140 Officers Faulted in Tailhook Sex Scandal : Inquiry: Seven-month review of the infamous 1991 convention also blames Navy brass for a leadership vacuum that allowed a ‘free fire zone’ of debauchery and assaults.
The Defense Department, releasing the results of a seven-month investigation Friday, accused about 140 Navy and Marine Corps officers of sexual assaults or other misconduct in connection with the infamous Tailhook convention of 1991 and charged that the behavior stemmed from “a serious breakdown of leadership.”
The report methodically chronicled a rowdy three-day party at which 97 sexual assaults and a host of lesser offenses occurred. Those findings were in stark contrast to the Navy’s original investigation of the incident, which produced just two primary suspects and led investigators to complain that officers had closed ranks to hide the truth.
More than 4,000 officers, including 35 Navy admirals and two Marine Corps generals, attended the convention at a Las Vegas hotel, consuming $33,500 worth of alcohol. Among them was Adm. Frank B. Kelso, as chief of naval operations the Navy’s top officer, who presented the report Friday.
While Navy and Marine Corps aviators engaged in such conduct as groping and fondling women--including 24 female officers--in a hallway “gantlet,” senior officers “seemed to be relatively unaware” of the misconduct, the report said. Similar behavior had occurred at past Tailhook conventions and many of the high-ranking officers had attended those events as junior officers.
In a press conference Friday, President Clinton called the conduct detailed in the report “very disturbing” and said that it “has no place in the armed services.” But Clinton was careful to avoid judgment on individual charges, saying that they “will have to be examined” in military courts free from political pressure. “The law must take its course,” he said.
More than 46 younger officers could face courts-martial or lesser punishment on charges of sexual assault or indecent exposure. The Defense Department’s inspector general, however, stopped short of recommending punishment for senior officers.
Instead, Inspector General Derek J. Vander Schaaf urged each of the admirals and generals to “consider the extent to which he bears some personal responsibility for what occurred there and how best he can serve the Navy and the Marine Corps in the future.”
The report said that the attendees “viewed the annual conference as a type of ‘free fire zone’ wherein they could act indiscriminately and without fear of censure or retribution in matters of sexual conduct or drunkenness.”
The long-delayed report ends a chapter of uncertainty and turmoil for the military and begins what officials hope will be a new era of respect and expanded opportunities for women.
“We cannot undo the past, but we sure can influence the future and we are,” Kelso said. “We have emerged from this experience a better, more effective, stronger institution.”
Kelso noted that the Navy has instituted strict new penalties for those found guilty of sexual harassment, launched a vigorous program of anti-harassment training for its personnel and proposed to open jobs on many combat ships to women for the first time.
“We are . . . committed to providing all our people a workplace free from harassment,” Kelso said. “We haven’t solved the problem completely--it takes a long time to change attitudes. But we understand the problem, and we have moved out to fix it.”
The Defense Department report detailed highly disrespectful attitudes and behaviors toward women by male members of the Tailhook Assn., which takes its name from an aircraft mechanism critical to carrier landings. Members include active duty and reserve pilots, all of whom are officers, as well as retired naval aviators and civilian boosters.
In one squadron suite, aviators wore T-shirts emblazoned with the mottoes “Women Are Property” on the back and “He-Man Woman-Hater’s Club” on the front. Among the many officers who apparently opposed the introduction of women into combat cockpits, some wore pins that read, “Not in My Squadron.”
Kelso said flatly that he “was not going to resign” over the incident, which had already led to the resignation of Navy Secretary H. Lawrence Garrett III last summer. “What I’m going to do is continue to work to fix it,” Kelso said.
Kelso and John Dalton, the Clinton Administration’s newly named secretary of the Navy, also will have to oversee what is expected to be the final, legal chapter of Tailhook, in which potentially dozens of officers could be subjected to punishment ranging from “counseling sessions” with senior officers to incarceration, fines and eventual expulsion from the service.
Vander Schaaf, in a letter accompanying the report, told Defense Secretary Les Aspin that he had forwarded the investigative files of 140 officers to the office of the Navy secretary for possible punishment. Apparently included are the files of 51 individuals who, Vander Schaaf wrote, “were found to have made false statements to us during our investigation.”
While that is a small percentage of the 2,384 Navy and Marine Corps members interviewed by the investigators, Vander Schaaf suggested that many more may have lied or withheld information from his staff.
“Our investigators encountered repeated and deliberate attempts to obstruct their efforts,” Vander Schaaf wrote. In one case, a Navy lieutenant repeatedly denied that he publicly exposed himself until investigators showed him a photograph that clearly showed him engaged in such behavior. The officer “told us he had lied because he did not know we had a picture and his career was worth the risk of being caught in a lie,” Vander Schaaf wrote.
Others, he said, appeared to respond candidly only when asked “the ‘right’ question,” and joined with fellow officers in what was called a “junior officer’s protective association.” One officer told investigators that under the “rules” of such an association, a junior officer will not “give up” another junior officer just because he had done “something stupid.”
The report singles out one Navy admiral, Vice Adm. Richard Dunleavy, then assistant chief of naval operations and the Navy’s most senior aviator, for giving investigators conflicting testimony about his knowledge of misconduct. In his first interview, Dunleavy denied having seen either the gantlet or a group activity in which aviators shaved women’s legs and occasionally their pubic hair.
But the following day, Dunleavy reversed himself when confronted with contradictory information gathered by investigators. He acknowledged that he had seen the leg-shaving and encouraged it, had known that strippers were performing in the suites rented by flying units, and had seen the crowd of men on the third floor hooting, hollering and shouting, “Show us your tits!”
Dunleavy said that he did not intervene because he believed that he would not be heard and because the activities “appeared to be in fun, rather than molestation.” He told investigators that he thought women “would not have gone down the hall if they didn’t like it.”
Dunleavy retired from the Navy last July.
The release of the report brought reactions ranging from anger to relief from Navy personnel and calls both for patience and vigilance from lawmakers. As the Tailhook scandal now moves into a complex legal phase that could take many months to complete, several aviators privately said they remain bitter about what they view as investigative tactics that failed to protect their constitutional rights and a scandal that has severely tarnished their reputations.
“We’ve lost total sense of proportionality here. But this is all politics, and I’ve come to expect it,” said one aviator who was vigorously interrogated by investigators but has apparently been cleared.
“We’ve been criminally maligned, subject to criminal misconduct by the investigators, and I think we are all fiercely resentful,” he said. “I don’t know one person who’s been through this process who’s been accorded the rights and respect that any civilian would have had or that any woman in this incident was accorded.”
But such embattled aviators on Friday got some kind words from Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.), one of Tailhook’s most persistent and vocal critics. Schroeder said that the incident has “unfairly branded the Navy as a whole, and fighter pilots in particular, as sexual harassers out of control.”
Now, added Schroeder, the Navy has the opportunity to leave the scandal behind, to “do itself good by swiftly taking full and fair action against these perpetrators.”
“That military men do these kinds of things has been known for a long time,” said Linda Grant De Pauw, who publishes a journal on women in the military. “Usually there’s been a kind of a sigh, that, ‘yes, these things are unfortunate, but boys will be boys.’
“The Tailhook reaction is that these boys are going to have to grow up real fast or they’re out of the Navy.”
With the release of the Defense Department’s Tailhook report, two military panels will be convened to pursue the investigation--one for the Navy and one for the Marine Corps. The Navy panel will be headed by Vice Adm. Joseph Reason, commander of surface ships in the Atlantic, while Maj. Gen. Charles Krulak, the commander of the combat development command in Quantico, Va., has been appointed for the Marine Corps. The panels will determine whether courts-martial or less serious punishments are appropriate.
Prison sentences: Up to five years could await the worst offenders, while those facing lesser charges could be fined, censured by letter or forced to undergo counseling.
Deadline: Investigations must be completed by September, when the statutes of limitation run out on most charges.
Inquiry Into the Navy Sex Scandal
Here are some key finding in the report issued Friday:
Files forwarded to Navy secretary: 140
Officers implicated of wrongdoing: 117
Officers implicated in indecent assaults: 23
Officers implicated in indecent exposure: 23
Officers accused of lying during inquiry: 51
Victims of assault: 83 women, 7 men
Victims’ age range: 18 to 48
Some victims assaulted more than once
Assaulted on more than one evening: 4
Assaulted at two different locations on the same night: 4
Inquiry target: The 1991 convention of the Tailhook Assn., a 15,500-member naval aviation booster group composed of active-duty and retired fighter pilots. The Tailhook group takes its name from the hook used to brake jets landing on aircraft carriers.
The charges: Dozens of women, more than half of them naval officers, say they were pawed and abused in a hotel hallway gantlet by drunken fliers during the three-day event. The report also describes, in graphic terms, public and paid sex, X-rated movies and indecent exposure.
Convention held: Sept. 5-7, 1991 in Las Vegas
Attended convention: As many as 4,000
Active-duty and reserve admirals there: 35
The significance: Long-awaited report by Pentagon investigators on rampant sexual misconduct at 1991 Tailhook convention.
The report: 1 inch thick
“Some victims were bitten by their assailants, others were knocked to the ground and some had their clothing ripped or removed.”
--Derek Vander Schaff, Pentagon’s deputy inspector general
“Many attendees viewed the annual conference as a type of ‘free fire zone’ wherein they could act indiscriminately and without fear of censure or retribution in matters of sexual conduct and drunkenness.”
“It’s a very disturbing list of allegations which will have to be examined. It shouldn’t be taken as an indictment of the entire Navy and the fine people who serve there.”
Trouble in the Hotel Hallway
The report describes the Hilton hotel hallway as a gantlet through which women were pushed, groped at, pinched and fondled by drunken aviators. Other assaults took place in nearby suites. Many of the suites lining the hallway were registered to California units.
Gantlet: 65 assaults in corridor
2 assaults in corridor
Chief of Naval Air Training Corpus Christi, Tex. (8 assaults here)
Suite number 304: 1 assault in suite registered to San Diego unit
Suite number 308: 6 assaults in suite registered to El Toro unit
Suite number 320: Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 24 Santa Ana, Calif. (El Toro)
Suite number 319: Fighter Squadron 51 San Diego
Suite number 318: Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 12 Santa Ana, Calif. (El Toro)
Suite number 316: Fighter Squadron 1 Miramar, Calif
Suite number 315: Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron 1 Jacksonville, Fla.
Suite number 310: Commander Naval Air Reserve Force New Orleans
Suite number 355: Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 101 Santa Ana, Calif. (El Toro)
Suite number 356: Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron 1 Yuma, Ariz.
Suite number 357: Fixed Wing Fleet Logistics Support Squadron North Island, Calif
Suite number 302: Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 129 Oak Harbor, Wash.
Suite number 303: Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron 110 Miramar, Calif.
Suite number 304: Air Anti-Submarine Squadron 41 San Diego
Suite number 305: Naval Strike Warfare Center Fallon, Nev.
Suite number 306: Fighter Squadron 126 Miramar, Calif.
Suite number 307: Attack Squadron 128 Oak Island, Wash.
Suite number 308: Marine Corps Tactical Reconnaisance Squad 3 Santa Ana, Calif. (El Toro) (deactivated in 1990)