The Blue Angels: Harassment Investigation Sparks Changes

By  | 

The Blue Angels are regarded as some of the most highly talented and well-respected pilots in the Navy and the Marines.  As someone who has seen the Blue Angels fly overhead several times I can vouch for their skill–they literally take your breath away with their gracefully executed swoops and dives. But recently, their image has been tarnished as some former Angels are under investigation for sexual harassment, a hard blow to both the daredevils’ mission and public image.

The mission of the United States Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron is to showcase the pride and professionalism of the United States Navy and Marine Corps by inspiring a culture of excellence and service to country through flight demonstrations and community outreach.

Who are the Blue Angels?

The Blue Angels squadron is a team comprised of 16 volunteering officers, with six pilots who fly jets of varying capabilities. Blue Angels officers serve either two or three years (depending on their positions) with the squadron before returning to their fleets. The Blue Angels team is a unique military demonstration team and is highly respected in the military community.

The structure of the Blue Angels is what sets this unit apart. Unlike other military units, the commanding officer (CO) of the Blue Angels “is both the final authority and a wingman whose flying is critiqued by junior officers.” The Blue Angels lack an executive officer (XO), which is a typical chain-of-command arrangement. One former Angel explained that the unusual command structure in the Angels makes it difficult for the CO to act with authority while maintaining his peers as his equals. The atypical leadership structure paired with an inappropriate CO led to a toxic work environment in former CO Capt. Gregory McWherter’s second term.

The Controversy 

McWherter served as the CO for the Blue Angels from 2008 to 2010 and then again from May 2011 to November 2012. According to the Daily Mail, there were no reports of misconduct during his first term. But a service member has now filed an official complaint with the Navy about the inappropriate work environment.

The Department of the Navy made the investigation report public, and the contents were quite shocking. The most bizarre incident the report included was an unusual act of vandalism. Someone took it upon himself to draw a huge blue and gold penis “on the roof of the center point trailer at the Blue Angels’ winter training facilities in El Centro.” This inappropriate artwork was visible from space and even showed up on Google Maps for a while.

Other offenses that occurred under McWherter’s authority included members passing along pornographic images, pornographically carved pumpkins in the office, joking about their girlfriends’ nude photos, and making offensive jokes after Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed. The report specifically accuses McWherter of making sexist jokes about women.

McWherter lost his job as an XO of Naval Base Coronado in California due to the allegations of sexual harassment. He also resigned as the president of The Tailhook Association amid the scandal’s publicity. But McWherter’s removal is not the only change happening in the Navy.

A New Chain-of-Command

According to the Navy Times, the squadron will now be assigned an XO; this is the first time the Blue Angels organization will be overseen in such a way. The XO will be a designated aviator who oversees the squadron, but he will not fly along with the Blue Angels. The Navy Times explained, this change in command will serve as an attempt to restore the unit from the “hostile working environment rife with pornography, lewd behavior and other sexual harassment” fostered by McWherter.

To further uphold the prestigious reputation of the Blue Angels, the head of Naval Air Forces, Vice Admiral David Buss, incorporated additional changes in the selection process. He told The Navy Times the selection criteria was rewritten so as to provide opportunities for anyone to be considered regardless of gender, sexual orientation, or race. Those who are considered will be reviewed by several new authorities and while Buss expects critics, he said these changes are necessary to improve the Blue Angels’ environment. These new checks and balances to be put in place after the 2015 selection round will help prevent future abuses of authority. Buss expressed his faith that restructuring the chain-of-command in the Blue Angels will only return the squadron to its esteemed origin.

Not a First-Time Offense

The Navy has dealt with similar scandals in the past–but the matter boils down to something much simpler than a scandal. What part of being a good pilot or fighter constitutes the need for lewd behavior and pornographic pinups in the office? These conditions are unprofessional and take away from the honor associated with the military. As silly as it may sound, the blue and gold penis scandal brings attention to the issue of sexual discrimination in the military.

An environment in which women are discussed as objects for aesthetic and sexual appeal is not professionally acceptable. Though the Blue Angels do not discriminate against female pilots on paper, no female pilot has ever been initiated into the squadron. That seems a bit strange, considering the Blue Angels have been around since the 1940s. Regardless, this scandal is a blessing in disguise for the Blue Angels. Though the public knowledge of the lewd work environment behind the dazzling air-show does not bode well in means of publicity, it made way for an improved future for the Angels.

With a more stringent selection process and restructured chain-of-command, the Blue Angels are sure to perform at their finest in the upcoming years. Applicants will be considered solely based on merit, career significance, and professionalism. The new chain-of-command will give way to a whole new professionalism to the Blue Angels, which is evidently much needed.

Natasha Paulmeno (@natashapaulmeno)

Featured image courtesy of [Official U.S. Navy Page via Flickr]

Natasha Paulmeno
Natasha Paulmeno is an aspiring PR professional studying at the University of Maryland. She is learning to speak Spanish fluently through travel, music, and school. In her spare time she enjoys Bachata music, playing with her dog, and exploring social media trends. Contact Natasha at



Send this to friend