Q: Why the Blue Angels, how did that happen?

STUMPF: Strangely enough, I had never really aspired to be a Blue Angel. I thought they were wonderful all the way through my career, but it never kind of fit with what was next for me. Until I got ready to finish my CO tour, and there were no flying jobs available at that time, there were going to be no flying jobs available. And they were talking to me about another tour in the Pentagon which I would have done, but was not particularly pleased about it. And I told them I didn't really want to do that. I said, "Send me to sea on a carrier." I offered to do that, and they said, No, we need you in Washington, you're the only guy that can do this job up in Washington.

Q: Why did they need you in Washington, what were you doing?

STUMPF: They wanted me to work in some office in the Secretary - I don't even recall what it was. But they had a billet to fill and I was going to be available, fit the job description, and so that's where I was off to. I decided to apply to be the Commander of the Blue Angels, which requires that you have a squadron tour first.

So, I applied and ultimately got the job. It was an interview process and elimination kind of thing. I was selected.

Q: For people who don't know what the Blue Angels are, what are the Blue Angels?

STUMPF: It's the Navy flight demonstration squadron. It's a jet demo team flying F-18s, blue and gold airplanes, travel around the country and around the world on occasion and fly airshows, air demonstrations for the public.

Q: And the point is?

STUMPF: It's a recruiting tool for one thing, to get the Navy out in front of the people. The Navy, especially in the middle of the country, doesn't get a lot of exposure. So we take the Navy and tell the Navy story and say, "This is Navy equipment, these are Navy airplanes and this is what we do."

And the biggest part of the Blue Angel mission is to attract young people to take a look at the Navy and see what opportunities are available.

Q: Is it hard to be a Blue Angel pilot?

STUMPF: It's kind of a grind. I mean, it's a tough, demanding schedule throughout the year, and it's very difficult flying. It takes a lot of practice and a lot of concentration.

Q: What's the hardest the Blue Angels do, what's the hardest formation, the most interesting challenge?

STUMPF: We did about twenty different maneuvers during a show, and they all have their challenges. For me as the flight leader, my biggest challenge was to arrive, to bring the formation to a position from which we could execute the maneuver properly, and just getting the formation to that particular maneuver.

And the maneuver is done the same way every time. So after enough practice, you can get through the maneuver, just based on what you've done so many times before. But setting the maneuver up is always different because of the winds and the terrain and the weather and everything. So for me, setting the maneuvers was the most difficult.

For the wing men, they have a different problem. They need to fly very close to the other airplanes, they're all behind me, but they have to fly very, very close formation position through all kinds of altitudes at high speed. And it's just tough flying.

Q: Is it dangerous?

STUMPF: We don't like to think it's dangerous. If it were dangerous, we wouldn't do it. We have very, very strict safety criteria. In fact, we approach the entire mission from a safety perspective. In fact, when we make a mistake, if we do something that's not quite right, we don't call it a mistake, we call it a safety, and that's the way we approach it.

When I was there, we never had an accident, we swapped paint a couple of times, but we never heard anybody and never really hurt the machines. Which is, considering the amount of flying we did for two years, it's quite remarkable.

Q: How much flying?

STUMPF: The training season begins early in December and goes through the middle of March, when we start the show season. During training we fly two or three hops a day. That's six days a week, and we're stationed out in the middle of the California desert, so we're kind of isolated out there and can just concentrate on our work.

Then once the show season starts, we take Monday as a day off, and we're based in Pensacola again, practice on Tuesday, practice on Wednesday, fly to the show site on Thursday, practice again on Thursday, practice show on Friday, and then the big public show is on Saturday and again on Sunday, and then we fly home Sunday. So it's pretty brutal. And that goes from March until the middle of November, so it's a tough grind.

Q: Tailhook '91, let's talk about it. Why did you go?

STUMPF: I went to Tailhook to receive an award on behalf of my squadron, which had been selected as the best F-18 squadron in the Navy. So I went out there under orders to receive the award.

Q: And you had been to Tailhook before?

STUMPF: I had, yes.

Q: If you were to describe Tailhook to somebody who never heard of it before, how would you describe Tailhook, pre-91?

STUMPF: Tailhook is a gathering of naval aviators, guys that fly off of ships with the tailhooks to get back aboard.

There were two primary functions for the Tailhook symposium, in my mind. One was to get together with comrades that you'd served with on tours before. ...You get very close to your squadron mates, and you spend a lot of time with them for over a two or three year period, and then you go somewhere else and you start again. And then you tend not to see those folks again.

Tailhook was an opportunity to get together with old comrades. And I remember going there, and one time I listed all the people that I saw at Tailhook that I had known in previous tours, and it was around fifty folks I had talked to that I hadn't seen for years before. Which is really just a remarkable, fun thing.

The other fascinating thing about Tailhook for me was the informal relation, or the informal venue where junior officers could get together with senior officers out of uniform and go one-on-one with them, which never happens or very rarely happens in the structured, uniformed, day-to-day world -- very junior officers and very senior officers. There's a lot of interplay, certainly, between officers of two or three ranks apart. But we're talking about very junior Lieutenants and Admirals, which is a unique situation in the military, as far as I know.

That was wonderful, and it gave the JOs a chance to talk to these Admirals and give them a heart-to-heart about what they were seeing and what they were thinking. And I really think the Admirals got a lot out of it, too.

Q: It explains why so many Admirals were at Tailhook.....

STUMPF: Tradition was that all of the aviation Admirals who were in position of leadership in the administrative side of the Navy were there, would be there, and would take part in what was called the flag panel, and give all the young guys the opportunity to question them in public, in an informal setting.

Q: What was the attitude in '91? We've heard it described in so many ways: guys coming off the Persian Gulf War, some Navy aviators unhappy that they hadn't had a better chance to get some licks in the war.... A lot of people were just emotional at the end of the war, coming back together and they were glad they survived or happy to see friends or whatever.....describe the environment.

STUMPF: The way I saw it, we were having some severe problems between communities at the time, by communities, I mean types of aircraft: F-18, A-14, A-6 particularly. There was an unhealthy rivalry between those communities at the time, what I saw was unhealthy.

The older airplanes were being cut back, as you would expect, and there was a lot of resentment in those communities, because they were being cut back. Particularly because the plans for their replacement involved single-seat airplanes and there were two-seat airplanes, so there was half of the community that was going to perceive themselves as being out of jobs down the road.

Tailhook '91, when I came home from that and reflected on that, I said, "That was a wonderful healing experience." We got all the guys together in a room, we all talked about it. I kind of went there expecting it to be kind of, perhaps a conflict environment or an unfriendly environment, but it wasn't that way at all. It was like a healing experience. And I thought after Tailhook we were back on track again, and we were working as one naval aviation community instead of fractured. That's the way I felt when I came back.

It was also a wonderful place to get together and talk about the war. I mean, this was the first war we'd had since Vietnam, and the first war for most of us, ever, except for the very senior guys, none of us had seen action before. So it was an opportunity to get together with all these guys that you've known throughout your career, and reflect on what happened in Desert Storm and what didn't happen, and how we can do better and how we did well .

Plus, just the social war story scene that aviators always do. I thought it was very good for the Navy.

Q: About a month after it's over ..it hits the fan.....were the early reports about Tailhook that you read-- was that the Tailhook you were at?

STUMPF: No. That was foreign to me. I'd certainly never saw any assaultive behavior. In fact, I never did the entire time. In all the Tailhooks I went to, I never saw anybody not having fun and not having a good time. A lot of camaraderie. I was very surprised to have heard those reports.

Q: Were you on the third floor?

STUMPF: I was on the third floor a couple of times, that's where all the hospitality suites were, and I remember being there. But I suppose I had left early enough that I didn't see any of that sort of behavior.

Q: What happens to you next vis-a-vis Tailhook?

STUMPF: It wasn't early '93 that I got a visit by the investigators. They interviewed me and said, You're good to go, thank you very much.

Q: What did they say to you?

STUMPF: They asked me where I was, what I did. Actually, they were very interested in the goings-on of the third floor.

Q: And?

STUMPF: And I told them where I was and what I did on the third floor, and that was the end of it.

Q: Did they ask you to sign anything?

STUMPF: Yes. It was a piece of paper that said, I didn't see any of these following acts, and I don't remember everything that was on there; or, I didn't see any assaultive behavior, I didn't see any gauntlet or whatever. I really can't remember what all was on that paper.

Q: Were you worried at all when they approached you and asked you if they could talk to you and asked you to sign something?

STUMPF: Not particularly. I just thought, it was just a very uncomfortable situation, to be interviewed by some criminal investigators. I'd heard stories of how these things had gone before, so it was unnerving, it wasn't comfortable, but I wasn't particularly worried.

Q: What was the buzz around the Navy among other officers, especially junior officers?

STUMPF: You know, I talked to the gents that were in my squadron, and they weren't particularly happy with the way their interviews had gone, as far as how they were treated. And I remember reading a lot about how others were treated, particularly at certain air stations, I think out at Miramar. But I don't have any specifics at that point of how things were going.

Q: And then what happens?

STUMPF: Well, I was removed from command of the Blue Angels during our show season in the following May of '93 and told, "You're grounded, you're out of the squadron temporarily while we do further investigation."

Q: What explanation were you given?

STUMPF: None. I was not told what the accusations were, at least not initially. And I was at a loss. I was kind of worried. Because once you got into that environment, as we discussed, you're outside the chain of command and it's kind of a lonely feeling.

Q: Who told you?

STUMPF: My boss, the Admiral that I worked for. He was distraught, he knew that by me going away or being grounded, the Blue Angel season was halted immediately. We were on our way to an air show when, or just about to step out the door when he called and said, You're grounded. So he was very concern.

Q: What was it like for you?

STUMPF: It was devastating, it was devastating. That's the ultimate disgrace for a naval officer, is to be relieved of command, which effectively is what happened to me.

Q: Did he say it was Tailhook-related?

STUMPF: Oh, yeah. He said, You're grounded pending further investigation, regarding your attendance to Tailhook, as far as I recall. And he said, "Those orders came from Washington."

Q: What did you think was up?

STUMPF: I really didn't know. I knew that the Tailhook investigations were in full swing, and I surmised upon reflection that they had something that they could accuse me of that would allow them to prosecute a high visibility naval officer, is what I assumed.

Q: When you say "they", who do you mean?

STUMPF: Well, whoever was conducting the investigation, those that were conducting the Tailhook investigations in Norfolk.

Q: So, it's happening in the ranks, down at around your level and a little lower?

STUMPF: Yeah. At the time I was removed, so were five other senior officers. I think there were five, a handful, and they were all on the same day.

Q: What did you make of that?

STUMPF: I was very confused and, as I said, it was devastating to me and my family. Primarily because, or especially because of being removed from command of any squadron, but the Blue Angels, that's obviously got a lot of attention.

So at that point I became associated with a sex scandal, or a sexual assault scandal, unfairly, I think. That was the natural course, that was the natural reaction in the media, but that hurt very much.

Q: So, what did you do next?

STUMPF: I sought out legal advice from the Navy legal services and requested that I be assigned a lawyer. And also asked those folks if it would be a good idea to hire a civilian lawyer, and they said it wouldn't hurt. So, I did.

It was very frightening.

Q: So you get yourself a lawyer, civilian and military; what do you do next?

STUMPF: Well, then we tried to get some information from the investigators as to what the charges were and so forth, and we really couldn't get anything from them. It took weeks before we could get them really to respond to us and tell us what was going on and what the plan was and what the procedure was going to be. It seems to me the first thing that came back was, 'You were in charge of a hospitality suite and had organized some sort of an illegal activity in your hospitality suite,'-- I think is kind of where they were coming from.

But they'd seemed to be getting events confused between me and my squadron and other squadrons who actually did have hospitality suites, since we didn't have one.

Q: The allegation was strippers in a hospitality suite that was for a couple of Lieutenants in your squadron. Is that how it goes?

STUMPF: Yeah, that was the allegation, but there were some things wrong with that. First of all, we didn't have a hospitality suite. They had what was a suite, but it was up top, it wasn't on the third floor, and it was a private room, it was where the guys were staying while they were at the convention.

So I think mixing that up with the hospitality suite situation down on the third floor was what was a problem for us, for me.

Q: And the strippers, how did they get there?

STUMPF: Some guys hired them, the two Lieutenants who were having a weetting downparty just -- there was a brochure in the hotel room and I guess they just called up and ordered a couple...exotic dancers. That was pretty much standard procedure at the clubs on Friday nights, when I was growing up in the Navy.

Q: At what point do you go before a board and get put up as Captain?

STUMPF: Before we got to a promotion board, we had a board of inquiry which investigated my behavior at Tailhook. That board was convened by the CDA and it was presided over by an Admiral and two captains, all of whom were not aviators, so there was no aviation bias towards me. They ensured that they were not aviators. All three of the senior officers were highly respected. One is now a fleet Commander-in-Chief, who I ended up admiring very much, all three of them, I thought they were exceptionally professional officers.

The results of that board were a complete acquittal of any charges of misconduct. That was the official result of that board of inquiry was, this officer has committed no misconduct and should be returned to command immediately. And that happened in the Fall of '93.

Now, in the Winter of '94 I was back with the Blue Angels, we were in winter training. There was a selection board for a Navy captain and I was on the list, I was selected for promotion.

Shortly thereafter there was another selection board for major command at sea, and I was selected on that also, for command of a carrier airwing. So that was Winter of '94.

Q: And then what happened?

STUMPF: In May of '94, the President sent the list over to the Senate with my name on it, it was confirmed by the Senate for promotion. So everything was done at that point.

Q: You figured Tailhook was no behind you, whatever that mumble was about.

STUMPF: Absolutely. I'd assumed that once the official board of inquiry had given its results and I was reinstated in command that it was done, it was over.

But in June of '94, the Senate was informed that the Navy had not flagged my name on the promotion list. And the result of that was, the ultimate result of that was that the Senate Armed Services Committee wrote a letter to the Secretary of the Navy, recommending that he remove me from the promotion list.

Q: Let's back up a second. You are promoted, you are vetted, checked out and everything by the Navy. The list is sent to the President, who submits it to the United States Senate Armed Services Committee. And they promote you.

STUMPF: The full Senate. Well, they approved the promotion list which I was on. You aren't promoted until your number comes up, which is another year away. I was delighted, I was delighted to have been on both lists. And I had exceeded my initial goal that we talked about earlier, and was now given the opportunity to command a carrier airwing, which was in my opinion the ultimate flying job. Well, I was just very happy to have gotten all that over with and gotten back on track.

Q: Then the Navy says....we forgot to let the Senate Armed Services Committee know that this guy has a Tailhook what on his record? What do you have on your record?

STUMPF: It's not in the record, it's a separate something, file, that's kept on anybody that was investigated for having attended Tailhook. And if your name is in the file, then they have a little dossier on you. And when the lists go over to the Senate, the Navy is required to submit those dossiers. But they're not in the service record. It's something separate.

Q: Have you ever seen it?

STUMPF: No web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation

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