SAN DIEGO — Rep. Pat Schroeder offered an olive branch Saturday to Navy aviators disciplined last year for attacking her in two vulgar skits and denied charges that she ruined dozens of careers by pressing for an aggressive investigation of the Tailhook sex scandal.
Schroeder, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, explained her position against sexual harassment in the military in two private meetings with 16 officers and enlisted personnel at the Miramar Naval Air Station.
The 10-term Colorado Democrat said she asked for the meeting to end the hostility against her and other women by Navy aviators, who resented her attack on the Navy's less-than-thorough investigation of the 1991 Tailhook sex scandal.
Some Navy officers had reacted to Schroeder's criticism of the pilots' lewd behavior at the 1991 Tailhook Assn. convention in Las Vegas by attacking her in two vulgar skits at the Miramar officers' club. The skits, performed June 18 as part of the base's annual Tomcat Follies, included an offensive banner about Schroeder and oral sex.
The banner and skits led to another investigation, which ended with five officers disciplined or stripped of command for their roles in the follies.
Schroeder said at a news conference after the sessions with the officers and enlisted personnel that she requested the meetings because "I thought it was a good time to do a 'heal Miramar'." She said she was very encouraged by the meeting, which she characterized as "very interesting and an open dialogue of what's been transpiring."
Although she may have offered the Navy pilots an olive branch, Schroeder did not back down from her criticism of the Navy's investigation of the Tailhook sex scandal and charges that more than 26 women, including 13 Navy officers, were sexually assaulted at the convention.
She expressed satisfaction with the investigation's fallout and what she called the positive effect it has had on the Navy and the rest of the military.
"The good news is that there's been a lot of repercussions from it. The repercussions that I think were good is the fact . . . that young men and women in the Navy are now saying there is a lot clearer message today of what they can and cannot do," Schroeder said.
She said her criticism of the Navy's investigation of Tailhook stemmed from the public's perception that Navy officials were not interested in launching a thorough investigation of the charges against the officers.
The service had allowed fighter pilots to develop a mind-set opposite of the "core values of courage, integrity and teamwork" ingrained in every member of the armed forces, Schroeder said. Some critics contended that the Navy routinely ignored incidents of sexual misconduct by fighter pilots.
"For some, it was a feeling those core values were more exclusive (at the expense of women). . . . It was really just a club that was just the elite. . . . We need to make sure they're living up to those values. That's why we were so aggressive in this area, specifically Tailhook," Schroeder said.
"From the outside, it appeared (the Navy was) not dealing internally with this problem. Now it appears that's finally beginning to come around," she added.
The Pentagon's inspector general launched an investigation of the Tailhook sex scandal after Navy officials announced that their inquiry had uncovered incidents of criminal conduct by Navy officers, who could not be identified.
Critics charged that the Navy was whitewashing the investigation and called for a separate Pentagon investigation. The final Pentagon report is expected to be released when a new Navy secretary is named.
The report is expected to recommend criminal charges against about 15 officers and other disciplinary action against dozens more.
Schroeder rejected claims by pilots that her criticism of the Navy has pressured officials to appease Congress by disciplining hundreds of aviators involved in the Tailhook and Tomcat Follies scandals.
"I don't do the discipline. Those who are saying 'you're causing this to happen' (are) giving me a lot more power than I have or intended to have. The discipline came down through Navy procedures," she said.
Some officers involved in the Tomcat Follies complained that they should not have been disciplined. They argued that they were exercising their freedom of speech through the skits and used them to express disapproval of Schroeder.
Schroeder said the follies went beyond the issue of freedom of speech and seemed to reinforce the ideas of critics who wondered why the pilots would put on such controversial skits while the Navy was involved in an investigation.
On Saturday, she also had another message for Navy fighter pilots: expect Congress to give women the green light to fly in combat. She also predicted that women will be allowed aboard combat ships.
Women will be allowed to fly in combat without requiring the military to lower standards, she added.
"We're not talking about lowering standards. If women can qualify . . . it would be silly to deny ourselves half the brainpower of this country just because they have the wrong chromosomes."