They stand accused of cheating, or tolerating cheating by others, on a routine test of their knowledge of how to execute "emergency war orders." Those are the highly classified procedures the officers would use, upon orders from the president, to launch their nuclear-tipped missiles.
The alleged cheaters are said to have transmitted test answers by text message to colleagues. That is a violation not only of their own personal integrity but also of security classification rules.
The commander at Malmstrom, Col. Robert W. Stanley II, said in a telephone interview Friday it's not "off base" to think that the cheating points to a deeper problem in the intercontinental ballistic missile force.
"But I do think it's far more than just us. I think this is a sort of cultural thing our society is going through" in which too many people have grown accustomed to "putting blinders on and just walking past problems."
This is reflected in the cheating scandal, he said, where 17 of the 34 did not cheat but knew about the cheating and failed to report it.
"In ICBMs we can't tolerate that," Stanley said.
In response to the cheating, the Air Force retested every available ICBM launch control officer at Malmstrom as well as the two other bases operating Minuteman 3 missiles: F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo., and Minot Air Force Base, N.D.
The Air Force said Friday that of 472 officers who retook the "T-1" test, 21 failed and will receive new training before they can return to duty. Twenty-seven were not available to be tested this past week, according to a Pentagon spokesman, Col. Steve Warren.
Thus a total of 82 launch officers, including the 34 who have been suspended, are not available to perform launch control duties, and Warren said that is "having an impact" on the ICBM force. He added, however, that it has not interrupted the 24/7 combat readiness of all Minuteman 3 missiles or made them less secure.