WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Navy cut all its ties with the 15,000-member Tailhook Association of active and retired naval aviators after the public learned Tuesday about assaults on women by some young officers at its convention early last month.
Describing misbehavior that included $23,000 in damages to the Las Vegas Hilton during "the biggest and most successful Tailhook we have ever had," the association's president, Navy Captain F.G. Ludwig Jr., said in an Oct. 11 letter that "the most serious" incident came when some convention-goers formed a gantlet in a hallway on the hotel's third floor, which contains meeting rooms, and assaulted women who came upon the scene.
"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(cq)," Ludwig said.
Sen. John S. McCain, R-Ariz., a former naval aviator serving on the Armed Forces Committee, denounced the failure of Navy commanders to stop the "abusive and degrading conduct" at the time or to investigate it speedily.
Citing a report on the behavior from Tuesday's San Diego Tribune, McCain said, "The fact that an investigation was not undertaken immediately is disturbing and inexplicable. The nature of the allegations demands a complete inquiry."
There are at least two internal Navy probes under way, one of which began within 24 hours of a complaint to her superiors by an admiral's aide that she was among those assaulted, a Navy spokesman at the Pentagon said.
McCain called on Navy Secretary H. Lawrence Garrett III to name a high-level committee with military and civilian members to investigate independently the behavior and the Navy's response, and in the meantime "suspend" support for the association, which includes free flights for active-duty pilots to the group's events.
McCain wants to know why it took the Navy until Tuesday to "take seriously enough" behavior at a convention that ended Sept. 8, said Celley.
Within hours of McCain's speech on the Senate floor, Garrett released a letter "terminating" the Navy's ties with the group. He said that decision was recommended by Admiral Frank Kelso, chief of naval operations. Garrett and Kelso were among the nearly 5,000 participants in the convention, which included seminars, banquets and 172 exhibits.
Ludwig could not be reached because he is on duty at sea.