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Navy Officials Continue To Investigate Allegations of Tailhook Misconduct

By Tom Bowman and Del Quentin Wilber

The Navy is investigating allegations of misconduct at last week’s convention of the Tailhook Association, the private naval aviators organization whose 1991 annual meeting dissolved into a drunken spree of debauchery and sexual assault, implicating more than 100 officers.

This year’s Tailhook convention marked the first time the Navy had allowed its tops officers to participate since 1991.

Navy officials said Friday that a man and his wife, both civilians whom they refused to identify, alleged that several dozen people, not in uniform but believed to be part of the three-day convention at John Ascuaga’s Nugget casino and resort in Sparks, Nev., verbally assaulted them as they tried to return to their hotel room shortly after midnight on Saturday. The man also charged that someone in the group made “inappropriate contact” with his wife.

“There was an exchange of words and they considered the behavior inappropriate,” said a Navy official. “This was enough to warrant an investigation.”

A Navy official said an unidentified admiral attending the convention apologized to the man the following morning, although the man believed it “was not a genuine apology” and the officer would “not do anything with the information.”

The couple made the charges on Tuesday by calling the Navy’s sexual harassment hot line, set up in the aftermath of the original Tailhook scandal, officials said.

Navy officials said the civilian couple, said to be from California, was not attending the convention. According to the complaint, the man and woman tried to return to their room on the hotel’s third floor and the man asked the group to step aside. He then began “pushing past,” officials said. The incident quickly escalated, with someone in the group touching the wife’s buttocks, the complaint alleged, according to Navy officials.

The charges, even if true, are a far cry from the uproar that followed in the wake of the 1991 convention at the Las Vegas Hilton hotel. The ensuing scandal rocked the Navy and Marine Corps, casting a harsh light on the macho world of military aviators. The Defense Department’s inspector general implicated 117 officers in a variety of offenses, ranging from sexual assaults to indecent exposure.

That convention led to the resignation of then Navy Secretary H. Lawrence Garrett and the early retirement of Adm. Frank B. Kelso, then the service’s most senior officer. In addition, Navy leaders who had attended that convention were faulted for failing to stop the behavior. There were scores of disciplinary actions against the officers.

Ironically, the Navy this year renewed its official ties with the 10,600-member private association for the first time since 1991. In January, Navy Secretary Richard Danzig reached that decision after a panel of high-ranking Navy civilian and military officials attended the association’s 1999 convention and conferred with its leaders about avoiding future misconduct.