Marines discharge 13 junior officers for alleged cheating on navigation test

By Annie Gowen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Marine Corps has discharged 13 junior officers training at Quantico for cheating on a land navigation test, officials said.

The junior officers, eight men and five women, were discharged from military service May 20 after, officials allege, it was discovered they had cheated on a test administered in September.

They were taking an intense, six-month training course for new officers and were trying to learn how to lead a platoon through rugged terrain. They were sent with a map and compass to a wooded area on the base and instructed to write down numbers painted on boxes left there.

The accused wrote down numbers from the previous year's test, base spokesman Lt. Col. Roger S. Galbraith said. During a subsequent inquiry, officials examined the actions of 33 junior officers and found that some had used a cheat sheet. Officials at Quantico declined to release the junior officers' names or speak in detail about their discharges.

Col. George W. Smith Jr., commander of the training program at the time of the incident, said in a statement that those who were released lacked the "moral compass" to be military leaders.

Among the 13 Marines who were "administratively separated" -- the military equivalent of having employment terminated in the civilian world for misconduct -- was 2nd Lt. Adam Ballard.

Ballard, 25, a native of Texas, was a former star fullback on the Naval Academy's football team and was once dubbed a "bruiser" by fellow Texan George W. Bush at a White House ceremony honoring Navy players.

Ballard told the Marine Corps Times, which first reported the story, that the cheating at Quantico was more widespread than the Corps would like to believe. Marine Corps officials have said that some of the officers who took the test thought that the skills involved in the land navigation drill were unnecessary in a modern era of GPS navigational aids and that other officers at Quantico have been sanctioned for cheating on the "land nav" exam in the past.

Annapolis attorney Bill Ferris, who is representing Ballard, called his client's dismissal "totally unjust."

"This is a widespread practice going back years," Ferris said, "and certain people have been singled out."

Ferris said that he had argued for his client to be disciplined by the Corps rather than dismissed outright. He also said Ballard was unfairly penalized by the military after refusing to divulge the names of others involved.

However, Ballard said when reached late Friday, "I don't blame anybody but myself."

Researcher Madonna Lebling contributed to this report.

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