Admiral loses top Navy job at Patuxent

November 07, 1991|By Joel McCord Richard H. P. Sia of The Sun's Washington Bureau contributed to this article.

The Navy has fired a veteran fighter pilot from one of the top jobs in naval aviation because he did not respond quickly to a complaint from an aide that she was sexually harassed at a convention of Navy fliers in September.

Rear Adm. John W. Snyder Jr. was removed as commander of the Patuxent River Naval Air Test Center in Lexington Park on Tuesday and transferred to an unspecified job at the Naval Air Systems Command in Crystal City, Va., by Adm. Frank B. Kelso II, chief of naval operations.

Admiral Snyder's "lack of timely action" to investigate the complaints of abuse at the hands of junior male aviators at the annual Tailhook symposium in Las Vegas "caused the chief of naval operations to question his judgment in command," Lt. Bob Ross, a Navy spokesman, read from a statement.

Admiral Snyder could not be reached yesterday.

The aide, identified only as a lieutenant and helicopter pilot, has been transferred to "another job in the Washington area," said Bruce Williams, a spokesman for the Navy personnel office.

She was one of at least five people who complained they were verbally and physically abused when they encountered drunken junior officers at the Las Vegas Hilton at the annual meeting of carrier-based fliers and senior naval officers, according to reports in the Washington Post and the San Diego Union.

One of the five, a minor who was intoxicated, was stripped naked, the newspapers reported.

The aide complained to Admiral Snyder, a former Tailhook president, then took her complaint to higher officials when he did not respond quickly, Navy officials said.

Reports of the incident have led to a Naval Investigative Service probe of the allegations of sexual misconduct at the Sept. 8-9 meeting, and an investigation by the Navy inspector general into the service's relationship with the private organization. Lieutenant Ross would not explain that relationship.

Meanwhile, Navy Secretary H. Lawrence Garrett III has cut off any support of the association.

The incident was "a gross example of exactly what cannot be permitted by the civilian or uniformed leadership of the Navy at any level," he wrote in a letter to Capt. F. W. Ludwig Jr., Tailhook president.

Mr. Garrett, who spoke at the symposium, learned of the incidents from an Oct. 11 letter Captain Ludwig sent to Navy squadron leaders.

Navy officials refused to release the letter yesterday. Captain Ludwig, commander of the air wing aboard the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk, could not be reached.

The Tailhook convention has long been considered an important meeting for naval aviators who get a chance to meet with senior officers and catch up with developments in their field. The Navy has provided free transportation for its fliers from bases around the world.

But along with the seminars went a lot of carousing, said Stuart M. Fitrell, retired commanding officer of Patuxent River Naval Air station and a former test pilot who has attended several Tailhook conventions.

"When they started in the '50s, it was shocking," he said. "Then, about 10 years ago, they started trying to clean up their act. But you still had a lot of whoopin' and hollerin'."

Vice Adm. Jeremy M. Boorda, chief of Navy personnel, was furious. "Some people performed what appears to be a criminal act, and we shouldn't excuse that," he said.

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