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RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — Master Sgt. Abdur-Rahim Saafir once used his rise from the mean streets of Chicago to a highly decorated career in the Air Force to inspire younger airmen.

In speeches, he talked about how he learned tolerance by reading the Bible, Quran and Torah, in addition to meeting people from around the world on military assignments across the world.

“I am Muslim, but I am a firm believer that you get to heaven by your deeds,” he told Stars and Stripes in an interview two years ago. “There’s no line just for Baptists or Christians. I think if you continue to do righteous things, you have the same opportunities.”

With just a year left before he is eligible for retirement, his career now could be a cautionary tale.

Saafir, 37, a former mission support flight superintendent for the 469th Air Base Group at Rhein-Main Air Base, admitted Thursday during a general court-martial at Ramstein Air Base that he was part of a ring of airmen who helped one another cheat on promotion tests.

He is charged with more than two dozen counts of conspiracy and failure to obey a lawful general regulation and faces more than 60 years in prison. He pleaded guilty to most of the charges and could be sentenced Friday by the military judge presiding over the case.

The testing scandal that Saafir said he took part in has put scrutiny on the integrity of the promotion system, but Air Force officials have insisted they have “faith” in the testing process. Investigations against other airmen are ongoing.

A good score on a test is just one factor in how airmen are promoted up the enlisted ranks. Each year, more than 220,000 tests are given to 100,000 airmen, according to the Air Force.

Saafir, who was named the personnel manager of the year in U.S. Air Forces in Europe, is accused of compromising 20 of those tests.

The charges date from February 2000, when he was stationed at Randolph Air Force Base in Texas, to May 2004, when he was based at Rhein-Main.

He said Thursday that he and other airmen agreed to share answers on the test. Whoever took the test first would provide the answers, he said. In some cases, airmen who took the test would try to memorize questions and answers or just answers. By sharing the information, they could create a “mirror” of the test by compiling as many as 100 questions and answers, Saafir told the judge.

He exchanged the information by telephone or e-mail with airmen from across the globe. In one instance, he admitted that he shared material from a testing booklet he obtained at Ramstein Air Base.

However, one of Saafir’s friends would help investigators build the case against the noncommissioned officer. Tech. Sgt. Jacquin Kirkman, who was Saafir’s best man at his wedding, served as an undercover informant for the Office of Special Investigations.

In May 2004, Kirkman secretly taped a recording between himself and Saafir in which they discussed exchanging test answers. On Thursday, Saafir said he knew agreeing to swap testing material was wrong.

“I should have refused and reported the information,” he told the judge.

The court-martial is expected to resume Friday.


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