Where are all the heroes? [Commentary]

Sexual harassment scandal hits the Blue Angels

April 25, 2014|Susan Reimer

Amid reports that he not only tolerated but encouraged a nasty work environment rife with sex jokes and pornography, the Navy has relieved a two-time commander of the Blue Angels of his current post.

Capt. Gregory McWherter has been fired as executive officer of Naval Base Coronado near San Diego and reassigned to other duties, the Navy said. He was last commander of the Blue Angels in 2012, brought back to straighten things up after the Blue Angels performed too close to the ground in a show.

Apparently a former member of the Blue Angels, the prestigious acrobatic demonstration team, filed a complaint describing an atmosphere of sexually explicit speech, jokes about sexual orientation and the sharing of pornography on computers. It was a hostile work environment, the complainant charged, that Captain McWherter not only permitted but encouraged.

Captain McWherter is a graduate of the Citadel and the Navy's Top Gun fighter pilot school, and he was the pilot of the lead plane in the Blue Angels' breath-taking formations. A number of his previous subordinates praised his leadership in newspaper accounts of this case.

At the moment, I am reminded of the song Bonnie Tyler belted out in the movie "Footloose" — "Holding Out for a Hero." A hero who is sure, who is right, who is fresh from the fight and larger than life, like the song says.

The military has been capturing headlines for all the wrong reasons lately, with decorated officers brought low by charges of sexual misconduct. Try as they might, the brass doesn't seem to be able to get a handle on behavior that seems to be born as much from a sense of entitlement as it does from any surge of testosterone.

It is not that I thought the Blue Angels were immune from this kind of sordid behavior. Indeed, jet pilots must have an intoxicating mixture of risk and reward coursing through their veins and clouding their better judgment.

But, like Bonnie Tyler, I was holding out hope until the end of the night. Holding out for a hero.

Perhaps it is this business I'm in. Good behavior rarely makes headlines. And newspaper people are rarely surprised at how people in positions of power and authority, people of accomplishment, debase themselves.

It appears the Blue Angels, if the accusations are true, are not remarkably different from other groups or institutions that have disappointed us. And we might have expected that a bunch of cocksure, daredevil pilots would step over the line.

But still, like the song asks, where have all the good men gone, where are all the gods?

This is absolutely the wrong time to be caught up in such a scandal, what with the military leadership trying to prove itself with less-than-zero tolerance. Anyone found out engaging in even the tamest monkey business is going to end up in a meat grinder. An example hung on the gate as a warning for others.

It is possible that Captain McWherter is just that unfortunate. And, sure, it is premature to tarnish all those shiny blue wings before the facts are known.

But at this moment, I am thinking: Nope. No heroes here. Not tonight.

Susan Reimer's column appears on Mondays and Thursdays. She can be reached at sreimer@baltsun.com and @SusanReimer on Twitter.com.

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