The reprimand of the former commander of the US Navy’s Blue Angels fighter display team has shed light on sexual harassment and homophobia within the elite squadron.
Captain Gregory McWherter, who commanded the team – the US version of Britain’s Red Arrows – in two stints from 2008 to 2012, was given a letter of reprimand that is likely to end his career after a disciplinary hearing this week. A 63-page report found that Capt McWherter “tolerated and encouraged” a sex-obsessed environment in which pilots kept pornography in their cockpits and painted a giant penis on the roof of a trailer at their base in El Centro, California.
The inquiry into Capt McWherter’s command also found other behaviour more typical of a college frat house than one of the most respected units in the US Navy. New arrivals were forced to wear “foam penis” hats and pilots kept binoculars in their jets to ogle bikini-wearing women on the ground.
Capt McWherter had encouraged a “sexually charged” work place from 2011 to 2012, the report found. Blue Angels pilots swapped pornography on their smartphones – especially pictures of male genitalia – and engaged in “vulgar, homophobic chats”.
The Navy opened its inquiry in March after receiving a complaint from a former member of the squadron, alleging sexual harassment. The team member had complained about porn being kept in cockpits, but Capt McWherter said it was “appropriate because it reflected a special trust” shared between pilot and the crew.
The Blue Angels perform at air shows across the US and have iconic status in the Navy, for which they are a key recruiting tool.
Capt McWherter, whose call sign was “Stiffy”, was a graduate of the “Top Gun” fighter pilot school. He has been reassigned to other duties pending the investigation.
“This commanding Officer witnessed, accepted, and encouraged behaviour that, while juvenile and sophomoric in the beginning, ultimately... became destructive, toxic, and hostile,” said Admiral Harry Harris Jr in the report. “He failed himself, failed those that he led... and failed the Navy.”
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