The Associated Press broke a story yesterday about some bad ju-ju that happened on the U.S.S Memphis back in November. It seems our sad story begins when one of the subs junior officers was caught with the answer key to an exam in his e-mail. Much digging and with-hunting ensued, with the end result being the C.O. was relieved inside 2 weeks, and another 13 crew members were punished to one extant or another, with 10 of them being kicked off the boat. While the investigation found the C.O. was not aware of the 'cheating' he HAD 'fostered an environment that failed to uphold the expected standards of integrity.'
Those words are the death knell for Commander Charles Maher, Captain of the Memphis.
The A.P. article goes on to quote several former submarine officers as saying that this type of 'cheating' on exams is much more widespread than just one submarine, and is a result of pressure from C.O's to have amazing exam scores to separate themselves from the herd.
Well, as I'm fond of saying, the truth can usually be found somewhere in the middle.
Speaking hypothetically as a former submariner, let's start out by clarifying that there are exam's, there are EXam's, and then there are EXAM'S.
As an ELT(Engineering Laboratory Technician) back in the day, I attended 4 hours of continual training each week...one for M-Div Training, one for RL-Div Training, one for Engineering Department Training, and one for EOOW/EWS Training. Each one of these training categories had a monthly exam associated with it, ranging between 10-12 questions each.
It was not unusual to these exams handed out be being stuffed into folks in boxes, so they could be taken while you were on watch. Topics were what had been covered in that months training, and these exams were usually monitored in a casual manner, at best. You know, hypothetically speaking. Grading was taken semi-seriously, with much regrading done to ensure that the average test score came in close to 85% with a 10% failure rate, since those were Squadron's Guide Lines. Hypothetically.
Your next category were qualification EXam's. Watch-Station qualification is a multi-step process. You stand some Under Instruction Watches, you perform some tasks, you simulate some tasks, and you discuss some tasks. Then, you have a written EXam, and finally, you will have your board/interviews. In this qualification process, the EXam is a formality. Depending on the watch-station, it could be upwards of 50 questions long, and take several hours. Again, it was not usually monitored closely, and was a nice open book review to get you ready for you interviews/boards.
For watch-standers, qualification boards were the real thing...for something like Engineering Watch Supervisor, you were standing at the dry-erase board in front of the CO, Engineer, a few junior officers, and then 2 or 3 of the Engineering Department Chiefs. Much knowledge was displayed at these boards, and people did not make it through them by accident. One of the things I agree with in the AP articles is the repeated statement that the submarines were never at risk because of this 'cheating'.
Finally, you have EXAM'S. This category includes ratings exams(for promotions) and ORSE(Operational Reactor Safeguards) Written Exam. Ratings EXAMS are taken very seriously. If the ship is in port, then they are taken monitored by senior people in actual classrooms and such, with the individual ships not having much wiggle room to mess with them.
The ORSE EXAM is also taken seriously. Essentially, ORSE is the process by which the Naval Reactors organization tests the ships to ensure it safe to let the crew have the keys to operate the reactors for another year. The ORSE Team brings a written EXAM with them. They give the ships training department the questions, and you then have 12 hours to create and answer key, and you answer key better come out looking like the one the ORSE team brings with them. The nukes on the boat are then sat down and given this EXAM in very controlled circumstances. Hypothetically(well, and reality on my boat...ORSE is serious stuff)
So, this story broke initially because a junior officer was found with an exam key in his e-mail. That's a step beyond any hypothetical exam assistance I might have seen. Even though some of our exams may have been taken a little more casually and open-bookish than was intended, answer keys, even for the all lower-case exams, were kept controlled. To people not familiar with the process, it might look like I am arguing shades of grey, but I'm really trying to justify why I have not hypothetical problems sleeping at night.
In short, if this guy had just one of the regular monthly exam keys, it's not too far out of the box. A key for a watch-station he was trying to qualify would be worse, and if somehow you got your hands on the ORSE exam key, then things are broke. Either way, chances of the C.O. knowing something was afoot are very slim...it's not the kind of detail a CO usually lets himself get bogged down with, but they are responsible whether they know about something or not.
I'm sure when the fleet got word about this back in November, there were a lot of CO's who MADE themselves a lot more knowledgeable about how exams of all types were being handeled on their boats.