|Date:||September 5–8, 1991|
|Place:||Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S.|
The Tailhook scandal was a military scandal in which United States Navy and U.S. Marine Corps aviation officers were alleged to have sexually assaulted up to 83 women and seven 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 5 to 8, 1991. The event was subsequently abbreviated as "Tailhook '91" in media accounts.
The alleged sexual assaults mainly occurred in a third-floor hallway in which "hospitality suites" rented by participating military units for the conference were located. According to witnesses, a "gauntlet" of male military officers in civilian clothes groped, molested, or committed other sexual or physical assaults and harassment on women who walked through the hallway. In addition, military officers were alleged to have engaged in public nudity, excessive alcohol intoxication, public sexual activity, and other lewd behavior in and around the convention location at the hotel. One of the alleged victims, naval officer Paula Coughlin, initiated an investigation into the incident when she notified her chain of command about what she had experienced.
About a month after the conference, the public learned of the affair when it received widespread attention in the media. In response, the United States Congress, led by the Senate Armed Services Committee, directed the US military to investigate the event, verify the allegations, and prosecute the personnel involved. The resulting Navy inquiries were criticized for failing to adequately investigate what had happened. Also, it was learned that Secretary of the Navy Henry Garrett had attended the convention, but his involvement had not been disclosed in the Navy's investigation report.
As a result, the Department of Defense Inspector General's Office took over the inquiry. Its investigation led to approximately 40 naval and Marine officers receiving non-judicial punishment, mainly for conduct unbecoming an officer and false official statements. Three officers were taken to courts-martial, but their cases were dismissed after the presiding military judge determined that Chief of Naval Operations Frank Kelso, who had attended the conference, had misstated and concealed his own involvement in the events in question. No officers were disciplined for the alleged sexual assaults.
The aftermath resulted in sweeping changes throughout all military services in the Department of Defense regarding attitudes and policies toward women. Military critics claimed that the scandal highlighted a hostile attitude in U.S. military culture towards women in the areas of sexual harassment, sexual assault and equal treatment of women in career advancement and opportunity. Following the incident, in April 1993, Secretary of Defense Les Aspin announced a revised policy on the assignment of women in the armed forces: both services were to allow women to compete for assignments in combat aircraft, and the Navy was to open additional ships to women and draft a proposal for Congress to remove existing legislative barriers to the assignment of women to combat vessels.
The Tailhook Association began in 1956 as an informal club for Navy and Marine aviators (pilots and aircrew), who met once a year to socialize and swap stories. By 1963, the annual event had grown in popularity and attendance, and moved from San Diego to the Sands Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. In 1968, the convention relocated to the Las Vegas Hilton, which became its home until 1991.
Over time, the Tailhook Association attained semi-official status with the US military, including being given rent-free office space at Naval Air Station Miramar. The annual conventions featured forums, presentations, and symposiums on military aviation and operations. Officers were allowed to attend on official duty (called "temporary duty assignment"), rather than leave, although they dressed in civilian clothes. Senior officers and Defense Department (DoD) officials, including flag officers, as well as defense contractors, also became regular attendees. The DoD often provided military aircraft for attendees to travel to the conference. In 1991, 96 percent of the Tailhook Association's 14,000 members were male, reflecting the numbers in the naval air fleet, in which, out of 9,419 pilots and aircrew, 177 were women, with only 27 of them flying in jet aircraft.
Concerns over behavior
The conventions were well known for the partying atmosphere that prevailed. Participants at the conventions' social events frequently engaged in heavy alcohol intoxication, public nudity, outrageous stunts, and aggressive sexual advances. Navy and Marine flying squadrons would host hospitality suites at the Hilton, many of which encouraged alcohol consumption and featured sexually-oriented activities and presentations, such as performances by strippers. The events often caused thousands of dollars in damage to the hotel.
After the 1985 convention, several senior attendees, led by Tailhook board members Duke Cunningham, Rear Admiral James E. Service, and Vice Admiral Edward H. Martin, formally complained that the drunken revelry they had witnessed had crossed the line. In response to threats from Navy officials that official sponsorship could be withdrawn, the Tailhook Association imposed restrictions on behavior at future conventions, including the blacklisting of hospitality suites most known for promoting salacious activities. As a result, the 1986 convention exhibited calmer deportment, with one notable exception. Attendees later reported that Secretary of the Navy John Lehman engaged in a sexual act with a stripper in front of 50 to 100 spectators in the hospitality suite for Navy fighter squadron VFA-127.
In spite of continued exhortations and warnings from Tailhook leadership, subsequent conventions returned to featuring excessive alcohol consumption, sexually explicit presentations and activities, and lewd behavior by attendees. Reportedly, some hospitality suite hosts competed with each other as to who had the most outrageous entertainment. In one custom that persisted, "ballwalking"; male participants, usually on the patio around the pool or in the suites, would hang their genitalia outside of their unzipped pants.
Tailhook Association leaders were especially concerned over a practice that started in the late 1980s and became a custom at succeeding conventions. The custom involved young aviators lining up on both sides of the east wing third floor hospitality suite hallway and slapping stickers of their squadron insignia on the bodies of passersby, usually women. Often, after running out of stickers those involved would change to groping or pinching the women as they walked by. The activity became known among observers as the "gauntlet." The Hilton management was aware of the gauntlet, and had told its female staff to avoid the third floor at night during the Tailhook conventions.
The 1991 Tailhook convention, formally titled "The 35th Annual Naval Aviation Symposium" and scheduled for September 5–8 at the Las Vegas Hilton, was expected to be the largest in the organization's history. The Gulf War had taken place earlier in the year, and over eleven hours of presentations and discussion concerning US Navy and Marine Corps aviation operations in the conflict were to be the central focus for the 4,000 attendees. Twenty-two Navy and Marine flying squadrons or other military organizations reserved suites. Just over one-third of all the fixed-wing carrier aviators in the Navy were expected to be in attendance. On Friday, September 6, three of the eight Navy and Marine pilots shot down and captured by Iraq gave a presentation on their experiences. That evening the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Frank Kelso spoke at a banquet for the attendees.
On the afternoon of Saturday, September 7, a session called the "flag panel" took place, drawing an estimated 1,500 attendees. A tradition at the conferences, it consisted of a panel of flag officers answering questions on any topic from attendees. The 1991 session was chaired by the senior naval aviator (officially titled the Assistant Chief of Naval Operations (Air Warfare)), Vice Admiral Richard Dunleavy, accompanied by seven other admirals and one Marine general. The panel was moderated by Captain Frederic Ludwig, President of the Tailhook Association. During the session, a woman in attendance asked Dunleavy when women would be allowed to fly in combat jets. Her question was greeted with jeers and derisive laughter from the crowd. Dunleavy replied, "If Congress directs SecNav (the secretary of the Navy) to allow qualified women to fly combat aircraft, we will comply," which drew more boisterous boos and catcalls from the audience. The convention's formal agenda ended early that evening with a banquet, attended by about 800 people, in which Secretary of the Navy Henry L. Garrett III gave a speech.
Gauntlet and other incidents
According to witnesses, the gauntlet was in full swing by 10 p.m. on Saturday, September 7. Throngs of men lined the third-floor hospitality suite hallway groping women who entered the corridor. Men at each end of the hallway would signal that a woman was approaching by pounding on the wall or waving their hands above their head, which signaled the men in the center of the hallway to move to the sides to allow the women to enter. Besides being touched on their rear ends, crotch, or breasts, some women had their shirts or blouses yanked off or up and/or were lifted up and carried through the crowd. Observers and participants reported that while some of the women seemed to enjoy or play along with it, other women angrily remonstrated against the treatment, and in some cases punched, kicked, bit, scratched, or threw drinks at the men who grabbed them. The women who objected or fought back were ignored, jeered, or had drinks thrown in their faces by the men.
Just after 11 p.m., a semi-conscious 18-year-old woman named Julia Rodgers (who publicly identified herself in media reports and whose name was unredacted in public military hearings and documents) was carried out of the HS-1 (Helicopter Anti-submarine Squadron 1 "Seahorses") suite and then passed along through the hallway while men removed her pants and underwear. Two Hilton security guards who had been observing the activities, but had not previously intervened, rushed over to help her, and the men in the hallway fled into the nearby hospitality suites. Once the security guards left with Rodgers, the men re-emerged and the gauntlet resumed.
Around 11:30 p.m., Lieutenant Paula Coughlin emerged from the elevator into the third-floor hallway. Coughlin was a CH-53 helicopter pilot currently serving as an aide-de-camp to Rear Admiral Jack Snyder at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland. Searching for a familiar face, Coughlin began walking down the corridor. According to Coughlin, a man saw her and yelled "Admiral's aide!" and other men in the hallway joined in, repeating the phrase. Shortly thereafter, two men in succession lifted her from behind with their hands under her rear end and propelled her forward. As Coughlin loudly objected, a man reached around from behind, embraced her in a tight bear hug, and placed his hands in her shirt as they slid to the floor. Coughlin bit his hands and arms and he released her. At that moment, someone reached into her crotch and yanked on her underwear. Breaking free again, Coughlin tried to enter the doorway of one of the hospitality suites, but two men standing nearby moved to block her way.
Proceeding down the hallway, Coughlin asked an older man for help, who responded by placing his hands on her breasts. Spotting a nearby doorway, Coughlin lunged inside and found the suite to be almost empty. She collapsed, weeping, into a chair. A few minutes later an officer acquaintance entered and Coughlin asked him, "Do you know what they're doing out there?" He responded, "You didn't go down the hallway, did you? Someone should have warned you. That's the gauntlet." Later that evening, Coughlin recounted the episode to two other officers she knew, and one of them accompanied her to the hallway to see if she could identify her attackers. By this time, however, the hallway was almost empty and Coughlin did not see anyone she recognized.
That same evening, according to witnesses, numerous men ballwalked around the pool patio. Just past midnight, Tailhook partiers in an eighth-floor room, "mooning" the spectators, accidentally pushed out a window, and the large pane of glass plummeted into the crowd around the pool and shattered on the concrete. The flying glass missed the ballwalkers, but hit a college student in the head, giving her a concussion.
According to Coughlin, she told Snyder, first by telephone, and then in person at breakfast, about the assault the next morning of September 8, saying, "I was almost gang-banged last night by a bunch of fucking F-18 pilots." Snyder, she said, seemingly preoccupied by another matter and lost in thought, distractedly replied, "Paula, you need to stop hanging around with those guys. That's what you've got to expect on the third deck with a bunch of drunk aviators" and made no further comment.
On September 19, Captain Robert Parkinson, Snyder's chief of staff, and Coughlin met with Snyder in his office at Patuxent and Coughlin told him in detail about the assault. Snyder told Coughlin that he would call and inform Ludwig, Dunleavy, and his boss, Vice Admiral William Bowes, about the situation and that he and Coughlin would write detailed letters which he would deliver to Dunleavy. When Coughlin learned on September 30 that the letters had not yet been delivered, she gave a copy of her letter to a staff member for the Chief of Naval Personnel/Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Manpower Vice Admiral Jeremy Michael Boorda. Boorda showed the letter to Dunleavy and Vice Chief of Naval Operations Jerome L. Johnson, who directed Rear Admiral Duvall Williams, commander of the Naval Investigative Service (NIS), to start a criminal inquiry. Dunleavy called Coughlin to tell her a formal investigation was being ordered, and told her that she would be transferred to Washington, DC to help with the probe. The investigation began on October 11, 1991.
Also on October 11, 1991, Ludwig mailed a letter to the participating Navy and Marine Corps squadrons. Ludwig's letter, which assessed the 1991 symposium, began by saying, "Without a doubt, it was the biggest and most successful Tailhook we have ever had. We said it would be the 'Mother of all Hooks,' and it was." Ludwig then added, "This year the total damage bill was $23,000. Finally, and most serious, was 'the Gauntlet' on the third floor. I have five separate reports of young ladies, several of whom had nothing to do with Tailhook, who were verbally abused, had drinks thrown on them, were physically abused and were sexually molested. Most distressing was the fact an underage young lady was severely intoxicated and had her clothing removed by members of the Gauntlet."
Gregory Vistica, a journalist with the San Diego Union obtained a copy of Ludwig's letter and, on October 29, 1991, his newspaper published an article on Tailhook 1991 titled, "Women reportedly abused by Navy pilots at seminar." The story, which was also distributed on that day's national newswires and by the Associated Press, was reprinted by newspapers across the United States. That afternoon, Senator John McCain castigated the Navy from the Senate floor, calling for an immediate high-level investigation and for the Navy to end its relationship with the Tailhook Association. McCain later wrote a letter to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell and United States Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney requesting that an independent commission investigate the matter, but the DoD declined. The political climate at that moment may have contributed to the reaction to the story, as the contentious Clarence Thomas Supreme Court nomination hearings, involving allegations of sexual harassment, had concluded two weeks earlier.
Secretary of the Navy Henry L. Garrett III ordered the service to cut its ties with the Tailhook Association and for the Naval Inspector General (NIG), led by Rear Admiral George W. Davis VI, to investigate the Navy's "business relationship" with the organization. He directed the NIS to dedicate more resources to its Tailhook inquiry. The NIS and NIG were instructed to jointly brief a senior Navy board on the progress of their investigations at weekly meetings. In addition to Williams and Davis, the board consisted of Undersecretary of the Navy J. Daniel Howard, Judge Advocate General of the Navy John E. Gordon, Pete Fagan, Garrett's personal lawyer, William J. Flanagan Jr., the Navy's congressional liaison, and Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Manpower and Reserve Affairs) Barbara S. Pope.
On November 10, 1991, Snyder was relieved of command of the Patuxent River Naval Air Test Center by Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Frank Kelso for not reacting quickly enough to Coughlin's initial complaint. Angered over the firing of Snyder, naval aviation officers began telling reporters that Garrett had been present at Tailhook and had been made aware of the September 7 gauntlet incident by the next day. Although Dunleavy and Ludwig were aware of the gauntlet assaults by the next day, however, there is no recorded evidence that they told Garrett or Kelso about them before Ludwig's October 11 letter.
Davis' IG investigation was completed on April 28, 1992. The report did not blame any individuals by name, but it found "a marked absence of moral courage and personal integrity" in the officers interviewed, whom investigators faulted for failing to accept responsibility for their actions. The report stated that the Naval officers involved felt that the women who attended Tailhook "should have expected and accepted" the treatment they received and that there was a "long-standing, continued abuse and glamorization of alcohol within the naval aviation community." The report noted that of the 1,730 passengers ferried to Las Vegas on military aircraft for the convention, only 100 were traveling on official orders, which are required for that type of travel.
The NIS investigation was also completed on April 28, 1992 and stated that it had identified 25 victims of sexual assaults that had occurred at the convention. Four suspects were identified: Marine Captain Gregory Bonam for the assault on Coughlin, Marine Lieutenant Colonel Michael S. Fagan for obstruction of justice and making false official statements, Navy Lieutenant Michael Clancy for helping organize the gauntlet, and Royal Australian Air Force officer Jim Ibottson for biting women's buttocks (but not for the assault on Coughlin). After the US government informed Australian authorities of the allegations against him, Ibottson committed suicide.
A number of members of Congress, including Sam Nunn, John Glenn, Barbara Boxer, and Pat Schroeder, were dismayed with the limited scope and results of the NIS investigation, which appeared to have avoided any inquiry into the culpability of commanders or other higher-ranked officers in the incident. Schroeder was especially angered when, after the reports were released, Marine General Royal N. Moore Jr. sent a message throughout the Marine aviation community asking for nominations for the "prestigious Tailhook award." NIS agents had not interviewed any of the commanders of the squadrons which had operated hospitality suites nor any of the flag officers who had attended the convention. In response, on May 27, 1992, the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) directed the DoD to discipline the involved squadron commanders and that all pending Navy and Marine Corps officer promotions were frozen until the DoD provided a list to the Committee of every officer who had misbehaved at Tailhook.
Angered by the SASC's decision to freeze the promotions for almost 5,000 Naval and Marine officers, Garrett told Cheney that he wanted to try to convince the SASC members to change their minds. Cheney forbade Garrett from that course of action, telling him to instead fix the problems with the Navy's investigation as the SASC was requesting.
On June 2, 1992, Garrett told the Office of the General Counsel of the Navy (OGC), to take over the Tailhook investigation. The General Counsel of the Navy, Craig S. King, ordered two of his attorneys to review the NIG and NIS investigation reports and identify the squadron commanders and any other officers who should be questioned under the expanded investigation.
Around the same time, the New York Times asked the offices of Garrett and Kelso if they had been at Tailhook and/or on the third floor hospitality suite area on the evening of September 7–8, 1991. Garrett responded by publicly declaring that he had not visited the hospitality suites on the night in question. OGC attorneys rechecked the investigation interview summaries, and found that a witness had testified to seeing Garrett together with Vice Admiral John H. Fetterman, Jr., commander of Naval Education and Training Command, in the HS-1 suite and the nearby VMFP-3 "Rhinos" suite. The report of Garrett's presence in the suites had not been included in the final NIS report. On June 9, 1992, Garrett released a press statement saying that he had gone to one party suite at Tailhook, but only briefly to "grab a beer." On June 12, Garrett offered his resignation to DoD Secretary Dick Cheney, who refused it.
Dissatisfied with the Navy's handling of the matter, members of the US House and Senate began calling for independent hearings on Tailhook. In response, on June 18, 1992, Garrett decided to hand the matter over to the DoD's Inspector General (DoDIG) and its criminal investigative division, the Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS).
On June 24, 1992, the Washington Post published a story, with Coughlin's cooperation, on her experience at Tailhook. That evening and the next, ABC World News Tonight broadcast a two-part interview of Coughlin conducted by Peter Jennings. President George H. W. Bush watched the interview from the White House. On June 26, 1992, Cheney informed Garrett that he had decided to accept his resignation. Kelso also offered to resign, but Cheney refused to accept it. That same day, Coughlin visited the White House at President Bush's invitation, where he assured her that justice would be done.
In July 1992, Sean O'Keefe was appointed acting Secretary of the Navy and Howard was retained as undersecretary. On July 2, 1992, Congress eliminated funding for 10,000 administrative personnel from the Navy's 1993 budget in protest over Tailhook. The Tailhook Association canceled its 1992 conference and the Las Vegas Hilton announced in August 1992 that Tailhook was banned from its property.
Acting DoD Inspector General Derek J. Vander Schaaf and DCIS senior agent Don Mancuso gave their investigative agents a wide scope for their inquiry and encouraged them to be more aggressive than Naval investigators had been. Navy and Marine Corps personnel involved or targeted in the investigation subsequently alleged that DCIS agents often used unethical and unprofessional interrogation and investigative tactics. The methods reportedly included physical intimidation, lying, trickery, badgering, harassment, innuendo, and false accusations as well as standard law enforcement techniques like "good cop/bad cop." In some cases, DCIS agents purportedly tried to involve officers' wives in the interrogations, forbade officers from having legal representation present, made false promises of immunity, forced polygraph examinations, asked questions about their sex lives, threatened tax audits, and neglected to read interviewees their rights, as required in military criminal investigations. For their part, DCIS agents were angered and frustrated by what they viewed as insincere, deceitful, evasive, and dishonest responses from many of the Navy and Marine officers they interviewed.
Citing the cost of professional transcription, DCIS elected not to tape-record most of the interviews and interrogations, instead instructing agents to type their own interview notes. The lack of recordings of the interviews would later be problematic for military prosecutors.
On September 24, 1992, DoDIG released the first part of its report, which focused on the failings of the NIS and NIG investigations. In response to its findings, O'Keefe relieved Williams and Gordon and directed their retirement (at current rank) from the Navy. Davis was also relieved, but allowed to continue in service. Howard was reprimanded for "failure to provide effective leadership" and "abrogation of responsibility." O'Keefe placed the NIS (soon renamed NCIS - Naval Criminal Investigative Service) permanently under civilian control.
The second, and final, portion of the DoDIG investigation was publicly released on April 23, 1993, although the report had been completed in February 1993. The delay in releasing the report was to await the appointment of the replacement for O'Keefe, John Howard Dalton, as Secretary of the Navy. The report catalogued a litany of offenses committed by military officers at Tailhook '91, including assaults, indecent exposure, lewd behavior, and public drunkenness. The investigation concluded that 83 women and seven men had been assaulted, sexually or otherwise, at the conference. It reported that 23 officers were implicated in the assaults, 23 had committed indecent exposure, and 51 had subsequently lied to investigators. At the Pentagon press conference presenting the findings, Kelso stated that, "we had an institutional problem in how we treat women" and called the report, "a valuable teaching tool."
In late 1992, as the DoDIG investigation progressed, O'Keefe approved prosecutions of Tailhook suspects under what was called a "consolidated disposition authority" (CDA). Customarily, in the US military, discipline is handled by the local chain of command. Under a CDA, however, all prosecutions over a specific incident or matter are handled by the same convening authority. The purpose was to make any punishments more consistent, and to avoid conflicts of interest that could arise if local chains of command included senior officers who had also attended Tailhook.
The Department of the Navy established separate CDA's for Navy and Marine officers. The Navy CDA, established on January 30, 1993, was headed by Commander, Naval Surface Forces Atlantic Vice Admiral J. Paul Reason. Reason's legal team worked from Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek and hearings were held at Naval Station Norfolk.
On February 23, 1993, although its investigation had not officially closed, the DoDIG agreed to deliver its Tailhook case files to Navy attorneys to review in preparation for prosecutions. At that time, the DoDIG/DCIS had compiled files on 300 officers. The DoDIG considered 160 of the cases as not worthy of prosecution and held onto them for the time being before giving them to the Navy in May 1993. Of the remaining 140 suspects whose files were turned over in February, 118 were Navy officers and 22 were Marines. The DoDIG also had 35 files on the flag officers who had attended Tailhook 1991 that it kept separate from the other 300 cases.
Reports differ on what happened to the 35 flag officer files. Mancuso stated that the files were delivered to Kelso's office (who at that time was acting Secretary of the Navy), but Kelso's staff claimed that the files were kept by the office of Secretary of Defense Les Aspin. The location of the flag officer files was a sensitive issue, as one of the cases involved Kelso (see below).
Navy attorneys quickly dropped 12 of the cases as too weak for prosecution. On May 10–11, 1993, Reason was briefed on the remaining 106 cases by an executive panel of non-attorney Navy captains (O-6s) who had themselves been briefed on the cases by the reviewing prosecutorial team at Little Creek. Reason decided not to pursue about 50 of the cases, citing a lack of convincing evidence. For the remainder, Reason offered admiral's mast to those officers for which there was no evidence of sexual assault.
Forty-two officers, most of whom were charged with indecent exposure (officially designated as "conduct unbecoming" under the Uniform Code of Military Justice) for ballwalking or streaking, and/or false official statements, accepted admiral's mast. At the masts, two were exonerated and 12 received nonpunitive letters or counseling which were not recorded in their permanent record. The other 28 officers received fines between $500–2,000 and/or were issued permanent, punitive letters of admonition or reprimand, which likely ended further opportunities for promotion. Thirty of the officers were subsequently given grants of immunity by Navy prosecutors who hoped to use them as witnesses in the pending courts-martial.
Four naval officers had rejected their May 1993 offers from Reason to go to admiral's mast. Reason was advised by his legal team that the cases for two of the officers, Commanders Gregory Peairs and Robert Yakely, were too weak for trial prosecutions. Reason, who wanted to see the two punished in some way, asked new Navy Secretary John Howard Dalton to issue them letters of censure. Reason also wanted letters of censure for three other officers (Frederic Ludwig, Robert E. Stumpf, and Richard F. Braden) that he had decided not to offer nonjudicial punishment to but who his legal team also said had cases that were too weak for trial. Peairs and Yakeley were accused of indecent exposure, Braden of witnessing the gauntlet and not intervening, Stumpf of allowing lewd acts to occur in his squadron's suite, and Ludwig for his role in planning and directing the convention. Admiral Stan Arthur on Kelso's staff, however, rejected Reason's request and ordered the cases disposed of within his CDA.
In response, Reason ordered all five to meet "fact-finding boards", composed of a two-star admiral and two captains, who would re-investigate their cases and recommend a course of action. The boards cleared all five of wrongdoing by the end of October 1993 and they received no punitive action from Reason.
The Marine hearings, called "office hours" in Marine jargon, with Krulak at Quantico commenced the third week of June 1993. Marine prosecutors dropped three cases. Of the remaining 19, two were held for referral to courts-martial and the others were offered nonjudicial punishment. Krulak exonerated six and gave the other 11 fines and punitive letters.
One of the two Marine officers referred for courts-martial was Gregory Bonam, the only individual prosecuted for the assault on Coughlin. Bonam's article 32 hearing (the military equivalent of a preliminary hearing) began on August 17, 1993 at Marine Corps Combat Development Command headquarters in Quantico. The hearing was presided over by Colonel Steven S. Mitchell, a Marine Corps Reserve judge. Coughlin testified at the hearing and admitted that she had had difficulty in identifying Bonam as her assailant. Bonam also testified and denied assaulting Coughlin.
After resuming on October 14, 1993, James T. Kelly, a civilian employee at Patuxent and Navy Reserve P-3 tactical coordinator who attended Tailhook '91, testified at the hearing that he had witnessed the assaults on Rodgers and Coughlin. Kelly's description of Coughlin's assailant differed from hers. Coughlin remembered a tall, black male, which matched Bonam, but Kelly described the perpetrator as shorter and with lighter-colored skin. After Kelly, two additional witnesses provided alibis for Bonam, testifying that he had been outside near the pool at the time of the assault on Coughlin. The next day, Mitchell recommended dismissing the charges against Bonam and, on October 21, 1993, Krulak concurred, ending the case.
The charges against the other Marine officer referred for courts-martial, Lieutenant Colonel Cass D. Howell, were also eventually dismissed. The charges had included sexual harassment, conduct unbecoming an officer, false swearing, obstruction of justice, and adultery (for allegedly sharing a room at Tailhook with a mistress). No Article 32 hearing was held.
Court trials begin
The Navy ultimately referred five officers for courts-martial. Lieutenants Cole Cowden and Rolando Diaz were originally offered admiral's mast, but rejected the option. Commanders Thomas Miller and Gregory Tritt were referred directly to courts-martial without being offered a mast. Lieutenant David Samples had accepted and received punitive mast action from Reason, but was subsequently charged with additional, more serious offenses. The presiding judge during the prosecution of all five was Captain William T. Vest, a 29-year Navy veteran. He was assisted by Commander Larry McCullough.
Cowden was charged with sexual assault on a female Navy officer (not Coughlin) and for conduct unbecoming an officer. The conduct unbecoming charge was for a photograph at the convention in which Cowden posed with his tongue on the chest of a civilian woman. Cowden's article 32 hearing convened on July 15, 1993 and his defense attorney effectively attacked the credibility of the accuser, whose account of the assault had changed over time and who admitted to lying to investigators. Evidence was also presented that the woman in the photo was not offended and did not consider herself to be a victim. After the hearing, McCullough recommended that both charges be dropped. Reason, however, based on advice given him by his staff judge advocate Captain Jeffry Williams, dropped the sexual assault charge but decided to proceed with a general courts-martial for conduct unbecoming. On September 10, 1993, acting on a motion from Cowden's attorney, Vest ruled that Williams "had exceeded permissible bounds of his official role as a legal advisor" and disqualified him from the case. Williams' replacement, Commander Thomas R. Taylor, recommended dismissing all charges against Cowden and Reason concurred, ending the case.
Diaz was charged with disobeying an order and conduct unbecoming. At the 1990 and 1991 Tailhook conventions, Diaz led a voyeuristic activity in the suite for the VAW-110 squadron in which he shaved the bare legs of female participants. Reportedly, the shaving was popular and there was usually no shortage of female volunteers, nor onlookers. Diaz' shaving booth was located next to the suite's sliding glass doors, making the activity visible to onlookers outside on the pool patio. The squadron's commander, Christopher Remshak, testified that he had ordered Diaz not to shave any women's legs above mid-thigh. Diaz did not comply with the alleged order, in some cases giving women "bikini shaves," at their request or with their consent, all the way to their pubic zones.
At his article 32 hearing on August 3, 1993, Diaz told the court that Remshak had never given him such an order, and if he had it did not matter because senior officers, including Dunleavy, Vice Admiral Edwin R. Kohn, Jr., and Kelso had witnessed the activity and had tacitly approved it by not intervening. Diaz questioned why, if the activity was wrong, were women officers, including, he claimed, Paula Coughlin, who had received leg shaves, not being charged. Prosecutors subsequently dropped the charge of disobeying the order but directed Diaz to be court-martialed for conduct unbecoming for the bikini shaves. On September 24, 1993, Diaz accepted an admiral's mast over the charge, and Reason issued him a $1,000 fine and a punitive letter of reprimand.
Diaz' claim that Kelso had witnessed his leg-shaving show received heavy media attention. In response to Diaz' statement on August 3, the Office of the Chief of Naval Information issued a press release saying that at the '91 convention Kelso "did not visit any of the squadron suites, nor did he see or hear of any misconduct or inappropriate behavior. Admiral Kelso testified under oath that the only time he spent on the third floor of the Las Vegas Hilton was in the pool/patio area on Friday evening, when he spent about forty minutes visiting with naval aviators."
Tritt, Miller, and Samples
Tritt, second-in-command of the VAQ-139 squadron at the time of Tailhook '91, was charged with sexual assault for allegedly groping three women in a "mini-gauntlet" on the Hilton pool patio outside of the VAQ-129 squadron's suite, with conduct unbecoming for encouraging others to do the same or for failing to intervene when others were doing the same, for lying and/or making a false official statement, and for telling his squadron members to also lie to officials. Only one of Tritt's alleged groping victims had come forward.
During Tritt's Article 32 hearing, held from July 7-August 25, 1993, his defense attorney questioned the alleged assault victim, a female Navy officer, who had been unable to positively identify her assailant, and the witnesses who Navy prosecutors had said had seen Tritt grope two other women. Under questioning in court, the witnesses admitted that they had not actually seen Tritt grope anyone. In September, McCullough recommended dropping all three assault charges and the conduct unbecoming charge. On October 30, 1993, the Navy dropped the assault charges, but continued to prosecute Tritt on one count of making a false official statement.
Thomas Miller, commander of VAQ-139, initially faced nine charges: six counts of conduct unbecoming, two counts of obstruction of justice, and one count of dereliction of duty. Miller was accused of giving his Hilton room key to one of his married subordinates at the '91 convention and telling him to take a woman, who was not his wife, to the room to have sex. He was also accused of telling his squadron members not to cooperate with investigators. Furthermore, Miller was alleged to have ballwalked on rooftops and golf courses in Singapore, Honolulu, and San Diego during a 1990 operational cruise on the carrier Independence. Finally, prosecutors alleged that Miller had been aware of other sexual misconduct at the convention, such as the "mini-gauntlet" that Tritt was accused of participation in, and had failed to try to stop it. Most of the charges relied on the testimony of a single witness, Lieutenant Daniel F. Janssen, a subordinate member of Miller's squadron, who had been granted immunity.
Samples had received his admiral's mast from Reason on June 2, 1993 for making a false official statement and had been fined $2,000 and given a punitive letter of admonition. As with other officers, Samples was given a grant of immunity after his mast hearing by Navy prosecutors, who were hoping he would incriminate other officers. Shortly thereafter, Navy prosecutors discovered statements from witnesses who said they had seen Samples involved in the gauntlet assault on Rodgers. Based on the new testimony, Samples was charged with indecent assault and lying under oath. The lying charge was dismissed on September 2, but the Navy proceeded with a court-martial for the assault charge. On October 27, 1993, Samples' trial was postponed while the United States Court of Military Appeals considered a motion to dismiss from the defense because, they argued, Samples' immunity agreement with prosecutors should have precluded further prosecution.
Flag officers disciplined
On July 21, 1993, Secretary of Defense Les Aspin transferred the case files on the 35 flag officers who had attended Tailhook '91 to the new Secretary of the Navy John Dalton and directed him to determine what disciplinary action, if any, should be taken. The 35 files included 30 active duty Navy, two Marine, and three Navy Reserve officers. On October 1, 1993, Dalton recommended to Aspin that 32 of the 35 officers receive formal reprimands. He also recommended that Kelso be relieved of his position.
After consultation with President Bill Clinton, Aspin decided not to fire Kelso. Instead, on October 15, he gave Kelso and 29 of the other officers nonpunitive "letters of caution." Aspin issued secretarial letters of censure (equivalent to formal reprimands) to Dunleavy and rear admirals Riley Mixson and Wilson Flagg, Dunleavy's deputies. Aspin demoted Dunleavy (who had retired in July 1992) from three to two-star rank. The remaining two of the 35 officers were cleared of wrongdoing.
Kelso ruling and end of prosecutions
In mid-October 1993, the full DoDIG/DCIS Tailhook investigative database was provided to Tritt, Miller, and Samples' defense attorneys. During their examination of the files, the defense discovered that there were multiple witnesses who had seen Kelso in the Hilton suites and pool patio area on the Saturday night (September 7–8, 1991) in which their clients were accused of committing their offenses, contradicting Kelso's sworn statements to investigators (and public statements) that he had only visited that area the previous (Friday, September 6) night before.
As Miller's court-martial commenced on November 8, 1993, his defense attorney, Lieutenant Commander Wiliam C. Little, asked Vest to dismiss the charges because of unlawful command influence. As Little explained, by referring the charges against Miller, Kelso was acting as a command "accuser." If Kelso, however, himself was present in the vicinity of the alleged sexual assaults and other lewd behavior, he would have had the same duty as the other defendants to intervene to stop the behavior in question. By appointing Reason, junior to him, to oversee the judicial process, he was shielding himself from prosecution. Therefore, the circumstances indicated that Kelso could not lawfully act as an accuser commander, since he himself might be involved in the same, or related, crimes. Vest replied that, if true, the defense had a legitimate concern and requested witnesses to give evidence on whether Kelso had been present on the night in question. A week later, Tritt's attorneys made the same motion on behalf of their client and asked Vest to join their case with Miller's, to which Vest agreed. On January 11, 1994, Samples' appeal for dismissal on the basis of immunity was denied and, on January 28, Vest granted Samples' defense attorneys' motion to join his case with those of Miller and Tritt on the Kelso question.
From November 15 to December 17, 1993, a series of witnesses testified before Vest on whether or not they saw Kelso in the third floor party area on Saturday night at Tailhook '91. Several witnesses, including Kelso's two executive assistants, swore that Kelso had not been in that area on the night in question. A number of witnesses, mainly senior officers or members of Kelso's staff, who had previously provided sworn statements to DCIS agents stating that they had seen Kelso in the area on Saturday night recanted their statements in court, or said that they could now not remember what they had seen. Thirty-four witnesses, mainly junior and mid-level officers (O-5 and below), testified or provided sworn statements that they had seen Kelso in the suites or pool patio area on Saturday night around the same time that the crimes committed by Tritt, Miller, and Samples had allegedly occurred. The testimonies and statements of the 34 were generally consistent in their details.
Kelso testified before Vest on November 29, 1993. Under oath, he repeatedly denied going to the third floor on Saturday night. Kelso stated that he visited the pool patio area on Friday night, but did not enter any of the party suites. Outside the courtroom, Kelso repeated his denial to a group of reporters and media representatives. The next day, Dunleavy testified that he had not seen Kelso on Saturday night, but had accompanied Kelso into some of the hospitality suites on Friday night.
|"Based on the convincing nature of the testimonial evidence and the many corroborating facts and circumstances surrounding such evidence, this court finds Adm. Kelso is in error in his assertion that he did not visit the patio on Saturday evening. This court finds that Adm. Kelso manipulated the initial investigative process in a manner designed to shield his own personal involvement in Tailhook '91. This court specifically finds this inaction [to pursue accountability of flag officers] was part of a calculated effort to minimize the exposure of the involvement and personal conduct of flag officers and senior Department of Navy officials who were present at Tailhook '91. Any military commander convening a court-martial calling a subordinate to account for an act of misconduct must be free from any suspicion of involvement, directly or indirectly, in the same or any related act of misconduct. This is a matter of fundamental fairness."|
|Captain William T. Vest, February 8, 1994|
On February 8, 1994, Vest issued his ruling. Vest concluded that Kelso, contrary to his sworn testimony, had been present on the Hilton third floor on the Saturday night in question (September 7–8, 1991). Vest stated that Kelso had formally acted in the role of "accuser" with regards to the Tailhook prosecutions and, "that there has been both actual and apparent unlawful command influence in each case." Vest dismissed the charges against Miller, Tritt, and Samples and disqualified Reason as the convening authority, effective the afternoon of February 11, 1994. The morning of February 11, Reason announced that he would take no further judicial action. At this point, the Navy's Tailhook prosecutions ended: the two-year statute of limitations had passed for nonjudicial/mast action on the charges against the three defendants.
Personnel and promotions
On February 15, 1994, Kelso announced that he would leave his post and retire from the Navy two months early. Dalton and the new Defense Secretary William Perry lauded Kelso's character and service and, in Perry's case, criticized Vest's decision. The US Senate voted 54–43 to allow Kelso to retain his 4-star rank and he formally retired on April 30, 1994. One of Kelso's last official acts as CNO was to approve the Navy's new, 64-page policy handbook on recognizing, preventing, and dealing with sexual harassment. William Vest retired from the Navy in May 1994 and became an administrative law judge with the Social Security Administration.
Paula Coughlin resigned from the Navy on May 31, 1994. She sued the Tailhook Association, which settled with her out of court for $400,000, and the Las Vegas Hilton. The Hilton contested the lawsuit, and on October 28, 1994, a Nevada jury awarded Coughlin $1.7 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages. Eight other women present at Tailhook '91 also sued the Tailhook Association and/or Hilton and received out-of-court settlements for undisclosed amounts.
Many, if not most, of the officers who had received punitive nonjudicial actions for Tailhook-related infractions, such as Diaz and Samples, separated from the active-duty Navy or Marines within a year or two of the end of the prosecutions in 1994. Tritt retired from the Navy on July 31, 1994 and became a flight instructor for a defense contractor. Miller and Cowden continued to serve on active duty. Fagan, one of the four named in the original Navy investigation, had received nonpunitive action from Krulak and was later promoted to Colonel (O-6). Ludwig retired from the Navy in May 1995. Bonam reportedly was denied promotion and left the Marines soon after.
Beginning in 1992, the Senate Armed Services Committee, which approved all field officer promotions O-4 and above, directed the Navy and Marines to include the complete investigation documentation for any promotion nominee who had been involved with Tailhook '91. The SASC then asked the Navy to hold the promotion for the affected officer until the SASC cleared the officer for advancement, sometimes delaying the promotion by a year or more. The SASC's actions may have been motivated by a desire from members of Congress to ensure that the Navy had held its officers adequately accountable for Tailhook transgressions. The Department of the Navy (which included the Marine Corps) used the list of 140 officers that the DoDIG had initially recommended for further investigation or prosecution as its baseline for compliance with the SASC order. In a few cases, anticipating pushback from the SASC over a promotion nomination, the Navy itself delayed or denied promotion to officers on the list, even though the officers had otherwise been exonerated.
The most public example of a cleared officer losing a promotion opportunity was that of Commander (O-5) Robert Stumpf. A recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross, six Air Medals, and three Navy Commendation Medals for combat missions he had flown against Libya in 1986 and during the 1991 Gulf War, Stumpf had been appointed to the prestigious position as squadron commander of the Blue Angels after being absolved of wrongdoing with Tailhook. Stumpf was initially approved for promotion to captain (O-6) on May 24, 1994. The SASC, however, upon learning of his involvement with Tailhook, asked the Navy to delay his promotion until they could fully investigate Stumpf's record, and the Navy acquiesced. On November 13, 1995, Dalton removed Stumpf's name from the promotion list, telling the SASC that it was to "maintain the integrity of the promotion process." Stumpf unsuccessfully appealed the removal and retired as an O-5 from the Navy in October 1996.
The SASC's perceived intransigence over its promotion approvals for Tailhook-implicated, but cleared, officers like Stumpf drew criticism, including from former Navy Secretary Jim Webb and the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal. Sam Nunn, one of the senior members of the SASC, reacted angrily to the criticism in a hearing on March 12, 1996, saying, "What I deeply resent is the pounding this committee has taken on procedure, as if you've got some kind of McCarthy trial going on." Perhaps because of the criticism, the SASC quickened its reviews of the officers' records. By July 1996, the SASC had reviewed the promotion recommendations for 39 Tailhook-linked officers, ultimately approving 31 of them while rejecting eight.
In July 2002, the George W. Bush administration awarded Stumpf, now working as a pilot for FedEx, the promotion to captain, effective July 1, 1995, and ordered that he receive back pay and updated retirement benefits. Said Stumpf of the retroactive promotion, "My family and I are exceptionally pleased by the Navy's decision. We hope this is the beginning of a measured re-examination of the injustices accorded to hundreds of naval officers whose promising careers were terminated prematurely during the shameful political hysteria following the 1993 investigations."
The Navy had been one of the first US military services to begin integrating women into its ranks. In 1972, CNO Elmo Zumwalt opened up previously closed jobs to enlisted women, allowed non-medical women to serve on some non-combat ships, and suspended the restrictions on women receiving command assignments at land bases. According to Gregory Vistica, since that time, and perhaps as a result of Zumwalt's changes, animosity towards the presence of women had grown in the Navy. He cited as evidence a 1986 study commissioned by the Navy to assess the assimilation of women into the United States Naval Academy. The study found that women at the academy had become increasingly more isolated and ostracized by their male peers in the years since 1976 when they were first admitted. Fearful of bad publicity, the Navy did not release the report's findings.
In December 1990, male students (midshipmen) at the academy handcuffed one of their female classmates to a urinal in the men's bathroom and took photographs before releasing her. A subsequent Navy IG investigation found that, at the school, there was "a breakdown in civility and discipline, which contributes to an environment conducive to sexual harassment and discrimination."
The initial reports on the Tailhook investigation were released in 1992, which was a presidential election year in the US. Due, in part, to the previous year's Clarence Thomas Supreme Court nomination hearings, sexual harassment was a prominent political topic. Also, a number of politicians and activists were calling on the US military to end the ban on women's participation in combat occupations. Both issues were involved in the Tailhook controversy. Advocates for lifting the ban on women in combat argued that the restrictions placed women on an unequal footing with their male compatriots, thereby facilitating sexual harassment and sexist discrimination.
In response to Tailhook, Garrett had created a working group called the Standing Committee on Women in the Navy and Marine Corps. The board was chaired by Barbara Pope and included Marsha J. Evans. In September 1992, the committee made a list of 80 recommendations to improve how the Navy addressed women's issues, including a sexual harassment/assault hotline and education on alcohol abuse. O'Keefe approved all the recommendations.
Congress, in July 1991, had lifted the restriction on women flying in combat aircraft (Section 502 of the Women's Armed Services Integration Act), but the services had not immediately taken action. In January 1993, Pope's committee met with O'Keefe and Kelso to push for the opening of combat jobs to women. On April 28, 1993, Aspin rescinded the Combat Exclusion Policy that kept women out of combat aircraft cockpits.
The Navy selected the Abraham Lincoln and Eisenhower as the first carriers to deploy with female combat aviators, and directed that female pilots be advanced in the training pipeline so that they would be eligible to serve on those ships. Two of the first female aviators selected to fly in Navy combat jets (F-14) were Kara Hultgreen and Carey Lohrenz. At the same time, the Air Force announced it was also admitting women into combat flying slots, and introduced Jeannie Leavitt and Sharon Preszler as its first female fighter pilots, followed soon after by Martha McSally. On November 15, 1994, two women F/A-18 pilots from the Eisenhower made their first combat sortie, patrolling the southern no-fly zone over Iraq.
In 1994, USS The Sullivans (DDG-68), the first warship designed from the outset to accommodate both men and women sailors, was laid down. The ship launched and joined the fleet in 1997 with a mixed male and female crew.
Tailhook focused the US military on the issue of sexual harassment and assault in its ranks. In 1996, for example, a DoD survey of 90,000 service members found that 55 percent of uniformed women had experienced sexual harassment at least once over the previous year. Embarrassed by these reports on the extent of the problem in their organizations, the US military services made greater efforts to address the problem, including increased training and more severe prosecutions.
In a contrary view, critics alleged that sensitivity over Tailhook caused too much political correctness or "witch hunts" to be involved in US military decision-making. One example cited was Lieutenant Rebecca Hansen, who washed out of Navy flight school in 1993 and alleged that she was the victim of sexual harassment at the school. Vice Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Stanley R. Arthur, ruled that there was no evidence of harassment and upheld the dismissal of Hansen from the flight program. Independent inquiries by the Navy and DoD inspector general offices confirmed Arthur's decision. Hansen's home state Senator, David Durenberger, however, demanded that Arthur's name be withdrawn from future command nominations, and Navy CNO Boorda acquiesced on June 24, 1994. The next day, Senator Daniel Inouye criticized the Navy for the decision, saying, "Have we come to this-where facts no longer matter, where appearances and imagery rule, where symbolism and symbolic value drive out realism and truth? We were appalled by the Navy's Tailhook scandal. But we have to stop this cycle of character assassinations by insinuation."
In the wake of Tailhook, sexual harassment and assault complaints filed by female servicemembers greatly increased. The increase was attributed, in part, to military women feeling more confident and empowered to report actual abuses, believing that their reports would be taken seriously and they would not face retaliation. Male servicemen, however, claimed that many of the complaints were false and/or exaggerated, filed because the women involved did not fear punishment for making a false report, or believed that their report would be found credible no matter how specious, because of the political climate. As a result, it was reported that male servicemen began to avoid their female counterparts, and otherwise took precautionary measures when interacting with them, such as ensuring that there was always a witness to their conversations.
Since the 1990s, the US military has periodically been involved in sexual harassment or sexual assault controversies that receive widespread media attention and recriminations. In media reports on the incidents, the Tailhook scandal is usually mentioned.
Critics of the DoD's handling of the scandal expressed dissatisfaction that no one was found guilty or disciplined for the most serious charges involved in the incident, which were the sexual assaults. Also, few of the senior Navy and Marine leaders, such as Kelso, who, testimony and other evidence showed, were aware of the behavior at the Tailhook conventions and had done little or nothing to stop it were disciplined or prosecuted.
Military members, as well as outside observers, accused the Navy of employing a double standard regarding several of the Tailhook-related issues. In addition to focusing the prosecutions on junior, rather than senior officers, none of the three women officers who were found in the investigation to have engaged in conduct unbecoming or lying to investigators were prosecuted or given nonjudicial punishment. Also, Navy members pointed out that up until the time of Tailhook, Navy leaders had allowed strippers and other salacious or sexualized entertainment to occur at officers' and enlisted clubs on bases. Furthermore, and this continued after Tailhook, base exchanges sold pornographic magazines and base newspapers accepted and printed paid advertising from off-base strip clubs, massage parlors, and similar types of business establishments.
In popular culture
- The case inspired a 1993 Law & Order episode, "Conduct Unbecoming", in which a young female lieutenant is murdered during a similar incident at a Manhattan hotel.
- The scandal itself was dramatized in the 1995 TV film She Stood Alone: The Tailhook Scandal.
- In the 1995 The Simpsons episode "Who Shot Mr. Burns? Part Two", upon being arrested Waylon Smithers jokes to reporters, "Kent, I feel about as low as Madonna when she found out she missed Tailhook".
- In the 1998 The Simpsons episode "Simpson Tide", a group of admirals decline to punish Homer Simpson (a Naval Reservist) due to their involvement in various scandals, including Tailhook.
- Fat Leonard scandal
- The Invisible War (2012 film)
- Kelly Flinn
- Sexual assault in the United States military
- 1919 Newport sex scandal
- 1996 Aberdeen scandal
- 2003 US Air Force sexual assault scandal
- 2012 US Air Force sexual assault scandal
- 2017 United States Armed Forces nude photo scandal
- OIG, p. 174 identifies the squadron and suite of the person in the photograph and states that the t-shirt was not designed specifically for the '91 event, but was sold by the squadron as a fund raiser.
- Vistica, p. 233; Zimmerman, p. 21
- McMichael, pp. 21-23; Vistica, pp. 233-34; OIG, p. 18 states that 1,730 attendees at the 1991 conference were transported on military aircraft.
- Zimmerman, pp. 12; 241; OIG, p. 18. The OIG report states that the association counted 15,479 members in August 1992.
- Vistica, pp. 233-34; McMichael, p. 18; Zimmerman, pp. 6-8. Past stunts had included taxying a military aircraft, with a police escort, from Nellis Air Force Base to the Hilton, and an admiral (Bear Taylor) who dressed as a Civil War general and rode a horse into the Hilton lobby (Vistica, p. 234). In some cases, prostitutes had reportedly been retained to provide sexual services to guests in the hospitality suites (McMichael, p. 18)
- Vistica, pp. 234-238; McMichael, pp. 18-19; OIG, pp. 26-27; Martin referred to the 1985 convention as, "a rambunctious drunken melee" with behavior that was "grossly appalling" and that "there was virtually no responsibility displayed by anyone in an attempt to restrain those who were getting out of hand." (McMichael, pp. 18-19)
- Vistica, pp. 237-238; McMichael, pp. 18-19
- Vistica, pp. 13-14, 391; McMichael, p.19; According to the witnesses, Lehman licked whipped cream from the stripper's nude crotch. Vistica (p. 246) states that Lehman held a dollar bill in his mouth, which the stripper grabbed with her crotch. In the DoD Inspector General investigation report on the 1991 Tailhook convention, Lehman is not mentioned by name in reference to the 1986 incident, instead described as a "senior Navy official" (Vistica, p. 391). When asked about the incident on May 26, 1996 by Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts, Lehman responded, "I have to say that the description is far more lurid than the fact." (McMichael p. 345) Lehman was reportedly a regular at Tailhook during his tenure as Secretary, and had been seen cavorting with strippers at earlier conventions (McMichael, p. 19). McMichael states that the number of onlookers was 50, while Vistica says it was 100.
- McMichael, p. 9; OIG, p. 26; An example later presented in investigative reports was that of VMFP-3. Known as the "Rhinos", the squadron's suite featured a papier-mache model of a male rhinoceros with a dildo for genitalia that could dispense alcohol. Guests in the suite were encouraged to play with and drink from the dildo. Although decommissioned in 1990, the squadron hosted a hospitality suite at the 1991 convention (McMichael, p. 34). The VMFA-121 squadron suite displayed a green knight statue that dispensed liquor through a phallus (OIG, p. 31). The VT-21 squadron reported that, at the 1990 convention, their suite dispensed 40 kegs of beer, 450 gallons of margaritas containing 315 liters of tequila, and 15 cases of other liquors (Vistica, p. 313).
- McMichal, p. 45
- Vistica, pp. 246, 313; McMichael, pp. 19-20; OIG, pp. 37-43; "zapping" is a US military aviation community slang term for slapping a unit insignia sticker on any object, not just someone's body and the word may have been used by some participants at Tailhook in place of the word "gauntlet." McMichael points out that the spelling "gauntlet" is incorrect as it describes a type of medieval armor that protects the hands and arms. The correct word is "gantlet", but most media reports on the activity use the word "gauntlet" and so "gauntlet" is used in this article.
- Vistica, p. 322; According to Navy investigators, gauntlet-like behaviors at the convention had started around 1986 and became more established around 1989. (Zimmerman, p. 75)
- McMichael, pp. 17-19; Vistica, p. 308; Zimmerman, pp. 13-14, 21; OIG, pp. 29-31; A list of all the units who operated suites and the activities that took place in each is in Appendix E of the OIG report, pp. 118-177. The 22 suites were on the east tower third floor. Contractors were prohibited from operating suites since it was felt it might violate laws regarding gifts from private entities to government officials. Representatives for VA-128 distributed flyers advertising the party at their suite to local colleges and throughout the Hilton casino. 172 defense contractors sent representatives. McDonnell Douglas sent 30 employees and billed the government $60,000 for their expenses (Vistica, p. 422).
- Vistica, p. 320
- Vistica, p. 308
- OIG, pp. 15, 26. The banquet was called the "President's Dinner" and one of its purposes was to facilitate interaction between representatives from defense contractors and senior Navy leaders.
- McMichael, pp. 35-36; Zimmerman, p. 14; OIG, pp. 16-17. The woman who asked the question was a Grumman C-2 Greyhound pilot, Lieutenant Monica Rivadeneira (Zimmerman, p. 14). Besides Dunleavy, the other flag officers in attendance included: Vice Admiral J. B. Fetterman, Jr., Vice Admiral E. R. Kohn, Vice Admiral Anthony A. Less, Lieutenant General Duane A. Wills, Vice Admiral W. C. Bowes, Rear Admiral R. K. Chambers, Rear Admiral W. R. McGowen, and Rear Admiral J. L. Johnson (OIG, pp. 102-103).
- Vistica, p. 325
- Naval investigative agents interviewed 50 women who had experienced the gauntlet in the hallway or elsewhere, and found that 23 of them felt they had been victimized, i.e. had not consented to the activity (Zimmerman, pp. 76-77).
- McMichael, pp. 36-38; Vistica, pp. 313, 335; Zimmerman, pp. 17-19; OIG, pp. 42-50. Two women assaulted in the gauntlet, Lisa Reagan and Marie Weston, who were not associated with the Tailhook Association, filed police reports the next day. Reportedly, it was the first and only time that someone had filed a formal police report on activities at the convention. They later made statements on CBS News with their faces blurred and their voices electronically altered. Reagan and Weston gave permission to be publicly identified in Zimmerman's 1995 book (Zimmerman, pp. 60, 75).
- McMichael, pp. 40-41, 75-76, 128-131; Zimmerman, p. 266
- McMichael, pp. 40-41; Zimmerman, p. 266; OIG, pp. 49-50. The security guards took Rodgers to the Hilton security office and wrapped her in a blanket. About an hour later her mother arrived and took her home (McMichael, p. 130). DoD investigative agents later obtained a photograph of the partially disrobed Rodgers (taken from behind without her face being visible) being led away by security guards and used it to shock interviewees during their interrogations. The photograph was included in the DoDIG report released to the public. Witnesses reported that shortly after the gauntlet restarted, two young, unidentified Navy officers (Zimmerman states that they were "flight students") posted up by the elevators and tried to warn women not to walk down the hallway. How long they stayed there is unknown, as the Coughlin incident happened shortly thereafter (Zimmerman, pp. 78-79; 266).
- McMichael, pp. 42-44; Vistica, pp. 324-330; Zimmerman, pp. 24-26. Snyder had previously served as chief of the Tailhook Association. Some accounts state that Coughlin entered the hallway from the outside patio, not the elevator.
- McMichael, pp. 42-44; Vistica, p. 329. Coughlin's acquaintance who greeted her in the suite was Lieutenant Matt Snell (McMichael, p. 44)
- McMichael, pp. 44-45. The officers Coughlin told that evening, besides Snell, were John Thorough and Michael Steed. Steed, attending the convention as an aide for Secretary of the Navy Henry L. Garrett III, escorted Coughlin back to the hallway (Vistica, p. 325).
- McMichael, pp. 45-46; Vistica, p 328; OIG, pp. 56-57. The pane of glass was dislodged because the room's occupants were "mooning" the crowd below by pressing their bare buttocks against the window. The injured student attended nearby University of Nevada, Las Vegas and is identified by name in the related DoD investigation and court records.
- McMichael, p. 47
- McMichael, pp. 47-49; Vistica, pp. 339-340, 426; Zimmerman, pp. 40-42. Snyder didn't reach Dunleavy by phone until September 24 (Zimmerman, p. 41). Snyder delivered his letter on October 2. Snyder told investigators that he didn't recall Coughlin telling him about the incident on September 8. James T. Kelly, a civilian worker at Patuxent River who had breakfast with Snyder and Coughlin on September 8, 1991, later testified that he didn't remember her mentioning it then. Another participant at the breakfast, Commander Daniel Bringle, stated that he also did not hear Coughlin mention the assault. Lieutenant Scott Wilson, however, who was also present stated that he did hear Coughlin inform Snyder on September 8. In her initial interviews for investigators, Coughlin did not mention telling Snyder about the assault on September 8.
- McMichael, pp. 49-50; Zimmerman, pp. 36-37. As previously stated, the young woman, Julia Rodgers, who had her clothing removed was 18-years old and therefore was legally an adult. What Ludwig may have meant was that she was below the legal age in Nevada (21) for alcohol consumption. According to Vistica, Dunleavy had helped Ludwig write the letter (Vistica, p. 334).
- McMichael, pp. 50-51, 73; Vistica, pp. 333-339; Zimmerman, p. 65; Vistica had faxed a draft of the story to Secretary of the Navy H. Lawrence Garrett III on October 28, but Garrett decided to wait a day before responding, which allowed his bosses in the DoD and the White House to be surprised by the story the next day.
- McMichael, p. 51; Vistica, pp. 337-338; The Tailhook Association was ordered to immediately vacate its offices at Miramar. The Tailhook Board/task force met from November 8, 1991-June 12, 1992. Garrett attended board meetings on December 2, 1991 and January 7, 1992.
- McMichael, p. 53; Vistica, pp. 339-341; OIG, p. viii. Boorda's successor as Chief of Naval Personnel, Vice Admiral Ronald J. Zlatoper, had Snyder's name removed from the flag officer selection list, which demoted him from rear admiral (O-7), back to captain (O-6). Although the sources do not specify, it is likely that Snyder was forced to retire at the rank of captain.
- Vistica, pp. 342-343, 427; Among those telling reporters about Garrett was Rear Admiral Jack Christiansen and retired Navy pilot Norm Gandia.
- McMichael, pp. 70-71; Zimmerman, pp. 74-75
- McMichael, pp. 4, 51-69; Zimmerman, p. 62; OIG, pp. 70-71; The NIS investigation involved 270 field agents who conducted 2,193 interviews. One of the women assaulted by Ibottson (on Friday, September 6) was Kara Hultgreen, who turned and knocked him down with a punch (Zimmerman, pp. 12-13). Hultgreen later told Department of Defense Inspector General (DoDIG) investigators that she did not consider herself to be a victim (McMichael, pp. 58-59). Ibottson was training with VMFAT-101. Fagan was a former member of VMFP-3 squadron and had helped supervise the squadron's party suite at the '91 convention (Vistica, pp. 317-319)
- McMichael, pp. 58-59
- Visitca, p. 347; "Member of Congress" can refer to both congressmen and senators
- McMichael, pp. 69-73; Vistica, p. 343. Several senior Navy leaders, including Pope and General Counsel of the Navy Craig S. King, had also immediately called on Garrett to widen the scope of the investigation, but were preempted by the congressional action. The Armed Services Committee required all promotion packets to include a letter signed by an assistant secretary of defense stating whether that particular promotion candidate had or had not been questioned about or "identified as potentially implicated in the Tailhook incident or in any cover-up, failure to cooperate, or interference with the Tailhook investigation." If they were, the service was to provide the Committee all information on those officers' cases (McMichael, pp. 73-74).
- Vistica, p. 348. Garrett reportedly considered resigning because of Cheney's "lack of support."
- McMichael, p. 74; Vistica, pp. 349-352. According to Vistica, it was David Addington, on Cheney's staff, who directed Garrett to get the OGC involved. Three weeks later, the OGC had the names of 17 squadron commanders and 16 other officers who they recommended be interviewed by investigators, but it became moot when the DoD Inspector General took over the investigation shortly thereafter. The two military lawyers assigned by King to review the reports were Don Risher and Richard Ozmun. During their examination, Risher found that four or five of the field agents' reports listed in the NIS summary were missing. He asked NIS to provide them, but, for unknown reasons, they never materialized (McMichael, p. 75).
- McMichael, pp. 75-80; Zimmerman, pp. 84-86. The witness who had testified to seeing Garrett in the two suites was Marine Captain Ray Allen, Bonam's roommate at Tailhook 1991, who was interviewed by NIS agent Tom Clark. NIS agent Beth Iorio later said she omitted the statement about Garrett from the final report because she did not think it was relevant even though a Navy attorney acting as an advisor, Lieutenant Commander Henry "Hank" Sonday, had told her to include it. (McMichael, pp. 78-79). Admiral Williams had mentioned the statement to Navy attorneys during the course of the investigation, and could not explain why he did not notice that it was not in the final report. Williams later denied knowing about the Allen statement (McMichael, p. 79). On June 9, Kelso told Garrett that he was going to relieve Williams of his command, but Garrett talked him out of it (McMichael, p. 80). The suite from which Garrett said he grabbed the beer (the Rhinos) served only mixed drinks, not beer (McMichael, p. 80).
- McMichael, pp. 80-82; Vistica, p. 352
- McMichael, pp. 80-82, 223-224; Vistica, pp. 352-355; Zimmerman, pp. 91-92. Coughlin had told the Navy public relations office (CHINFO) that she was going to go public and they assisted her with media training (Zimmerman, p. 91). Bush reportedly wept when Coughlin told her story to him in person at the White House (Zimmerman, p. 92).
- McMichael, pp. 80-82, 223-224; Vistica, pp. 352-355. The administrative positions were eliminated from the 1993 defense appropriations bill.
- McMichael, pp. 82-83; Vistica, p. 361; Zimmerman, pp. 100-101
- McMichael, pp. 82-83; Vistica, p. 361. Agents reportedly asked interviewees if they masturbated and, according to Vistica, aviators developed a standard response of, "Sure, three times a day."
- McMichael, pp. 86-87; OIG, pp. 21-23
- McMichael, pp. 82-86
- McMichael, p. 89; Vistica, p. 358, Zimmerman, p. 133; DoD investigators stated that Williams had told Barbara Pope in a Pentagon hallway, "that a lot of female Navy pilots are go-go dancers, topless dancers, or hookers" (Zimmerman, p. 133). The report suggested that Garrett had committed perjury. Gordon had previously announced that he was retiring on November 1, 1992.
- McMichael, p. 89. The report also stated that three additional witnesses had seen Garrett in the hospitality suites the night of the 1991 gauntlet incident (McMichael, p. 90).
- Vistica, p. 370
- McMichael, pp. 113-114; Vistica, pp. 330, 372; Zimmerman, p. 213; OIG, pp. 1-2, 54-55. The female victims of assault included 21 naval officers, one Air Force member, six spouses of military officers, and six government officials (Vistica, p. 372). The "83" number of people assaulted has been called into question, since the report was unable to identify every victim and some of the alleged victims later stated that they did not consider themselves to have been victimized (Vistica, p. 425). The report stated that investigators interviewed 2,900 people (OIG, p. 1) and administered 34 polygraph examinations (OIG, p. 11).
- McMichael, pp. 90-100; Zimmerman, p. 257
- McMichael, pp. 102-113. The DoDIG planned to incinerate the 160 files they had not recommended for prosecution, but on March 11, 1993, Navy prosecutors asked the DoDIG for the files as they wanted to use the DCIS agents' notes therein in their pending cases. The notes in the files were also subsequently used by defense attorneys on behalf of their clients and in some cases undermined or discredited the prosecutors' cases (McMichael, p. 113).
- McMichael, pp. 102-105, 351; Zimmerman, p. 252
- McMichael, pp. 107-115. The executive panel consisted of Captains Robert McLeran, Lorry M. Hardt, Pete Tzomes, Carolyn Deal, and Bonnie Potter (McMichael p. 110)
- McMichael, pp. 4, 115-116
- McMichael, pp. 116-118. Twenty-seven were fined and 24 received punitive paper.
- McMichael, pp. 196-197. Stumpf, commander of strike fighter squadron VFA-83, allegedly allowed his officers to host two strippers in their suite and stood by as one of the strippers performed oral sex on one of the pilots. He was also accused of improperly flying his fighter jet to Las Vegas in order to attend the convention (McMichael, pp. 198-201).
- McMichael, pp. 196-197, 225-226, 233, 238; Zimmerman, pp. 258-259. The boards ruled for Stumpf on October 7, Braden on October 15, Peairs and Yakely on October 26, and Ludwig on October 30, 1993.
- McMichael, p. 118; Vistica, p. 378. One of the six, 1st Lieutenant Tony Eaton, had refused nonjudicial punishment and was ultimately cleared by Krulak months later (McMichael, p. 220).
- McMichael, pp. 182-185, Vistica, pp. 343-344; Zimmerman, pp. 259-261. Coughlin had failed to pick Bonam out of a photo lineup, but later identified him in a physical lineup.
- McMichael, pp. 229-233; Zimmerman, pp. 259-261
- McMichael, pp. 293-294. Howell's case file described him as particularly hostile and confrontational during questioning by DCIS agents and internal Marine documents stated that Howell was, "extremely disliked by all involved."(McMichael, p. 293).
- McMichael, pp. 125, 132-133, 139, 141, 148, 160-165, 173, 176-179
- McMichael, pp. 135, 139, 148, 173. Cowden's accuser on the sexual assault charge was Elizabeth J. Warnick, who publicly identified herself and was mentioned by name in the media and in public military proceedings and documents. Although Warnick admitted to investigators that she had had consensual sex with a married officer at Tailhook '91, which is a violation of military law (adultery), she was not charged.
- McMichael, pp. 143-145
- McMichael, pp. 142-143
- McMichael, pp. 3, 145-146
- McMichael, pp. 218-219
- Zimmerman, p. 5
- McMichael, pp. 149-153; Zimmerman, pp. 3-6. In 1991, Diaz was no longer a member of VAW-110 squadron, having been reassigned to Roosevelt Roads Naval Station, Puerto Rico (Vistica, p. 319). Diaz had taken over the leg-shaving activity from an unnamed Naval Reserve officer who had been doing it at Tailhook for years (Vistica, p. 424).
- McMichael, pp. 176-178. According to Diaz, Coughlin had had her legs shaved by him twice, once while in uniform, and after one occasion she wrote on a poster behind his shaving booth, "You made me see God. The Paulster."(McMichael, p. 178). Coughlin denied receiving leg shaves from Diaz (Zimmerman, p. 288). Three other female Navy officers were identified as having received leg shaves from Diaz: Elizabeth Warnick (the same who accused Cowden of sexual assault), Melanie Castleberry, and Kelly Jones. None of the three were prosecuted (McMichael, p. 112).
- McMichael, p. 190, 220-221; Zimmerman, pp. 263-264. Zimmerman states that Diaz decided to take the mast because he ran out of money to continue paying his civilian defense attorney.
- McMichael, p. 179
- McMichal, pp. 1-15; The alleged victim was Ensign Kim Ponikowski (who was publicly identified in the media and in court records and proceedings), an aircrew member from VAW-126 (McMichael, p. 15).
- McMichael, pp. 1-15, 213, 221, 240. As had happened in Cowden's case and for the same reasons, Vest disqualified Williams from further involvement in Tritt's prosecution (McMichael, p. 226)
- McMichael, p. 222, 240
- McMichael, pp. 10, 156, 166-167, 171. Miller had given Janssen a mediocre fitness/performance evaluation in late 1992 and squadron members reported that there was animosity between the two officers (McMichael, pp. 159-160). Janssen said it was him that Miller had given his hotel key to (tossed it to him) and suggested he take a woman to the room. The Hilton, however, did not use keys, but plastic code cards (McMichael, p. 162). Miller and Tritt denied that there was a "mini-gauntlet" on the pool patio outside the suites (McMichael, p. 163). According to several squadron members, Miller told them not to lie to investigators, but also not to volunteer any information (McMichael, p. 166). Janssen later admitted in court that he had been coached in what to say by DoDIG investigators (McMichael, pp. 168-169). Navy prosecutors attempted to find prejudicial evidence on Miller by obtaining privileged information from a 1992 investigation into an aircraft mishap that Miller had been involved in, contrary to military regulations (McMichael, pp. 227-228). In response, Vest removed Navy prosecutors Williams, Robert Monahan, and Wayne Ritter from any more involvement in Tailhook cases (McMichael, pp. 241-242, 283-284).
- McMichael, pp. 130-131, 133, 219, 236-240
- McMichael, p. 223, Vistica, pp. 374-375; Zimmerman, pp. 267-271; OIG, p. xiii. Several admirals admitted to having witnessed the gauntlet and had not intervened, including Dunleavy, Robert P. Hickey, Riley Mixson, and Edwin R. Kohn (Zimmerman, pp. 267-269).
- McMichael, pp. 223-225; Vistica, pp. 357, 377-378; Zimmerman, pp. 270-271. Vistica states that it was O'Keefe who demoted Dunleavy at the time of his retirement in 1992, refused to allow him a retirement ceremony on the deck of an aircraft carrier with a flypast, and declined to award him an end-of-service decoration (usually a Navy Distinguished Service Medal for flag officers). The full list of flag officer attendees at Tailhook '91 is in the OIG report, p. 249. Rear Admiral William Newman and Marine Major General Clyde Vermilyea were the two cleared of any culpability, since they had only attended an afternoon session and then departed.
- McMichael, p. 243
- McMichael, pp. 243-245; Vistica, pp. 378-379; Zimmerman, p. 255
- McMichael, p. 248
- McMichael, pp. 282-283
- McMichael, pp. 245-278, 289; Vistica, p. 371; Zimmerman, pp. 251-252. Remarking on the witnesses who changed their testimonies in court and seemed unsure of their answers, Vest said in open court session that he was concerned about, "the institutional pressures that I think have been demonstrated at least several times in this court." McMichael, p. 264. DCIS agent Mike Suessman, on April 15, 1993, had informed Kelso that he was suspected of making a false official statement and read him his rights, but Kelso stuck to his denial of being on the third floor on Saturday night (Vistica, p. 371).
- McMichael, pp. 250-259
- McMichael, pp. 287-292; Vistica, p. 379; Zimmerman, p. 273.
- McMichael, p. 285; Zimmerman, pp. 271-272. In his ruling, Vest stated that Kelso, contrary to his sworn testimony, had on Friday, September 6, 1991, peeked into the hospitality suite where Diaz was conducting leg shaves (Vistica, p. 327).
- McMichael, pp. 285-295; Zimmerman, pp. 272-274.
- McMichael, pp. 297, 302, 331; Vistica, pp. 380-382; Zimmerman, pp. 283-286. The Senate debate over whether Kelso should be allowed to retain his rank lasted for almost seven hours, observed by an "angry" and "despondent" Kelso over a TV in his Pentagon office (Vistica, p. 382). Advocating for Kelso's demotion to two stars were Senators Barbara Mikulski, Carol Moseley Braun, Patty Murray, Nancy Kassebaum, Dianne Feinstein, and Barbara Boxer. The Defense Department Advisory Committee on Women in the Services supported Kelso's retaining four stars, citing his efforts to integrate women into the Navy during his tenure as CNO (Zimmerman, p. 286).
- McMichael, p. 302
- McMichael, pp. 302-303; Zimmerman, pp. 286-290. Hilton brought Rolando Diaz to Las Vegas as a witness against Coughlin. A judge later reduced Coughlin's compensation from $6.7 million to $5.2 million (McMichael, p. 303). Coughlin had publicly endorsed John McCain in 1992, which may have been a violation of the Hatch Act of 1939, but O'Keefe said she would not be prosecuted (Vistica, p. 369).
- McMichael, pp. 321-324
- Vistica, p. 378
- McMichael, p. 323. Under extreme pressure, reportedly due to attempts by Navy senior officers to make him take the majority of the blame for what happened at Tailhook '91, Ludwig suffered an emotional breakdown in late 1992 while on an operational cruise on the Kitty Hawk and was confined for a time in a psychiatric ward in Singapore (Vistica, p. 367).
- Vistica, p. 378; McMichael, p. 323
- McMichael, pp. 303-321, 329. Navy personnel colloquially called the list of 140 names the "wrong place, wrong time" list (McMichael, p. 304). Naval aviators poked fun at the situation by designing and wearing whimsical patches or t-shirts saying that they had "survived" the Tailhook scandal, or claiming that they weren't at the convention (Vistica, p. 362).
- McMichael, pp. 305-321, 324
- McMichael, pp. 315-321, 335. Navy personnel insiders told McMichael that they suspected that Arnold Punaro, an SASC staffer, was behind the holdups and denials of promotions for Navy officers. Punaro denied the allegations (McMichael, pp. 320-321, 363). Charles Gittins, Stumpf's attorney, attributed the SASC's actions to political pressures from "feminists" (Washington Times).
- McMichael, p. 329
- Washington Times
- Zimmerman, pp. 118-119
- Vistica, p. 254; Zimmerman, pp. 181-182. Zimmerman states that the report "received national attention" without elaborating or providing a source. The report was supervised by history professor Jane Good along with six other faculty members. It found that the attrition rate for female students was significantly higher than that for men, mainly because of sexual harassment.
- Vistica, pp. 292-297
- Vistica, pp. 347-348; Zimmerman, pp. xii, 280-281
- Zimmerman, pp. 74, 179-180
- Zimmerman, pp. 11, 138
- McMichael, pp. 300, 336; Vistica, p. 373
- Vistica, pp. 373-374; Zimmerman, pp. 247-249
- Zimmerman, pp. 218-219
- Zimmerman, p. 293
- McMichael, pp. 332-333
- McMichael, p. 301; Vistica, p. 387; Boorda later stated that his lack of support for Arthur was the biggest mistake he ever made. Vistica states, without providing a source, that Boorda's decision was because of political pressure from the "feminist lobby."
- Vistica, p. 361; Zimmerman, pp. 132-133
- McMichael, p. 303
- McMichael, pp. 111-112; Vistica, p. 366
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