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Ex-Blue Angels commander ousted amid lewd conduct allegations

SAN DIEGO -- A former commanding officer of the famed Blue Angels aerial demonstration team was relieved of duty amid allegations of "lewd speech, inappropriate comments, and sexually explicit humor" and pornography, the Navy said Wednesday.

Last week the Navy announced that Capt. Gregory McWherter had been relieved of duty as executive officer of Naval Base Coronado because of initial findings of an investigation into misconduct during his tours as commander and flight leader of the Blue Angels.

In making that announcement, the Navy provided no explanation of the misconduct except that it made for an "inappropriate command climate" at the Blue Angels, which are based at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Fla.

On Wednesday, the Navy provided details following a story on the Washington Post's website.

McWherter allowed "and in some cases encouraged" the sexually inappropriate misconduct in the workplace, according to Wednesday's statement.

The actions may have violated the Navy's "sexual harassment, hazing and equal opportunity policies," the Navy said.

"All Navy leaders, whether assigned to a highly visible unit like the 'Blues,' or to our installations, squadrons, ships and submarines, are held to the highest standards," said Vice Adm. David Buss, commander of Naval Air Forces.

Buss acknowledged the Blue Angels' fame but added that it does not justify misconduct.

"The professionalism of their aerial performances is unquestioned," he said. "We cannot, however, limit our judgment to that alone, to the dazzling feats of skill and daring seen in their flight demonstrations. A Naval officer is a complete leader and must be someone worthy of the respect given by the crowds attending the air shows where the Blues perform."

The decision to relieve McWherter was made by Vice Adm. William French, commander of Navy Installation Command. The investigation began with a complaint filed with the Navy Inspector General.

"We remain fully commited to accountability, transparency and protecting the integrity of ongoing investigations," Buss said.

McWherter served as commanding officer of the Blue Angels from November 2008 to November 2010, and then from May 2011 to November 2012.

An F/A-18 Hornet pilot, McWherter has logged 5,500 flight hours and 950 aircraft carrier landings during training missions and deployments to the Mediterranean, the Persian Gulf and the western Pacific.

He was an instructor at the Fighter Weapons School, known as Top Gun. During his second tour with the Blue Angels, McWherter, a graduate of the Citadel, received an award for his "leadership and contributions" to the North American air show industry.

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tony.perry@latimes.com
Twitter: @LATsandiego

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