Kelso ends long naval career where it began -- in Annapolis

April 24, 1994|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,Sun Staff Writer

Adm. Frank B. Kelso II, sharply criticized for his handling of the Tailhook sex-abuse scandal, relinquished his command yesterday as the Navy's top officer, praised as a leader who opened up more Navy combat assignments to women.

During a ceremony at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, where he began his career 42 years ago as a plebe, the admiral said the Navy must continue to open more assignments to women and minorities and deal forthrightly with its problems.

"In recent years, we have often found ourselves in the spotlight," noted the 60-year-old chief of naval operations, calling it "far more a blessing than a curse."

"I believe we should welcome the closest scrutiny. We should want to be held to the highest standards," he told hundreds of dignitaries, officers, classmates and friends at Alumni Hall.

"In the end, there's no problem we can't solve."

Admiral Kelso was praised for a long naval career marked by his role in directing the capture of the terrorists who hijacked the cruise ship Achille Lauro in 1985 and commanding the bombing runs on Libya in 1986.

Deputy Defense Secretary John M. Deutsch, who pinned a Defense Distinguished Service Medal on the outgoing chief, noted the admiral's role during the Persian Gulf conflict in directing naval forces, which quickly gained supremacy of the seas.

Yet all those who rose to praise Admiral Kelso continued to mention his lead role in pushing for full integration of women in the service and repealing laws barring them from assignments in combat ships and aviation squadrons.

Capt. William L. Perry, chaplain for the Washington Naval District, borrowed naval slang, saying the admiral was instrumental in "shattering glass bulkheads" for women.

"We have come a long way," said Adm. Jeremy M. Boorda, who was elevated yesterday as the new chief of naval operations.

"Frank Kelso brought us a long way along that road. We are ahead of much of society. But that isn't good enough."

Yesterday's remarks were in sharp contrast to last week's divisive debate in the Senate, where Admiral Kelso narrowly won approval to retire with four-star rank. All seven women senators opposed the move, saying that as Navy chief he shared ultimate responsibility for the drunken debauchery at the 1991 Tailhook aviators' convention in Las Vegas.

Admiral Kelso, who became the Navy's top uniformed officer in 1990, said his wife, Landess, always offered counsel during his career and made sure that he didn't get a swelled head by his rank.

"She hasn't had much trouble during this tour of duty in doing that," he said to chuckles.

The admiral also said he left two items on his desk for Admiral Boorda: a large bottle of Maalox and a coffee cup inscribed with the words: "Budgets Are For Wimps."

Admiral Boorda, a native of South Bend, Ind., is the first enlisted ,, seaman to rise through the ranks to become chief of naval operations.

He was in command of U.S. forces in southern Europe, including the Balkans, before accepting the new appointment.

The diminutive 55-year-old flag officer joked about his stature yesterday as he rose and began speaking.

"For those people in the front row, there is an admiral back here," he said, referring to himself behind the lectern.

Admiral Boorda said that in his role as the Navy's top uniformed officer he plans to borrow a phrase from Army recruiting: "Be all that you can be."

"If you agree with me that people are the most important part of what we do," he said, "We need to require and permit every single person . . . to achieve their personal best."

Among those attending yesterday was former Navy Lt. (j.g.) Johnny Carson, the former "Tonight Show" host, who met Admiral Boorda during a trip to France seven years ago.

"We became friends and corresponded back and forth. He invited me here," Mr. Carson said after the ceremony, making his first trip to Annapolis with his wife, Alexis.

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