When the Navy discovered a cheating ring aboard one of its submarines, it swiftly fired the commanding officer and kicked off 10 percent of the crew.
Navy officials describe the case aboard the USS Memphis as a rare lapse in integrity, but some former officers say the shortcuts exposed by the scandal are hardly unique to a single vessel.
The former submariners tell The Associated Press it is not uncommon for sailors to receive answer keys or other hints before training exams. They say sailors know how to handle the nuclear technology, but commanders competing with one another to show proficiency have made exams so difficult - and so detached from the skills sailors actually need - that crew members sometimes bend the rules.
An investigation report obtained by the AP through a Freedom of Information Act request describes an atmosphere aboard the USS Memphis that tolerated and even encouraged cheating: Sailors were emailed the answers before qualification exams, took tests outside the presence of proctors and openly asked officers for answer keys. One sailor told investigators that test-takers were encouraged to "use their time wisely" during breaks, insinuating that they should look up answers to exam questions.
A submarine force spokeswoman, Navy Cmdr. Monica Rousselow, said the Navy holds its officers and crew to very high standards and denied that cheating is rampant.
"The evidence we have shows that it's very rare," said Rousselow, who is based in Norfolk, Va.
But three former officers said the episode aboard the Groton, Conn.-based Memphis was an extreme example of shortcuts that occur aboard many of the roughly 70 American submarines in service.