Tailhook scandal

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Tailhook scandal
Date: September 8–12, 1991
Place: Las Vegas, Nevada

The Tailhook scandal was a series of incidents where more than 100 U.S. Navy and United States Marine Corps aviation officers were alleged to have sexually assaulted at least 83 women and 7 men, or otherwise engaged in "improper and indecent" conduct at the Las Vegas Hilton in Las Vegas, Nevada. The events took place at the 35th Annual Tailhook Association Symposium from September 8 to 12, 1991. The term can also refer to the resulting investigations conducted by the Department of the Navy and the Inspector General of the Department of Defense.

As a result of the subsequent investigations, a number of officers were formally disciplined or refused advancement in rank. Controversially, military officers and observers have alleged that flag officers attending the symposium were not held accountable for knowingly allowing the behavior in question to occur. Military critics claimed that the scandal highlighted a hostile attitude in US military culture towards women in the areas of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and equal treatment of women in career advancement and opportunity. Lieutenant Gary Mandich, who was one of the many attendees and alleged participants in the lewd activities, told media, "Everyone needs to seriously lighten up. What do they expect? This is Vegas baby! They call this symposium 'Tail' hook for a reason!"

His statement led to a wave of public outcry which sparked numerous protests and demonstrations at the gates of naval bases across the U.S. Various Women's advocacy groups such as the National Woman's Party (NWP) were among some of the most vocal demonstrators.


In September 1991, the 35th annual symposium in Las Vegas featured a two-day debrief on U.S. Navy and Marine Corps aviation in Operation Desert Storm. It was the largest such meeting yet held, with some 4,000 attendees: active, reserve, and retired personnel.

After his return to the USS Midway, in port in Seattle for Seafair, then Tailhook president Captain Rick Ludwig pulled all air wing commanding officers, staff, and flag staff officers and debriefed them on initial reports of misbehavior and incidents of fisticuffs in the hallways and on the patio by the pool.

According to a Department of Defense (DoD) report, 83 women and seven men stated that they had been victims of sexual assault and harassment during the meeting. Several participants later stated that a number of flag officers attending the meetings were aware of the sexual assaults, but did nothing to stop them.[1]

On October 29, 1991, the Department of the Navy terminated all ties to the Tailhook Association. Ties were not restored until January 19, 1999.[citation needed] For several years after Tailhook '91 promotion board results were delayed while a special review was conducted to ensure that any person with an adverse connection to Tailhook '91 was not promoted.[citation needed]

Investigation and aftermath[edit]

In response to media reports about the Las Vegas Tailhook Association meetings, the United States Department of the Navy launched an investigation, led by the then Naval Investigative Service under the command of Rear Admiral Duvall M. Williams, Jr. This group initially released a report which concluded that the incident was mainly the fault of low-ranked enlisted men behaving poorly.

Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Manpower and Reserve Affairs) Barbara S. Pope refused to accept the results of this investigation, especially after Rear Admiral Williams made sexist remarks in Pope's presence, most notably a comment that he believed that "a lot of female navy pilots are go-go dancers, topless dancers or hookers".[2] When RADM Williams issued his final report, finding that no senior navy officials bore responsibility for what occurred in Las Vegas, Pope went to United States Secretary of the Navy Henry L. Garrett III and told him that she would resign if the United States Department of the Navy did not "do another report and look at what we needed to do about accountability and responsibility and the larger issues at hand."[3] Garrett agreed with Pope, and a further investigation was conducted, headed by Derek J. Vander Schaaf, the Inspector General of the United States Department of Defense.

Vander Schaaf's report was ultimately released in September 1992 by Acting Secretary of the Navy Sean O'Keefe. The release of the report led to the resignation of Rear Admiral Williams, and his superior, Rear Admiral John E. Gordon, the Judge Advocate General of the Navy, for their failure to conduct a thorough investigation into the Tailhook allegations.[4]

Frontline on PBS reported:

Ultimately the careers of fourteen admirals and almost 300 naval aviators were scuttled or damaged by Tailhook. For example Secretary of the Navy H. Lawrence Garrett III and CNO Admiral Frank Kelso were both at Tailhook '91. Garrett ultimately resigned and Kelso retired early two years after the convention.[5] Vice Admiral Richard Dunleavy, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Air Warfare, was demoted to a two-star Admiral (from a three-star Admiral) and retired because of the scandal. Rear Admiral Wilson Flagg, censured for failing to prevent the Tailhook conference scandal.[6]

In the wake of Vander Schaaf's report, the Naval Investigative Service was reorganized as the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.

Author Jean Zimmerman developed the thesis that the scandal underscored the shifting status of women in the military and particularly the role of women in combat.[7]

Progress continues to be made since Tailhook in reporting these assaults. President Obama signed legislation in December, 2013 preventing commanders from overturning jury conviction for sexual assault, requiring a civilian review when commanders decline to prosecute, requiring dishonorable discharge or dismissal for those convicted, eliminating the statute of limitations for courts-martial in rape and sexual assault cases and criminalizing retaliation against victims who report an assault. In late December, 2013, the number of reported sexual assaults rose 50% over 2012. Jill Loftus, director of the Navy’s sexual assault program, which also includes the Marine Corps, said the increase in reporting suggests that more service members are starting to understand what types of behavior constitute harassment or assault.[8]

In popular culture[edit]

The case inspired a 1993 Law & Order episode, "Conduct Unbecoming", in which a young lieutenant is murdered during a similar incident at a Manhattan hotel.[9] The scandal itself was dramatized in the 1995 TV film She Stood Alone: The Tailhook Scandal.[10][11]

The scandal is also referenced in "Let Bartlet Be Bartlet," the 19th episode of the first season of The West Wing. Sam Seaborn (played by Rob Lowe) refers to Tailhook in a meeting with members of congress and the military about the US military's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy.

The X-Files episode "Detour" also made passing reference to the scandal, during a light-hearted exchange between lead characters Fox Mulder (played by David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (played by Gillian Anderson). During said exchange, Scully points out that their being in the same hotel room goes against F.B.I. policy in regards to male and female agents consorting in the same hotel room whilst on assignment, to which Mulder jokingly retorts for her not to try any of that 'Tailhook crap' on him.

In "Who shot Mr. Burns Part II" After Smithers is arrested for shooting Mr. Burns, in response to Kent Brockman's question, he replies "I feel lower than when Madonna found out she missed Tailhook" [12]

In "Simpson Tide" Homer is acquitted from Naval disciplinary charges, after captaining a renegade submarine and instigating potential nuclear war, by a naval officer: "Seaman Simpson, your actions have given the Navy a black eye from which it may never recover. I would throw the book at you, but I've been indicted on the Tailhook scandal. Goodbye!"[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Thompson II, Charles C. (1999). A Glimpse of Hell: The Explosion on the USS Iowa and Its Cover-Up. W. W. Norton & Company. pp. 379–380. ISBN 0-393-04714-8. 
  2. ^ Healy, Melissa (September 25, 1992). "Pentagon Blasts Tailhook Probe, Two Admirals Resign". Los Angeles Times (Washington). 
  3. ^ William H. McMichael, The Mother of All Hooks: The Story of the U.S. Navy's Tailhook Scandal (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Publishers, 1997), p. 273.
  4. ^ Healy, Melissa (September 25, 1992). "Pentagon Blasts Tailhook Probe, Two Admirals Resign". Los Angeles Times (Washington). 
  5. ^ "Post Tailhook Punishment". Frontline, PBS. Retrieved 2007-08-13. 
  6. ^ Lewis, Neil (October 15, 1993). "Tailhook Affair Brings Censure Of 3 Admirals". New York Times (Washington). 
  7. ^ Zimmerman
  8. ^ AP (27 December 2013). "Military Sex Assault Reports Jump By 50 Percent". Dictated. Retrieved 27 December 2013. 
  9. ^ "Law & Order: Season 3: Conduct Unbecoming: Synopsis". TV Guide. CBS Interactive Inc. Retrieved 11 December 2013. 
  10. ^ http://www.reelzchannel.com/movie/164314/she-stood-alone-the-tailhook-scandal/
  11. ^ Steele, Jeanette, "Twenty years after Tailhook, a changed Navy" San Diego Union-Tribune, 13 September 2011.
  12. ^ http://www.watchcartoononline.com/the-simpsons-season-7-episode-1-who-shot-mr-burns-part-two
  13. ^ http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Recap/TheSimpsonsS9E19SimpsonTide

Further reading[edit]

  • Brown, Kingsley R. "Military Sex Scandals from Tailhook to the Present: The Cure can be Worse than the Disease," Duke Journal of Gender Law & Policy (2007) 14:749-89
  • Chema, J. Richard. "Arresting tailhook: the prosecution of sexual harassment in the military." Military Law Review 140 (1993): 1.
  • McMichael, William (1997). The Mother of All Hooks: The Story of the U. S. Navy's Tailhook Scandal. Transaction Publishers. ISBN 1-56000-293-X. 
  • Office of the Inspector General, United States Department of Defense (1993). The Tailhook Report. New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 978-0-312-10329-3. 
  • Vistica, Gregory (1997). Fall From Glory: The Men Who Sank the U.S. Navy. Touchstone. ISBN 0-684-83226-7. 
  • Zimmerman, Jean (1995). Tailspin. Doubleday. ISBN 0-385-47789-9. 

External links[edit]