Q: How much time, Admiral, during your time as CNO, do you figure you
spent on the issues you talked about? Downsizing, weapon systems, people's
fears for their jobs, women in the Navy, race in the Navy, all those kind of
KELSO: That's pretty hard to fix a percentage on. Almost from the time I became
CNO till the time I left being the CNO, the Navy was downsizing, getting
smaller. Some people have called it rightsizing and I don't care which term
you use. But it basically was getting smaller. So it was downsizing as a
result the changes in the world. How to do that took a lot of energy of all
of us during that period of time. What was the right policy? How do you
decide that you're going to reduce people? What are the policies you're going
to use? What ships are you going to decide to decommission, versus what ships
you're going to keep; what airplanes you're going to keep or decommission. How
are you going to go about doing those things? They took a lot of energy during
that period of time. I would say that there was not a day went by, we didn't
think about that issue and how we were going to do it, as well as, how do we
keep the Navy on a keel that it can go do its job; that we can keep it
operationally doing its job during this period of time. Because nobody decides
that the Navy was going to stop operating. What was happening were, the little
blips were bumping out all over the world that required the Navy to be there.
And the Navy and Marine Corps team was asked to be in many places, lots of
times. And we were always there, whether it was unscheduled or scheduled.
And no matter what happened, no matter how bad the days were, the people that
were running ships and air ... squadrons got them there on time. They were
able to do their job.
Q: How much time would you say you spent--politics, Washington, up on the
KELSO: Politics? I don't think it was any more than 15 or 20 percent of my
Q: What were the issues then? Was it the women's stuff, or budgetary
KELSO: It was budgetary, sometime personnel. The women issue clearly caused a
lot. Responding to some of the things that had taken place as a result of
social issues. All of those things take energy on the Hill, to try to let them
know what you're doing, how you're doing it. That is a legitimate need for the
country. The Congress provides the money for the military. The leaders of the
military got to talk to the leaders in the Congress about those sort of
Q: Once you said, in '91, that you thought women shouldn't be in combat
roles. What was your rationale then?
KELSO: I guess the biggest rationale I had for women not being in combat roles,
to begin with, was my worry that it was adding a load to the unit commanders,
squadron commanders, ship commanders, the issue that always been there with
males and females. And they never had that before. And I remembered myself as
a young commander, running a submarine. I felt I was about up to here with the
load on my back. I thought about that. That was my primary issue, to begin
Q: But it changed.
KELSO: Yes, it did.
KELSO: Well, I began to think about it a lot more. It was not an issue that I
had thought about as much as I probably should have before I came to the job.
And I started thinking about, number one, women in the Navy were doing a
terrific job. Number two, they had always had a legitimate argument that they
would not have the opportunity to go to the highest positions in the Navy
unless they were able to have jobs that the Navy considered the most important,
which were jobs as captains of ships, captains of aircraft squadrons, and be
able to progress through that. So you couldn't argue that. That was a prima
facie case on that sense.
I have a daughter who worked in the world, not in the Navy. But she felt
discriminated against in her job. And I think she probably was right. And I
thought, "If my daughter was going into the military and she wanted to do that,
I'd like her to have the opportunity to go as high as she wanted to."
There never had, in my judgment, been a physical issue. A lot of people think
there is. But I can remember when I was working for Admiral K.
in Norfolk, back in the seventies, the issue of whether women could perform
on tugs where they had the strength to pull lines and things like that. And a
lot of people thought they couldn't. Today we got tugs that are run primarily
by females. And when I watch women do things today like they do in the
Olympics, I've always thought about would I like to play Steffie Graf at
tennis? Not all women can do that, but not all men can either. And so I just
began to think.
I guess one of the things that was the most telling to me, I worried that the
senior leadership in the enlisted community would be really dead set against
this. And I had to pick a new Master Chief of the Navy, in other words, Senior
Chief of the Navy, during my term as CNO. There's a process where you get five
best senior master chief petty officers that the Navy has to come up, and
you get to interview all five of them and decide which one you'd like to have
as a Master Chief of the Navy. And I asked those five gents, two of which were
master chiefs of aircraft carriers, what they thought about women coming into
combat. All five of them said, "Why don't we get on with it?" Now, that
really made an impression on me because you're not CNO of one community or
another community. You're CNO of the whole community. Women, in your mind,
had to be as important as other people. And when these gents thought that they
could handle women in positions in the Navy like that I said, " I must have
missed something along the way."
I changed my view that. It was the right thing. It was the right time to
bring women into the Navy and give them the opportunity to do whatever they
were capable of doing. And I don't regret it one bit. I think you see that my
original worry about it is there. There are more media, both print and on
television news, about the problems of men and women living together than
anything else today. But not too much about whether they should or should not.
And I just think that's a natural form of life. You have to learn how to live
with that. And you cope with it and get on, as we do everywhere else in the
There are a lot of people who object to women being in combat today. It was
voted the law of this country by overwhelming majority of our legislators,
signed by the President of the United States. And so it isn't something to
argue about any more. If you want to work to change the law, then work to
change the law. We ought to do it the very best we can. And so that is the
issue. There isn't any issue any more. It's just, how do you do it?
Q: Do you think, at that convention out in Las Vegas, did Admiral
Dunleavy, if he would have made as strong a statement as you just made, where
that young female officer stood up and the chanting was going.....
KELSO: No. And I'm going to tell you why. Anybody who didn't think that was a
controversial issue at that time was sort of naive. The President's Commission
on Women met after that, and they voted 8-7 against women in combat. That's
the commission that the Congress dictated and the President put together.
That's how controversial the issue was. You can't change people's thoughts
overnight. It takes time. You have to work at it. In one afternoon to make a
statement one way or the other is not going to change people's ideas. Some
people haven't changed their ideas yet. You have to work at that.
Q: I don't mean this as a criticism of Admiral Dunleavy. I'm more
interested in a process here. If he had said it as strongly as you did, and
let's say he believed it, would it have stopped a lot of the problems that have
happened since then?
KELSO: It would not have stopped a lot of them. The Navy made some very strong
statements after the law was passed, that we were not going to put up with
harassment of females. And some people harassed females. As I say, you cannot
change people overnight because you make an edict. You have to train them,
talk to them, make them understand why the change is taking place. And that
takes a period of time. My judgment is no, it wouldn't have made a big
Q: Am I wrong in assuming that this is a big problem still?
KELSO: I don't think it's near as big a problem as some people think it
is. I think if you talk to people who took the Eisenhower ... and went
to sea the first time with some 400 females on the carrier Eisenhower,
that cruise went very well. The women did their job well. There was not a lot
of problems between the males and the females. We've set forth a plan to
integrate ships with males and females, on a timetable that we could do it
right. And it's taking place. We have an altercation between a male and a
female every now and then. You're going to have those for some time, until
everybody agrees that this is the way that it's going to be.
When I was a kid, we had racial segregation. Because we said we were going
to change that, everybody didn't believe that. It took a while. President
Truman said, years before the military really integrated completely, that we
were going to do this. This was a Presidential law. People have strong
feelings about things like this. There are human feelings. It takes time for
them to change. I think we're changing pretty rapidly.
Q: Do you feel like you were a pioneer in the Navy in this sense....
Certainly, your opinions, sir, are much different than Admiral Moorer's on this
KELSO: Oh, I don't know that I'm a pioneer. How we grow up as young people in
this country has changed than it was when I grew up. Young women today
generally participate in athletics from the time they're 3-- 5 or 6 years old.
I've got a 14-year-old grand-daughter. She plays softball. She plays
basketball. She plays soccer. She is a pretty fine young athlete. When I was
a kid, there were no 14-year-old girls who played games like that. So she's
far better prepared to take on a role in the military than anybody would have
been during that period of time, except the very, very few. I think if you
look around you, boys and girls consider themselves friends in athletics and
lots of things like that, that just didn't happen when I was growing up. I
personally believe the world has changed. This is not a big deal with them.
The big deal is with us old people.
Q: But you were leading an organization that was filled with lots of old
people, by comparison, and some young people. But you had to show a leadership
role in that, didn't you?
KELSO: Well, I had to make a choice. I hope it was a leadership role. And I did
make a choice. I didn't expect that everybody would agree with it when it was
made. I felt there would be a lot of people who were opposed to it. I felt
that it was the time to do this, and we needed to get on with it.
I will say that the acrimony that was taking place before these decisions were
made, is gone. I'd like to make the point that this was not a decision that I
made alone. This was a decision that was clearly agreed to by the American
people's elected leaders. Do you remember a fight on the floor about this
issue in the Congress? There was none. The Senate voted 97-3 (I don't
remember what the House vote was), the first time it was voted on. I remember
the first hearing on it. There were not anybody on the side of: Are we going
to do this or not do this? They were mostly on the side of: Are we going to
do this? Now, some people would say"You made the decision to please them, to
be correct about it." I think that's a bogus idea. I tried to explain to
you why I changed my views. It is the law of the land.
Q: You transition out. I understand you don't want to talk about Tailhook,
but I am interested in how you leave. When you left, you said, "All right.
I'm the fall guy. It should stop here." Do you think that spotlight that
landed on the Navy at exactly that moment is-- do you think it's still on the
KELSO: Yeah, to some extent it is. A lot of articles you read still mention
Tailhook. And what I said when I left was that, "Look, I have become the
lightening rod, and it's time for me to go. Let somebody else come in." I
hoped that Tailhook would go away after I left. But it obviously didn't go
completely, because I think five years is kind of time to get on with life and
not keep beating everybody to death from what happened five years ago. After
all, it was a very small percentage of the US Navy that was in Las Vegas.
Probably a very small percentage of those that were there, that created the
problems that were associated with Tailhook. But yet, to tar the whole Navy
with such an idea is ridiculous. There wasn't one enlisted man that I'm aware
of at Tailhook.
And so, yes, and I think the Navy has done a very good job of getting
on from that point in time, of bringing women into combat positions. We've
put forth ideas of how to deal with sexual harassment that have been asked for
and used by lots of civilian corporations, to do that. Do we have a problem
every now and then? Sure, we have a problem every now and then. Those are
problems of life and we're probably going to continue to have problems every
now and then. But to drag up every time one happens, as a Navy still taken
over by the ideas of Tailhook are ridiculous.
Q: But...the spotlight's on. You can't get out of the spotlight. once the
media spotlight is on... Right?
KELSO: Well, it's kind of like a father gives you a good name. You can stain it
once and it stays with you for a long, long time. The good name is hard to
restore. That's kind of how I see it. And if you want to keep giving the Navy
that stain, I think it's really unfair to an awful lot of young people who are
in the Navy today, who don't have the faintest idea what Tailhook was, what
took place there, and are out there doing a great job. They're sailing for six
months at a time and coming home. Their families are here, waiting back. It
really doesn't do them much good to hear, every time that they hear anything
about the Navy, that their Tailhook is on them.
Q: Did you know Mike Boorda?
KELSO: I knew Mike Boorda well.
Q: Tell me a little about him as the Chief of Personnel.
KELSO: Mike was a wonderful Chief of Personnel. He was a man who had a
big heart for people, and wanted to make people in the Navy happy and feel
good, and who had spent a lot of time talking to them and devising policies
that were good for them. And the Navy prospered very much under his leadership
as the Chief of Naval Personnel.
Q: What is that job?
KELSO: Well, it's probably one of the most important jobs in the Navy, because
you are the guy who recommends to the CNO and to the Secretary of the Navy.
And you must remember, he works sort of for both, in that sense. Actually
works with the CNO but he does do a lot of work for the Secretary's office.
He's responsible for the assignment of all people. That's a pretty big job.
He's responsible for preparation of any legislation on personnel that's going
to the Hill. One of his major jobs is responsible for the assignment of
flight officers. Now, the CNO is very much involved in that, as well as the
Secretary of the Navy. But normally, it's based on his recommendations to
begin with. Anything to do with personnel in the Navy, fits under his tag.
Q: And Mike Boorda was good at that job because?
KELSO: Number one, he's a very talented man. He had a great feel for the people
in the Navy. And he spent a lot of time at it. He gave it an awful lot of his
energy to make sure that it was done well.
Q: Powerful job?
KELSO: I don't see it as a powerful job. I guess some people might see it as a
powerful job. If he's providing your set of orders, I suppose you could feel
it was a powerful job. I don't think Mike Boorda did it in such a way that
anybody would have seen him as a powerful person.
Q: Did you always figure he'd get the big job? Did you figure some day
he might get the big job?
KELSO: I always thought he would be a player. It can change from time to time,
from people to people. Mike, I thought, would be a guy who would be looked at
when his time came around, to be the CNO.
Q: Why did you get the big job?
KELSO: I'd been around a good while, and had some very good jobs. Sixth
Fleet....So I'd had most of the major jobs for admirals to have, and
progressed. I was a person that would be looked at for the job. Whether I
would have gotten it or not, I didn't know. And so you'll have to ask those
who picked me what the answer to that is.