fourteen NCOs have been charged, but it is believed there are more who have not been identified yet. The ring was broken when one of those receiving the answers was prosecuted for another offense, and, during questioning, mentioned cheating on a promotion test. What is most worrisome is the method used, which was to build a database of the questions, which are reused every few years.
The cheating did not give a big advantage to those getting answers, because the test is only one of several elements used to calculate who gets promoted. But there could be other cheating rings, and it's possible that thousands of NCOs took advantage of this. The ringleader of the ring that was broken, was punished with demotion from E-8 to E-1, 42 months in prison and dishonorable discharge. This man had 19 years of service, so he losses his pension as well. While those who bought answers would not be punished that severely, they would probably be demoted, fined and otherwise reprimanded. Anyone so involved, would have a hard time getting promoted, and many of these NCOs might just leave the air force. There had long been rumors that one could cheat the tests, but this was one of the few instances where enough evidence was gathered to result in charges being filed and convictions obtained. That helps morale, somewhat. But those taking the test are going to wonder if all the cheaters have been caught.