This Man's Navy

February 17, 1994

Adm. Frank Kelso's decision to take early retirement as chief of naval operations is the right one for him and the Navy. It should reduce somewhat the number of lightning strikes -- to use Admiral Kelso's metaphor -- the new CNO attracts regarding the 1991 Tailhook convention. The controversy over that bawdy party of naval aviators will no doubt continue. But with a CNO not in any way responsible for it, the Navy's top officer will not be as distracted as Admiral Kelso would be.

That is desirable, since, of course, the Navy does have a few other things to be concerned about in addition to sexual harassment and discrimination. Honor code problems at the Naval Academy, for example, and budgets, not to mention readiness to defend the nation.

The Navy still must ensure that women officers and enlisted personnel are treated fairly and with respect. Tailhook, by its very excess, has focused the Navy's attention on these problems in a way no previous effort by senior officers -- and there were some in the 1980s -- had done.

Once alerted to the scope of the problem, the Navy, led by Admiral Kelso, has done a commendable job. As the CNO said in his Tuesday press conference, "Clearly we needed to change our culture as to how we thought and how we treated females. We've put into place the training, we've put into place the sort of procedures to make clear to people that if they act that way they're not going to be in this man's Navy."

Admiral Kelso is not the only senior official who had his career tainted in one way or another by Tailhook. A secretary of the Navy resigned. Sixty Navy and Marine officers were fined or disciplined. That number includes rear and vice admirals who were relieved of duty, relieved of command, reduced in rank or received letters of censure. Nobody went to jail, but that hardly suggests whitewash or wrist slapping, as some critics of the Navy continue to charge.

Obviously Admiral Kelso as CNO should have taken more seriously early warnings about how prior Tailhook conventions were getting out of hand. But it is still to his credit that he has taken steps since then to institute reforms. For example, women are being assigned to combatant ships. That kind of "change in culture" will affect the way the men and women of the Navy treat each other. In their own judgment, women of the Navy are better treated today than ever before, according to surveys. This can only result in a better service.

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