Former Blue Angels Commander Reassigned After Sex Harassment Complaints

Apr 23, 2014 9:36pm

The Navy says a former commander of the Navy’s Blue Angels flight demonstration team was reassigned from his current post because of an ongoing investigation that he allowed “lewd speech, inappropriate comments, and sexually explicit humor” under his command.

The “inappropriate work environment within the squadron …may have violated the Navy’s sexual harassment, hazing and equal opportunity policies,”  the Navy said in a statement.

On April 18 the Navy announced that Capt. Gregory McWherter had been relieved of his duties as executive officer of Naval Base Coronado in San Diego because of the initial findings of a probe into allegations of misconduct and an inappropriate command climate when he was in command of the Blue Angels.   McWherter commanded the Blue Angels, from November 2008 to November 2010, and again from May 2011 to November 2012.

The Blue Angels flight demonstration team is a much broader operation than the team of 16 F/A-18 pilots and weapons system officers who performs complex maneuvers at air shows.  The Navy’s best pilots compete for three-year tours with the squadron who are seen as ambassadors for the service.   But the team also includes additional transport pilots, officers and 100 enlisted sailors and Marines who provide maintenance and administrative support for the demonstration team.

On Wednesday night the Washington Post website reported that a former member of the Blue Angels squadron alleged to the Navy’s Inspector General that McWherter had fostered a hostile work environment that tolerated sexual harassment.  The Post acknowledged it had come upon the information after a Navy official had inadvertently emailed a Post editor the public affairs talking points to be used if the allegations against McWherter became public.

In a statement the Navy acknowledged the circumstances behind the investigation into McWherter’s alleged misconduct.

“According to the investigation, Capt. Gregory McWherter, while serving as the commanding officer of the Blue Angels, tolerated an inappropriate work environment within the squadron which may have violated the Navy’s sexual harassment, hazing and equal opportunity policies,” said the statement.

It said that a complaint had been filed with the Navy Inspector General that alleged that “lewd speech, inappropriate comments, and sexually explicit humor were allowed in the workplace and in some case encouraged by the commanding officer” when McWherter was in command of the Blue Angels.  It added that there were further allegations “that pornographic images were displayed in the workplace and shared in electronic communications.”

In addition to the ongoing investigation, Admiral Harry Harris, commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet has ordered a separate investigation to be led by an admiral that will “inquire into the facts and circumstances surrounding these allegations.” A Navy official says the investigation will look at the team’s behavior when McWherter was in command.

“All Navy leaders, whether assigned to a highly visible unit like the ‘Blues,’ or to our installations, squadrons, ships and submarines, are held to the highest standards,” said Vice Admiral David Buss, commander of Naval Air Forces.  ”The Navy expects everyone, from those officers in command positions to Sailors on the waterfront, to provide principled and highly ethical leadership, stressing discipline, accountability, and the importance of treating shipmates with dignity and respect.”

“We remain fully committed to accountability, transparency and protecting the integrity of ongoing investigations,” Buss said.

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