The Navy's next chief of naval operations has received some free advice from some of his fellow admirals: Put Tailhook behind you.
The man who replaces Adm. Jeremy M. "Mike" Boorda should get a "good handshake" from Defense Secretary William J. Perry and members of the Senate Armed Services Committee "and say, 'I want to go to the Navy and say [Tailhook's] over,' " said retired Adm. Stanley Arthur.
Arthur said yesterday that the Navy is still reeling from the infamous 1991 naval aviators' convention in San Diego, where women were groped by drunken fliers.
"We really need to get that resolved," he said.
The Navy should have dealt with Tailhook and moved on, said retired Adm. Leon "Bud" Edney.
Instead, it has become a seemingly endless nightmare for the Navy that has stalled promotions and hurt morale.
"I think [the next CNO's] going to have to be a strong person," said retired Vice Adm. William Mack, a former Naval Academy superintendent who commanded the 7th Fleet, "and not let Congress and the Pentagon run roughshod over him."
There appears to be acknowledgment that the Navy has suffered from continued Tailhook scrutiny.
Perry told the Washington Times last week that "it's time to stop evaluating people by activities at Tailhook five years ago."
The committee will vote on the CNO nominee, whom President Clinton is expected to name this week, on the recommendation of Perry.
The full Senate must confirm the choice.
Among the top contenders are: Adms. Joseph W. Prueher, commander in chief of all U.S. forces in the Pacific and a former Naval Academy commandant; Jay L. Johnson, the current vice CNO; Leighton Smith, commander in chief of allied forces in Southern Europe; and J. Paul Reason, the Navy's first black four-star admiral and vice chief of naval operations.
Others in the running are Adms. William J. Flanagan Jr., commander of the Atlantic Fleet; and Ronald J. Zlatoper, commander of the Pacific Fleet.
Rep. Patricia Schroeder, a Colorado Democrat, balked at the notion of the Navy setting Tailhook aside.
"To say 'forget Tailhook' is really sending the wrong message," said Schroeder, a member of the House National Security Committee and an outspoken advocate of women in the military.
She said those officers implicated in Tailhook, however slightly, should appear personally before the Senate committee to answer any charges.
Also, yesterday a Navy officer whose unsigned letter attacking Boorda was published in the Navy Times three days before Boorda's suicide has come forward and apologized.
"I am sorry for Admiral Boorda's family and for the sailors he loved," Cmdr. John E. Carey wrote in a letter to the editor that the Navy Times published Monday.
In the May 13 letter, Carey said Boorda had lost respect of his fellow officers and asked him to resign.
He wrote that admirals often referred to the 5-foot-4-inch Navy chief as "Little Mikey Boorda" out of disrespect.
The newspaper, too, said it regretted publishing the earlier letter, which it called a "cheap shot."
It promised to stop publishing letters containing personal attacks but said it was not ready to end its practice of granting anonymity to letter writers.
Meanwhile, Mack said that while Boorda "was a fine person," it wasn't his pedigree or command that concerned him.
"He was too political," Mack said, pointing out that Boorda cashiered Arthur for his handling of a sexual harassment case.
Boorda later privately said he should have stood by Arthur, sources have said.
Mack agreed that the next CNO, like Boorda, must be able to reach the average sailor in the fleet.
"He has to be as good as Boorda," he said, "but better in not letting the Navy get pushed around again."
"The Navy is hurting right now because of the special feeling in the enlisted and lower ranks for Admiral Boorda," Edney said.
Arthur agreed, saying the new CNO "can't be someone who works solely behind closed doors"; he must "stand on the deckplates" and listen to the sailors.
Schroeder also said the next CNO must send the message that "women are part of the team."
Several Navy sources said the top CNO candidate is Prueher, a 1964 academy graduate and decorated combat pilot who was named earlier this year to command U.S. forces in the Pacific.
Prueher, however, has a potential stumbling block.
As the No. 2 officer at the Naval Academy in 1989, there were concerns about how he handled a sexual harassment case involving a female midshipman who was chained to a urinal and photographed by jeering midshipmen.
At his confirmation hearing in January, Prueher said he could have handled the investigation better, particularly by showing greater sensitivity to the victim, Gwen Dreyer, who left the academy.
"It should have nothing to do with" Prueher's nomination, Edney said. "That was 6 1/2 years ago. I don't see any relevance to that."
But Mack said he expected the Dreyer incident to cause some hand-wringing at the Pentagon, as officials prepare their recommendation for the president.
"It's going to take some strength just to get [Prueher] up there," he said.
Pub Date: 5/29/96