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Tailhook scandal
An unofficial Tailhook aviator's uniform patch from 1992.
An unofficial Tailhook aviator's uniform patch from 1992.
Date: September 8–12, 1991
Place: Las Vegas, Nevada

The Tailhook scandal refers to a series of incidents where more than 100 U.S. Navy and United States Marine Corps aviation officers sexually assaulted 87 women, or otherwise engaged in "improper and indecent" conduct at the Las Vegas Hilton in Las Vegas, Nevada. The events took place at the 35th Annual Tailhook Association Symposium from September 8–12, 1991. The term can also refer to the resulting investigations conducted by the United States Navy (USN) and United States Department of Defense.

As a result of the subsequent investigations, a number of officers were formally disciplined or refused advancement in rank. Controversially, military officers and observers have alleged that flag officers attending the symposium were not held accountable for knowingly allowing the behavior in question to occur. Observers noted that the scandal highlighted the US military culture's attitude and treatment towards women in the areas of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and equal treatment of women in career advancement and opportunity.



In September 1991, the 35th annual symposium in Las Vegas featured a two-day debrief on Navy and Marine Corps aviation in Operation Desert Storm. It was the largest such meeting yet held, with some 4,000 attendees: active, reserve, and retired personnel.

After his return to the USS Midway, inport in Seattle for the Sea Fair, then Tailhook president CAPT Ludwig pulled all Air Wing CO's, staff, and Flag Staff officers and debriefed them on initial reports of misbehavior and incidents of fisticuffs in the hallways and on the patio by the pool.

According to a Department of Defense (DoD) report, 83 women and 7 men stated that they had been victims of sexual assault and harassment during the meeting. Several participants later stated that a number of flag officers attending the meetings were aware of the sexual assaults, but did nothing to stop them.[1]

On October 29, 1991, the Department of the Navy terminated all ties to the association.[citation needed] Ties were not restored with the Navy until January 19, 1999.[citation needed]

The issues were never quite settled, and as late as 2002, the Tailhook chairman spoke of "the alleged misconduct that occurred in 1991".[2] For several years after Tailhook '91 Promotion board results were delayed while a special review was conducted to ensure that any person with an adverse connection to Tailhook '91 was not promoted.

Frontline on PBS reported:

Ultimately the careers of fourteen admirals and almost 300 naval aviators were scuttled or damaged by Tailhook. For example Secretary of the Navy H. Lawrence Garrett III and CNO Admiral Frank Kelso were both at Tailhook '91. Garrett ultimately resigned and Kelso retired early two years after the convention.[3] Vice Admiral Richard Dunleavy, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Air Warfare, was demoted to a two-star Admiral (from a three-star Admiral) and retired because of the scandal. [4]

Author Jean Zimmerman developed the thesis that the scandal underscored the shifting status of women in the military and particularly the role of women in combat.[5]

In popular culture

The scandal was satirized on two episodes of The Simpsons, in which a character, Waylon Smithers, confessed that:

"I feel about as low as Madonna when she found out she missed Tailhook."

and an admiral that would have thrown the book at Homer in Simpson Tide did nothing because he was indicted in the Tailhook Scandal.

In an episode of The X-Files ("Detour"), Dana Scully visits her FBI partner Fox Mulder in his hotel room and reminds him that they are violating the FBI policy of male and female agents consorting in the same hotel room. Mulder jokingly warns her not to "try any of that Tailhook crap" on him.

The scandal was also referenced in The West Wing, during a debate about "Don't ask, don't tell". When arguing with a Congressman about the issue, Sam Seaborn says:

There's something I'd always wanted to ask you. Why does being gay mean you can't keep your hands to yourself? Over what kind of gentlemanly pride are the Armed Forces willing to lay claim the restraint in that area? You want me to get the file on sexual harassment on the D.O.D.? Do you want me to ask these guys about Tailhook?

The scandal was also referenced in JAG on numerous occasions, usually in a negative comparison with comments along the lines of the season 1 episode "Black Ops" when said "This will ruin more careers than Tailhook."


  1. ^ Thompson II, Charles C. (1999). A Glimpse of Hell: The Explosion on the USS Iowa and Its Cover-Up. W. W. Norton & Company. p. 379–380. ISBN 0393047148. 
  2. ^ RADM Frederick L. Lewis, USN (Ret). "From the Chairman: Tailhook Association At Your Service". The Tailhook Association. Retrieved 2007-08-13. 
  3. ^ "Post Tailhook Punishment". Frontline, PBS. Retrieved 2007-08-13. 
  4. ^ New York Times
  5. ^ Zimmerman

Further reading

  • McMichael, William (1997). The Mother of All Hooks: The Story of the U. S. Navy's Tailhook Scandal. Transaction Publishers. ISBN 156000293X. 
  • Office of the Inspector General, United States Department of Defense (1993). The Tailhook Report. New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-10392-8. 
  • Vistica, Gregory (1997). Fall From Glory: The Men Who Sank the U.S. Navy. Touchstone. ISBN 0684832267. 
  • Zimmerman, Jean (1995). Tailspin. Doubleday. ISBN 0385477899. 

External links

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