CORONADO, Calif.—Earlier this month, the Navy revealed that a former two-time commander of its Blue Angels precision flying team had been dismissed from his current position in the Navy because of behavior exhibited during his last stint as leader of the elite aviator squadron, which operates out of Pensacola, Florida.
According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, "Capt. Gregory McWherter was relieved from his post as executive officer of Coronado Naval Base, where he has served since November. A March 24 complaint filed with the Navy’s Inspector General sparked the series of events, said Cmdr. Kevin Stephens, spokesman for Naval Air Forces in Coronado. The investigation, led by a Navy admiral, is continuing."
Now, details from that investigation have emerged, and it turns out that the charges against McWherter are sexual in nature, and involve accusations that he allowed and even encouraged "sexually explicit comments and pornography in the squadron."
Specifically, according to the Navy, "Lewd speech, inappropriate comments, and sexually explicit humor were allowed in the workplace and in some case encouraged by the commanding officer. It was further alleged that pornographic images were displayed in the workplace and shared in electronic communications.”
No allegations of sexual abuse have been levied against McWherter, but the seriousness of the reaction against him for behavior that might previously have been brushed aside as an ordinary part of military life and culture indicates the lengths to which the military is determined to counter the "culture of abuse" that many critics, including several female U.S. Senators, want to change.
Yesterday, reported the Union-Tribune, Vice Adm. David Buss, the Navy’s “Air Boss” in Coronado, released a statement that underscored that determination. "The Blue Angels exist to inspire Americans through their regular displays of excellence, demonstrating the highest caliber of airmanship," he said. "The professionalism of their aerial performances is unquestioned. We cannot however, limit our judgment to that alone, to the dazzling feats of skill and daring seen in their flight demonstrations. A naval officer is a complete leader and must be someone worthy of the respect given by the crowds attending the air shows where the Blues perform.”
Ironically, McWherter was just getting his wings when the Navy was embroiled in the so-called Tailhook Scandal, which involved 100 Navy and Marine Corps aviators being accused of sexually assaulting 83 women and 7 men during the 35th Annual Tailhook Association Symposium, which took place September 8-12, 1991.
McWherter, according to the paper, "received his commission in 1990 and entered aviation training at Pensacola Naval Air Station in June, 1990," according to his Navy biography. He graduated as a pilot in September, 1992.
"A native of Atlanta and graduate of The Citadel," the paper continues, "[McWherter] is an F/A-18 pilot with multiple tours in combat squadrons, including leading VFA-192 through three deployments aboard the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk. He is a graduate of the Navy's Fighter Weapons School, known as Top Gun, and won the 2003 Commander Naval Air Forces Leadership Award. He was also VFA-131’s Pilot of the Year in 1996."
He also served as the Blue Angels commander for two stints, from November 2008 to November 2010, and again from May 2011 to November 2012. The allegations do not indicate exactly when the prohibited behavior is supposed to have occurred.
The fallout from this situation may effectively end McWherter's career, adding, according to the Union-Tribune, "a sour note to what otherwise has been a distinguished record for the jet pilot." Somewhat ironically, the Blue Angels themselves were "grounded last year due to sweeping defense budget cuts but [are] expected to perform a schedule of shows this year."
McWherter has been temporarily reassigned to the Naval Air Forces in San Diego and has not responded to media calls for comment.
Image: Capt. Greg McWherter responds to the crowd at the Guardians of Freedom Air Show in 2011, courtesy of the U.S. Navy. Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jen Blake.