(WASHINGTON) -- The Navy has reprimanded a former commander of its elite Blue Angels flight demonstration team for fostering a hostile command climate that condoned sexual harassment.
In late April, Captain Gregory McWherter was removed from his duties after allegations of misconduct were made by a member of the Blue Angels squadron. According to the allegations, McWherter had allowed a climate of hazing and sexual harassment during his second of two tours as the commander of the elite flight team. He commanded the Blue Angels from November 2008 to November 2010, and again from May 2011 to November 2012.
The Blue Angels flight demonstration team is a much broader operation than the team of 16 F/A-18 pilots and weapons system officers who performs complex maneuvers at air shows. The Navy’s best pilots compete for three-year tours with the squadron who are seen as ambassadors for the service. But the team also includes additional transport pilots, officers and 100 enlisted sailors and Marines who provide maintenance and administrative support for the demonstration team.
According to a Navy press release, an Admiral’s Mast found McWherter guilty of two violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, for which he received a non-judicial punishment in the form of a letter of reprimand. Letters of reprimand usually mean that the recipient will no longer be promoted.
The release said McWherter had been found guilty for “fostering a hostile command climate, failing to stop obvious and repeated instances of sexual harassment, condoning widespread lewd practices within the squadron, and engaging in inappropriate and unprofessional discussions with his junior officers.”
An investigation into the allegations concluded that McWherter “witnessed, condoned, and encouraged behavior that, while juvenile and sophomoric in the beginning, ultimately and in the aggregate, became destructive, toxic, and hostile.” It also determined that “at no time did the behavior lead to sexual assault.”
“With his implicit and explicit approval of unacceptable behavior, McWherter set a moral standard far below Navy expectations.”
Admiral Hugh Harris, the commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, found McWherter “as the commanding officer, to be primarily responsible for the unacceptable behavior.”
In his endorsement of the investigation’s conclusions Harris wrote, “Commanding officers have an enduring obligation to maintain a proper work environment at all times and in all places and spaces; and they will be held accountable as appropriate when they fail.” He added, “Navy leaders must treat all personnel fairly, with dignity, and with respect. Everyone is entitled to work in an environment free of unlawful behavior and offensive material.”
Several junior personnel assigned to the Blue Angels during McWherter’s second command tour received formal written counseling for their participation in the improper behavior.
According to the statement, “the counseling provided to these individuals is non-punitive in nature and is intended as a tool to remedy a noted deficiency in their conduct and performance of duty. McWherter was held ultimately responsible and accountable for the actions of these junior personnel while he was in command.”
The investigation found that McWherter had a successful tour as the Blue Angels commanding officer from 2008 to 2010, but that during his second tour “the Blue Angels ready room environment degraded and ran counter to established Navy standards and the Uniform Code of Military Justice.”
That environment changed when McWherter’s successor assumed command in November 2012 and “reestablished good order and discipline in the squadron by exercising leadership in the manner the Navy expects of all its commanding officers.”
“Capt. McWherter failed to maintain appropriate good order and discipline in his unit,” Harris concluded.
Congresswoman Jackie Speier, D-California, said in a statement Tuesday that it’s “repugnant that a commander who condoned a pervasively hostile environment was allowed to command and thrive in the U.S. Navy. Until a whistleblower came forward, leadership appeared to be blind to the misogyny and sexism — even though it could be found in the pornography permitted in pilot’s cockpits and was literally painted on the roof of a training facility in the form of a blue and gold penis, large enough to be visible to satellites. This toxic culture would have been obvious to anyone who bothered to look.
“Commanders willfully ignored the evidence of a toxic environment, and have demonstrated yet again that the chain of command is inadequate to address the plague of sexual assault and harassment in our nation’s military.”
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