Facebook Twitter

Tailhook convention again is marred by misconduct allegation

SHARE Tailhook convention again is marred by misconduct allegation

WASHINGTON — Nine years after a sexual misconduct scandal at a naval aviator convention rocked the armed services, the Navy said Friday that it is investigating an allegation of "inappropriate conduct" toward a couple by service members attending a gathering of the Tailhook Association this month in Nevada.

A man complained that his female companion may have been "inappropriately touched" by someone in a rowdy group during the incident in a hotel hallway, Lt. Cmdr. Cate Mueller, a Navy spokeswoman, said Friday.

While the disclosure evoked memories of the 1991 Tailhook scandal, which tarnished the careers of several high-ranking civilian and military officials, the substance of the allegation forwarded this week to naval investigators did not immediately seem as explosive.

Nonetheless, it came at an especially sensitive moment for both the Navy and Tailhook. Only in January, Navy Secretary Richard Danzig declared that the service would reopen full ties with the private association of naval aviators — severed in the wake of the 1991 scandal — after concluding that the group was committed to avoiding the mistakes of the past.

The new allegation centers on an incident that is alleged to have occurred during Tailhook's annual convention Aug. 17-20 at John Ascuaga's Nugget Casino Resort, in Sparks, Nev. The Navy, in a brief written statement, said that a complaint was made after an alleged run-in between people who were thought to be conventioneers and a civilian couple who were staying at the hotel but not attending the convention.

The Navy said that its inspector general is handling the complaint, which was received through a "harassment advice line."

Mueller added that the complaint alleged the civilians, who were not identified, had tried to get through a hallway but found their way blocked. When the man asked the group to make room, he and his companion allegedly were greeted with inappropriate comments. And as they passed through, Mueller said the complaint alleged, "she may have been inappropriately touched."

According to the complaint, a senior naval officer apologized afterward but the couple was not satisfied, Mueller said.

Tailhook president Lonny McClung urged the public not to rush to judgment.

"It's hard to connect the dots right now," said McClung, a retired naval captain, who said that he first heard of the complaint Wednesday and that he believed the Navy received it Tuesday. "When all is said and done, we'll probably know the complete story." McClung said that his group repeatedly had stressed to its members the importance of behaving responsibly at the convention.

McClung said that Tailhook now counts 10,600 members, one-third of them active-duty military, one-third retired military and one-third civilians. The membership is down from a peak of about 16,000 in 1991. That year, female officers were groped by naval aviators at a Las Vegas hotel during drunken debauchery that implicated more than 100 officers in various offenses, and the group's reputation was shattered. Navy Secretary H. Lawrence Garrett resigned and Adm. Frank B. Kelso, then the chief of naval operations, retired early. But McClung said that military downsizing also had affected the size of the group.

The association, which takes its name from the hook that enables jets to land on aircraft carriers, has sought to reform itself in recent years.

This year's event was the sixth consecutive annual Tailhook convention at the Nugget casino. A resort spokesman, Mike Greenan, said that the group has been a model customer. About 2,000 people attended the convention.