Tailhook Incident

views updated


TAILHOOK INCIDENT. The Tailhook Association, named for the arresting gear on carrier-based aircraft, is a private group of navy and marine aviators. During the association's 1991 annual convention in Las Vegas, eighty-three women, many of them naval officers, alleged athat they had been sexually assaulted passing through a hotel hallway filled with male officers. Secretary of the Navy H. Lawrence Garrett III and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Frank B. Kelso II attended the convention, but both said they witnessed no improper behavior. A subsequent navy investigation was indecisive, and on 18 June 1992, Secretary Garrett asked the Defense Department's inspector general to take control of the inquiry. The next week several female victims, led by navy Lt. Paula A. Coughlin, a helicopter pilot and aide to Rear Adm. John W. Snyder, Jr., brought charges. On 26 June, Secretary Garrett resigned. Members of Congress criticized the pace of the investigation, the commitment of investigators, and the stonewalling of Tailhook members.

In April 1993, the Inspector General accused 140 officers of indecent exposure, assault, and lying under oath. About fifty were fined or disciplined. Accusations in more prominent cases did not lead to court-martial convictions or even demotions. In 8 February 1994, a navy judge ruled that Admiral Kelso had misrepresented his activities at the convention and had tried to manipulate the subsequent investigation. Denying these charges, Kelso decided to retire two months early with a full pension, in return for a tribute from Defense Secretary John J. Dalton that stated Kelso was a man of the "highest integrity and honor." During that same week Coughlin announced her resignation, saying her career in the navy had been ruined because she had chosen to bring charges. She later received monetary awards from lawsuits against the Tailhook Association, the Hilton Hotels Corporation, and the Las Vegas Hilton Corporation.


McMichael, William H. The Mother of All Hooks: The Story of the U.S. Navy's Tailhook Scandal. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction, 1997.

O'Nelll, William L. "Sex Scandals in the Gender-Integrated Military." Gender Issues 16, 1/2 (Winter/Spring 1998): 64–86.

Zimmerman, Jean. Tailspin: Women at War in the Wake of Tailhook. New York: Doubleday, 1995.

Irwin N.Gertzog/c. r. p.

See alsoMarine Corps, United States ; Navy, United States ; Sexual Harassment ; Women in Military Service .