The Blue Angels are the best of the best when it comes to their high-flying aerial stunts. They are undoubtedly one of the military's top recruiting tools.
But pull the curtain back on the ground at its El Centro winter base in 2012, and you'll see an elite U.S. Navy squadron spiraling out of control. The caustic culture was cultivated by a commander who found common ground with junior pilots by engaging in sophomoric behavior so objectifying and demeaning that it created a pervasively hostile and unlawful work environment.
Sexual harassment was the norm. Pornography was prolific and the giant blue and gold penis painted on a training facility could be seen from space.
It finally took a bold whistleblower to come forward to reveal the misogyny and sexism that Capt. Gregory McWherter condoned and encouraged.
The report of misconduct shows the dozens upon dozens of witnesses he interviewed -- 68 witnesses overall -- told stories so shocking that it made the facility sound like the backdrop for an X-rated Top Gun parody.
The behavior included some of the pilots using binoculars to peep on the women in the huge crowds before their demonstrations. They used secret codes to alert each other when the hot ones approached them for autographs after the shows. Phrases like "she can sit on my face" were uttered often when the male pilots saw a woman they wanted.
Capt. McWherter let the Boys Club flourish and turned a blind eye to the lewd behavior in the Ready Room and the pornography in the cockpit, in the text messages and on maps and itineraries. Homophobic decorations, pictures on the wall, jokes and cartoons were pervasive. Images of male genitalia were literally everywhere, including on the carved pumpkins that showed up on Halloween in the Ready Room. Some of the male pilots posed with these quote "pornkins" with Capt. McWherter's blessing and over the objections of some of their female counterparts.
Excessive use of alcohol and bizarre hazing rituals during a year-end Cresting ceremony included some of the pilots attempting to tape a female "newbie" to a chair. At the same ceremony, officers wore foam penis hats and mechanical quote "dog-humping" hats.
Changes were only made at the base not because the behavior was wrong but because someone came forward by going outside of the chain of command which Capt. McWherter considered to be a breach of trust and an act of betrayal.
One of the Blue Angel pilots was so clueless he told a television reporter that female service members couldn't be Blue Angels because "women can't fly because they want to have babies."
Rear Admiral Randy Crites learned during compiling his report that the El Centro pilots believed sexual harassment didn't exist on the base because no one was really objecting.
And that's exactly what is wrong with the entire military justice system. Most don't object because they fear retaliation, they fear they will lose their jobs. They know based on history that little action will ever be taken. No commander wants his unit marred by allegations of misconduct and often they do all they can to keep allegations quiet. Commanders are the sole route for justice in the military and they fail our service members repeatedly to protect their own reputations.
Capt. McWherter is gone now, the giant penis is painted over and the Blue Angels have promised to correct their course. The story, however, is just one more example of how the military cannot police itself when it comes to sexual harassment and assault.
This toxic culture would have been obvious to anyone who bothered to look. Commanders willfully ignored the evidence of a bitterly hostile environment, and have demonstrated yet again that the chain of command is inadequate to address the plague of sexual assault and harassment in our nation's military.
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