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Tailhook Report Names Point Mugu Chief : Investigation: Defense Department study urges William Newman and 34 other admirals to rethink career goals. Newman says he wasn't at the party.

April 24, 1993|MAIA DAVIS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The commanding officer of the Point Mugu Naval Air Warfare Center is among the 35 Navy admirals who were named Friday in a Defense Department report on the Tailhook sexual harassment scandal and urged to rethink their career goals.

Although more than 46 younger officers could face courts-martial or lesser punishments for alleged sexual misconduct at the 1991 Tailhook Assn. convention, the report stopped short of recommending disciplinary action against the admirals and Marine Corps generals who also attended the three-day event.

Instead, the Defense Department's inspector general advised the senior officers "to consider the extent to which he bears some personal responsibility for what occurred there and how best he can serve the Navy and the Marine Corps in the future."

Rear Adm. William E. Newman, who took the helm at Point Mugu 2 1/2 years ago, said he left the October, 1991, Tailhook convention in Las Vegas the day before the infamous Saturday night party that has tarnished the Navy's reputation.

"If the Navy were to hang me for being there four hours on Friday morning in my white uniform to attend technical presentations, I would be rather surprised," he said. "I'm not hiding anything or ashamed of anything."

The 53-year-old rear admiral said he flew to Las Vegas on Friday morning on a Navy commuter plane and left after attending several lectures on naval aviation.

And while the Defense Department has accused some officers of covering up information about the scandal, Newman said he never even heard rumors of the sexual shenanigans reported to have occurred at the hotel Saturday night until much later.

"It was literally months before the information started filtering in," he said.

Newman, a Vietnam veteran and former leader of the Blue Angels Flight Demonstration Team, said he bears no personal responsibility for the incidents at the Tailhook convention and has no intention of resigning or altering his career plans.

"I'm still here to serve and I have been for 32 years and I look forward to continuing to serve as long as the Navy wants me," Newman said.

He said, however, that his promotion to a two-star rear admiral--announced in February, 1992--has been held up for more than a year because of investigations into the far-reaching scandal.

"In the U.S. Navy, there are hundreds of promotions and new-order moves put on hold," he said. "This Tailhook thing has got the Navy, and especially the aviation unit, ground to a halt."

Newman said he has yet to see the Pentagon report, and thus does not know if any of the other 140 Navy and Marine Corps officers named in the report are stationed at Point Mugu.

Fewer than a dozen officers from Point Mugu and about the same number from its sister base at China Lake--which Newman also oversees--were at the convention of about 4,000 aviators, he said.

The annual conventions are gatherings of members of the Tailhook Assn., a professional organization of retired and active Navy and Marine fliers and other military aviation boosters.

Newman emphasized that the Navy will conduct its own investigation of all officers named in the Pentagon report.

"The Department of Defense Inspector General does not have the authority to punish anybody in the Navy," he said. "That is an advisory body."

In defense of the Navy, Newman said that the alleged sexual misconduct at the Tailhook convention reflected a larger, societal problem of sexual harassment.

"I personally don't think that what went on at Tailhook is any different from what goes on in society," he said. "But the Navy is going to stand up and be accountable."

Since the Tailhook scandal erupted, the Navy has instituted a broad range of policy changes to discourage harassment, including establishing a toll-free number for employees to call to learn how to report incidents of sexual misconduct.

At Point Mugu, 6,000 civilian employees and Navy personnel attended a day-long training session last year on what constitutes sexual harassment and how employees can report it, base spokesman Alan Alpers said.

Perhaps as a result of such training, complaints about sexual harassment on base have dropped from 18 during the first three months of 1992 to 12 during the same period this year, he said.

Commander Tom Sullivan, a Navy pilot in a Point Mugu reserve unit, said that although he was not at the convention, he will be relieved when the scandal has blown over.

"It's obviously been hard for everyone," the Newbury Park resident said. "There's a lot of pride in the naval-aviation community. I think everyone is looking forward to an equitable and certainly a just conclusion to the whole thing."

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