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