Q: Help me to understand why some of these fresh-from-victory but slightly
disconcerted aviators might have seen this Tailhook Symposium '91, as an
opportunity to convey their concerns to the brass.
ARTHUR: One of the aspects that the later Tailhook symposiums had taken on was an
opportunity for the young officers to sit down and throw questions at a flag
panel of senior aviators about the future of aviation, their concerns, where
are we going,.... And that had become a very popular part of the last
groupings of Tailhook symposiums. There you had several issues at work, that
were preying on their minds. One was, even with the great success in Desert
Storm, the Navy aviators felt that they didn't get their full recognition that
they should have. They felt that they were overshadowed in the media blitz
between what the Air Force coverage was and what the Navy coverage was. And
they were a little unsettled about that. You would like your day on the front
page, if you like that sort of thing.
Two was the downsizing. Where are we going? Three was, There was full
knowledge that there were several fixes into the Navy aviation program that we
needed. We had lost on the A-12 program. We had lost on the P-7 program, the
replacement for the P-3's. The F-14D program, which was a digital upgrade to
the to the Tomcat, with new engines, which the community had been dying for,
for a long time, an appetite for this much more powerful version of the F-14
with much more modern avionics. Those things were looking like they weren't
going to happen. So where are we going? Is there new airplanes coming our
way? Can we fix some of the problems that we found in Desert Storm, the
infrared, targeting devices weren't as good as they could have been, once we
pumped up to higher altitude for releases. We needed a better system. Were
they going to come, or weren't they going to come? And then of course there
was the issue of women coming into combat roles. And would that increase the
amount of people that were already in cockpits, being taken out of cockpits to
make room? So there was just a lot of nervousness. And I think that then was
reflected at the symposium.
Q: And on some level, that's even appropriate, isn't it?
ARTHUR: I've always thought that one of the strengths of naval aviation, we've
always had a ready room atmosphere to discuss issues. In other words, the CO
of a squadron never stayed away from the ready room. The CO, the squadron
spent a lot of time in the ready room. And when there were issues, when there
were conversations about: What are we doing? Are we doing it the right way?
The CO could move in and take leadership of that conversation and say, "Look,
here's what we're doing." And so there's always been a much more, willingness
for informal exchanges of ideas.
And so this was a positive thing. Now, some people think that was not right
to have the flag officers sitting up there and having this dialogue with the
junior officers. But it was sort of like a ready room. "Okay, guys. Here we
are. What's on your mind? Let's talk it out a little bit." Never any
decisions made there. But it was a good place to get attitudes and ideas and a
feeling for what the level of comfort was. In the flying business, you always
want to know where the mind is of the people that are flying airplanes, because
if their mind's not in the right place, you've got an accident about ready to
Q: And so the Tailhook symposium occurs. And one aspect of it gets wildly
and now famously out of hand. Where were you?
ARTHUR: Well, I was still out in the Pacific as the Seventh Fleet commander. I
was somewhat worried about the dynamics that might go on at Tailhook, I had
talked to the young aviators on the carriers after the war, and understood that
they were nervous, that they were concerned. And so I had called back to
Washington to my friends, who were going to go out there. I sent a message
back that I wanted Red there to again tell all the folks who had been out in
Desert Storm with us how much I appreciated and how highly I thought of their
And when the convention or the symposium was over, I called back and said,
"How did it go?" And this was the day after. And the report was, "It was
great. One of the best professional exchanges we'd ever seen." And so I said,
"Boy, that's good. I'm really pleased to hear that it went well and that
everybody felt good about it." Shortly thereafter came the news that things in
other forms had not gone quite as well. And then that was really cause for
concern, because it shouldn't have happened. And if nobody knew it at the
time, it was certainly evident to many of us, that was the kind of thing that
was truly detrimental to making progress in the New World Order, as we saw
things coming for the future. And it was going to be a tough thing to deal
Q: And as it happened, you found yourself pretty soon in a position to be one
of those who would leave the Navy in this New World Order.
You became Vice-Chief ..... And you are having to deal with Tailhook. What
did you all think needed to be done? And what did you do?
ARTHUR: Well, by the time I got back into the game, we already had an
investigation with lots of uneasiness, discrepancies between what the Navy IG
had seen, although he was looking at one small part of Tailhook, and relative
what the Naval Investigative Service has seen on their part. So there was
already some movement back and forth of: Which one's right?. What do we do
with this information? Is there any way to come to closure on this
information? Pretty much with my arrival was the decision, as I recall, that
Admiral Kelso and Secretary Garrett had decided that better bring in the
Defense Investigative Service, a third party to sort of get to ground truth on
the different views that were being brought forward at that point in time. So
there was a lot of uneasiness and not sure what we really had our hands on.
Q: How did you feel about the DOD involvement?
ARTHUR: Well, I understood why the decision was made. As I look back on it, the
one mistake was that in the process of agreeing to come in to conduct an
investigation, we were pretty much told at the leadership position of the Navy
that we were to keep hands off; that this was their investigation, and when it
was over, they would report, and we were not to be, one, critical if we didn't
like the way things were going; that we weren't to prejudge or to make helpful
suggestions that maybe you ought to do things a little differently; that it was
a hands-off approach. It was now in their hands, and we were now to set aside
and wait for the report.
That's always a delicate line. If you've got an investigation going, you want
the truth. You don't want to be seen as dabbling in it. But on the other
hand, if at times in the course, a Vice-Chief gets to see lots of
investigations by lots of different people. You're starting to hear something
back, you can ask the question and say, "Are you sure that you've got the right
people doing the talking?" Or, "Are we sure that we're not going outside the
lines of the investigation?" And there were several times that it would have
been much more comfortable for me if I could have entered into the argument and
said, "I'm not sure that these types of questions that I'm hearing about are
the appropriate kind of questions to be asking officers, when you're really
trying to find out where they were at Tailhook and what they were doing at
Tailhook." But that was sort of off the table. We couldn't do that.
Q: It began to seem like a witch hunt to many...... Some of the questions
they were asking officers were-- Do you masturbate? Do you have fantasies
ARTHUR: Yeah. That was the type of thing that was starting to concern me. And of
course, I'm not a trained investigator, and investigators will tell you that
sometimes you have to ask outrageous questions to get responses to real
questions. I guess my inner soul can't deal with that very well. I sort of
say, "Tell me what it is, and tell me what you did, and then I'll make up my
mind whether you told me the truth or didn't tell me the truth."
Q: The DOD IG report comes out in the spring of '93. It becomes a media
sensation. Bill Clinton's Secretary of the Defense, Les Aspin, announces that
women will be flying planes in combat. I want to ask you in that context, you
were no stranger to the idea of women climbing into a Navy airplane. You had
dealt with this before, hadn't you?
ARTHUR:The first women went to flight training at the time I was in the Bureau of
Personnel heading up the Junior Officer Detailing shop, where we had our first
13 female aviators in training. And so we had been at this business for quite
some time. At the time that the decision was made to do that, I can tell you
that nobody at that time ever thought the combat exclusion was in the lexicon.
But there was recognition of the fact that there was going to be a period of
time, 15-20 years down the road, when the available male population was going
to be at a minimum. The pre-baby boom era. And that if we were ever to hold a
size of force that we thought we would need for a major conflict, that we might
not have enough males available to man all of our combat aircraft.
And a way to hedge our bet on that was to take the non-combat aircraft and
develop and train women to fly. And that they could take over the non-combat
roles and free up the male population for the combat roles.
That was reasonably good thinking. We had a very successful program. And our
first generation of our female aviators were extraordinarily good. They
performed well, they progressed through what was seemingly a career path that
was virtually nonexistent. The ones that stayed with it, succeeded and did
superbly. So the fact that we had been training female pilots for a number of
years, and were very satisfied with it.
So the thought that here we were now, with the Congress telling us that the
combat exclusion was off, I felt that the Navy was in a pretty good shape to
start that movement and accommodate the desires of Congress to bring women into
combat.... We ought to open up the whole community to them. It gives them
their place. Let them have the same seats that the rest of us have had. If
they can do it, more power to them. And I was sure that they could.
Q: Kelso changed his mind. I understand you were influential in that. He
got on board. The Navy was now on board to put women on carriers and in the
cockpits of those planes. Tell me how that first group of women deployed when
that rather quick deployment of the Eisenhower and the Lincoln were ready.
ARTHUR: One of the things that I did not want to do was to influence the process
unduly from Washington. So I did not call for training records. I did not
call for people to come up and brief me and tell me how things were going.
Admiral Kelso, the CNO, was in the same mode. We had spoken. The guidance was
out. And basically, the fleet ran their program. And I am still convinced
that, with the people we had out there, they were minding the store and making
sure that everyone was trained up to a standard that they were comfortable
with. And my take is, from the reports that I got back they were ready to
Q: Kara Hultgreen belonged in the cockpit--
ARTHUR: I think so. In subsequent events, I had occasions to spend a lot of time
reviewing her record. And I thought they made the right call. I thought she
was ready to go. I thought she was a very, very good pilot. She had
demonstrated great skills when she was flying off the beach in another type of
tactical aircraft, and had handled an emergency situation very nicely there. I
thought she was ready to fly. And when I review her record, I came away with
that same impression. She should have been flying that F-14.
Q: Do you recollect the moment when you heard about her crash?
ARTHUR: I can't recall the particular instant in time, but I can certainly recall
the approximate time. When you're in Washington, you get this report.
Airplane down. Pilot lost. What else happened? But if you've come out of
that community, there's always that one moment in time when you say, "We've
lost somebody." And you know that somebody there was close to them, that was
there on the scene, that's really feeling a great loss. And of course you know
the families, that there's such a ripple-down effect. So I had that same
I then realized that this was another potential media event that would try to
take this occasion, and there would be people who would take the side that
says, maybe she shouldn't have been in the cockpit. And at that point in time,
I was still confident that if we had to pull that string, that the string would
come out and show that she was ready to go. At least the naval aviation
program that I grew up in, and I'm convinced still goes today, is that when you
get those wings, you've got those wings. You're a naval aviator. And you
should be flying whatever airplane you should be in. And if you're not, you
shouldn't be there.