SAN DIEGO — Sailors and Marines in Southern California welcomed the Pentagon report on the Tailhook Assn. investigation as a sign that the sex scandal is behind them and that the time has come to plow ahead with military reform.
Most of those interviewed Friday credited reports of debauchery at the 1991 Tailhook convention in Las Vegas for speeding along a response to calls from U.S. servicewomen for an end to sexual harassment and inequality in the ranks.
Cmdr. Jim Barnett, a 17-year Navy veteran and F-14 fighter pilot, said the Tailhook investigation brought these problems to the forefront "in one watershed event." The scandal had a powerful impact throughout the fleet, he said.
"Tailhook was the impetus to accelerate the changes that were necessary. We wouldn't have seen this acceleration were it not for Tailhook," said Barnett, commander of VF-114 Squadron at Miramar Naval Air Station in San Diego.
Command Master Chief Elaine Human, an 18-year veteran, said the scandal helped make the Navy aware of the contributions of female sailors and the need for a military service that is gender-blind.
Human, 43, is the first female master chief assigned to the headquarters of the Pacific Fleet's air force commander.
"It's one Navy and we have one mission to perform for one nation. You can no longer base that mission on gender alone," said Human, who serves as a liaison between 400 enlisted sailors and the admiral heading the fleet's air arm. "We're starting to look at individual talent rather than male talent or female talent."
Several officers and enlisted personnel, both men and women, said they hope that the Tailhook report and subsequent calls for reform also will result in a lifting of the barriers that keep women out of combat roles.
"Tailhook not only brought sexual harassment to the forefront, but other women's issues too," said Cmdr. Sharon Shelton, special assistant to the admiral who commands the Navy's surface fleet in the Pacific Ocean.
"The enlisted women now feel more confident and have increased faith in the chain of command if they report sexual harassment," Shelton said. "The Navy has made it very clear that we are serious about enforcing the program of zero tolerance."
Every man and woman interviewed said they were relieved that the Tailhook investigation report had finally been released. They also expressed an eagerness to put the scandal behind them and get on with their duties.
"It's affected everybody, but it's time to put things behind us. It was a mistake and was something condoned in the past that won't be condoned in the future. Let's get on with things," said Gunnery Sgt. Larry Carter, at El Toro Marine Corps Air Station.
Rear Adm. William E. Newman, commander of the Point Mugu Naval Air Warfare Center near Oxnard, is among the more than 30 admirals who attended the Tailhook convention and were urged Friday by the Defense Department's inspector general to rethink their career goals.
Newman said he left the convention before the now-infamous party where most of the alleged Tailhook assaults occurred.
"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," said Newman, a 32-year Navy veteran. "I'm not hiding anything or ashamed of anything."
Despite the widespread relief over the release of the report, experts cautioned that the Navy in particular, and the military in general, still has a long way to go before women achieve equality in the ranks.
"There is still a lot of anger and resistance to the idea that women should be equal members of the military services. Equality is not a process that's going to happen overnight," said retired Navy Cmdr. Kay Krohne, who authored a 1992 study of sexual harassment of female officers in the Navy.
Times staff writers Maia Davis and Timothy Chou contributed to this story.