||During the DOD investigation, officers who engaged in misconduct explained the reasons for their behavior.|
The most common reason was this behavior was
"expected" of junior officers and
Tailhook was replete with "traditions."
In one officer's words, "It was condoned
early in some of the senior officers'
careers...I imagine when this first thing
started they were the elite, they thought
they could do anything they wanted...
and not have to answer the questions
that we're answering today."
Their behavior was justified or at
least excusable because they were
returning heroes from Desert Storm.
Many younger officers viewed Tailhook
as a means of celebrating US victory
over Iraqi forces.
Through their interviews of
aviators, the authors of the
report were reminded that naval aviation
is among the most dangerous and stressful
occupations in the world.
For example, all six of the Gulf War fatalities
were aviators. In addition, more
than 30 officers died in military aviation
accidents during the year following
Tailhook '91 . The authors
found that the "live for today for tomorrow
you may die" attitude expressed by the
aviators is in fact a way of life for
many of these officers.
Numerous officers viewed Tailhook as a
type of "free-fire zone" where they
could celebrate without regard to rank
or decorum. Tailhook was perceived as an
accepted part of the culture set apart
from the mainstream of the Armed Forces.
Many likened Tailhook to overseas deployment
where months of spartan living give way to
excessive partying while in foreign ports. A
frequently heard comment, "what happens
overseas, stays overseas" was the implicit
paradigm applied to Tailhook.
A female Navy commander explained that the
'91 convention was different from other years
both because of the Gulf War and recent congressional
inquiries about women in combat.
Her perspective was:
"This was the woman that was making you,
you know, change your ways. This was the
woman that was threatening your livelihood.
This was the woman that wanted to take your
spot in that combat aircraft."
She and others also noted Tailhook
took place during a climate of "downsizing" in the
military that threatened people's job security.
All these elements combined with the presence of
women and alcohol were a mix of
potentially explosive ingredients.
Some senior officers blamed the younger men's
rowdy behavior on the influence of the movie
"Top Gun," which served to glorify naval
pilots in the eyes of women and created
unrealistic expectations of younger officers.
Unlike their counterparts in other Armed
Services, aviators do not follow a career
progression of command. Most do not bear
the leadership responsibilities of commanding
a unit until the 10-year point in their careers.
The authors of the report curiously noted that
many senior officers repeatedly referred to the
aviation lieutenants and lieutenant commanders
as "the kids." "To us, their use of this term
symbolized an attitude where irresponsible behavior
and conduct were accepted manifestations of
high-spirited youth. The attitude is a major
departure from the traditions of the ground
forces, where newly commissioned second lieutenants
control the lives of their platoon members and are
expected by their superiors to demonstrate the personal
qualities of a leader."
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