The former commanding officer of the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels has been disciplined for condoning behavior among his pilots and officers that included sexual harassment and lewd remarks.
According to Military.com, an investigation by the Pacific Fleet command determined that Capt. Gregory McWherter condoned the behavior during his second time in command of the airshow squadron from May 2011 to November 2012.
Their were no allegations from his first time in the position from 2008 to 2010 and was even praised for improving the squadron "in both climate and mission execution."
He was removed from his duties in April after a member of the squadron complained about the atmosphere and received a letter of reprimand likely to end his career.
He also was relieved of his duties as an executive officer at the Naval Base Coronado near San Diego. He had been in line to become the base's commanding officer next April.
According to a statement released by the Navy on Monday, an investigation concluded that McWherter was guilty of “fostering a hostile command climate, failing to stop obvious and repeated instances of sexual harassment, condoning widespread lewd practices within the squadron, and engaging in inappropriate and unprofessional discussions with his junior officers.”
According to Navy officials, McWherter violated the Uniform Code of Military Justice on at least two different occasions and received a letter of reprimand from officials. Recipients of this non-judicial punishment are often stalled in their military careers and cannot be promoted to any higher rank.
“This Commanding Officer witnessed, accepted, and encouraged behavior that, while juvenile and sophomoric in the beginning, ultimately and in the aggregate, became destructive, toxic, and hostile,” read a final endorsement summary on the investigation.
In the summary, the Pacific Fleet command said that the Blue Angels’ "ready room" had a close-knit nature that left many in the group desiring to “fit in” which “blurred lines of acceptability because the Commanding Officer endorsed negative behavior.”
Scores of examples of that negative behavior were included in the summary, including allegations of gender discrimination, sexual innuendo, and homophobic slurs made by Angels.
According to the complaint, one accuser sayid they often heard comments made my others in the squadron that “there would never be a female Blue Angels pilot,” because, "women only want to have babies.”
It was further alleged that this sentiment was shared in front of a news crews from a Pensacola local morning program.
“While waiting for a segment, a reporter asked LCDR [redacted] why there were no female Blue Angels pilots,” according to a section of the document. “LCDR [redacted] allegedly responded that there were no female pilots because ‘women want to have babies’ and that he and the other pilots later laughed about the response back at the ready room.”
It was also alleged that many of the squadron spaces, as well as the cockpits of many of the jets in their fleet, had pornographic pictures of nude women.
In addition, the digital messaging system GroupMe, which was used by the squadron, was often littered with conversations containing pornographic imagery, often of male genitalia, as well as “vulgar, homophobic, and sexually suggestive statements.”
The investigation concluded that McWherter may have been involved in the rowdy online chatter.
“CAPT. McWherter did not post any pornographic or inappropriate pictures to the GroupMe conversation, but participated in a sexually-charged GroupMe conversation on one occasion," it said.
Another practice allegedly employed by the squadron was videotaping attractive women in the crowds at air shows, which then were often replayed in the "ready room."
“A review of one video taken of the 2012 Jacksonville Beach Airshow revealed frequent and unnecessary footage of female beachgoers in bikinis,” the complaint read. “When jets were out of sight, the camera was pointed on the beach, and close-up footage was consistently of female beachgoers.
“Commentary from members of the Ready Room on the individuals shown in the videos ranger from laughter to praise,” read another section. “Members of the Ready Room, to include CAPT McWherter, reacted to the images of the individuals and would comment on their physical attributes.”
The allegations against the squadron also included:
- Maps and itineraries for air shows were often littered with juvenile-like sexual drawings and jokes about sexual innuendo and homophobia.
- Homophobic humor was casually and frequently used in banter among the pilots.
- A large blue and gold drawing of a penis was painted on the roof of the winter training facility in El Centro, California and was visible on satellite imagery, including Google Maps.
- A vast amount of sexually lewd conversations included squadron members showing nude pictures of girlfriends.
There were also allegations of hazing of the newer cadets durung the investigation.