The Navy's Poster Girls

By Richard Grenier

Washington Times
October 14, 1997

Gee, I wish I were a manThe Navy felt a "race" was on to beat the Air Force and become the first service to place women in a combat aviation squadron. It was very eager for all the good publicity it was sure would ensue if it won the race, establishing the Navy as the shining, exemplary, woman-friendly military service. The Navy was thus in something of a fix when Kara Hultgreen went and killed herself, since if the Navy knowingly sent to the fleet substandard female pilots it bore itself a heavy share of responsibility.

"I owed it to the Navy," said training officer Patrick Burns, speaking of his sworn testimony to the Naval Inspector General's office on the F-14 training records of Lt. Carey Lohrenz -- who trained right along with Kara Hultgreen -- and has now been removed from carrier flight status on being graded "dangerous" as a pilot. As is the fashion these days Carey Lohrenz is of course now suing the Navy, accusing it of gender discrimination -- although training records disclosed by Lt. Burns show she's a far worse pilot than even Kara Hultgreen, who killed herself in 1994 on her approach to the carrier USS Abraham Lincoln.

The fatal accident came as no surprise to these women's training officers, who from the time the female pilots were sent to the fleet were waiting grimly for an accident to happen. But why did these training officers graduate substandard pilots? Because, testified training officer Burns, they were told by their commanding officer, "You guys don't understand, this is bigger than all of us. These women are going to graduate no matter what."

The Navy has subsequently felt obliged to do quite a bit of lying, first claiming the Hultgreen accident was due to "mechanical failure" (a claim shown to be quite false). And it was only when Lt. Patrick Burns, knowing the training records of these ladies, decided to provide them to Elaine Donnelly of the independent Center for Military Readiness that the true story began to leak out.

Asked by the examiners if he knew that making public these women's training records was forbidden by the Privacy Act, Mr. Burns answered that if he were walking down the street and saw somebody's house on fire he wouldn't worry too much about people's privacy concerns when he dragged them out of the flames in their underwear. Having made decisions "in the best interest of the Navy and the nation without regard to personal consequences," exactly as prescribed by the published Core Values of the U.S. Navy, Lt. Burns received last week a special award from the independent Center for Military Readiness. But his forthcoming promotion, he's been told, is "on hold."

The grand lines of military decisions and events are often concealed from the general public by arcane procedures and a blizzard of military acronyms. But it's hard to miss the Pentagon's general slant on gender issues given a childishly simple fact. Women in the military services are not only allowed but encouraged to strut about wearing their uniforms and decorations before Congress and television cameras whenever advancing the feminist cause. But the Pentagon forbids male active-duty officers like Lt. Burns to appear in uniform when testifying on gender issues (and when interviewed by me), apparently fearful that their uniforms might give the "male" viewpoint too much authority.

When they appear on television in civilian clothes these male witnesses give the impression of being some sort of Pentagon civilian employee. Whereas, all spiffy in Navy blue and gold, Carey Lohrenz and Kara Hultgreen, with their failing and near-failing grades in flight training, must have appeared the very model of the modern female warrior. How the Pentagon justifies this quite rigid discriminatory policy, so obviously stacking the deck in favor of feminist agitators, has never been explained.

But it will take more than spiffy uniforms to make up for the miserable training records of Lts. Lohrenz and Hultgreen. With a year-long investigation on "Integration of Women into Carrier Air Wing ll," the Naval Inspector General's office, after stalling for more than two years, has finally released a report including excruciatingly detailed records to substantiate Carey Lohrenz's commanding officer's judgment that her flying was "dangerous," "unsafe," "undisciplined," and "unpredictable." She "scared everyone but herself." Her training records show Lt. Lohrenz to be a far worse pilot than even the late Kara Hultgreen.

But the Inspector General's report confirms some embarrassing facts: the late Kara Hultgreen was retained in the training program and graduated to the fleet despite a failing grade and four major flying errors (called in Naval Aviation lingo "Downs"), two of which were similar to mistakes she made on the day she died. Lt. Lohrenz earned even lower scores and an astonishing seven "Downs" -- her last failing grade not recorded as it would have categorically prevented her deployment to the fleet.

But the most disturbing general fact is that America's military services now habitually grovel before congressional feminists. And since the Soviet collapse alleviates outside pressure, our feminists have gone into overdrive in their grand mission to turn our military into a wonderful social experiment proving women are men's equal in absolutely everything. The Navy has something to show for its efforts to accommodate feminists' demands, of course. Naval Aviation already has no fewer than two Poster Girls. One has been removed from carrier flight status as a danger not only to herself but to anyone who came near her. And the other is dead. I suppose you'd have to call it a qualified success.