Washington, D.C. – The military’s sexual harassment problem has reared its head again with the reassignment of a Blue Angels commander who allegedly allowed a hostile work environment rife with sexual harassment to persist.
A press release from the Navy said Capt. Gregory McWherter has been relieved of his duty as second-in-command at a California naval base and has been reassigned. McWherter left the Blue Angels in 2012.
The Navy stated that McWherter is being investigated for allegations that he allowed and possibly encouraged a range of inappropriate behaviors while in charge of the elite flying squad. The Navy did not disclose any details about the investigation but mistakenly sent an email with particulars about the accusations against McWherter to the Washington Post.
According to the Post, a former member of the Blue Angels filed a complaint alleging that McWherter fostered a hostile work environment a tolerated sexual harassment. The allegations state that sexually explicit speech, open displays of pornography and jokes about sexual orientation were prevalent when McWherter commanded the squad in 2008 and 2012.
The Navy has not completed their investigation, but felt there was enough evidence to reassign McWherter and strip him of his post at a Sacramento naval post.
This is the latest in a string of sexual harassment and assault controversies that has dogged the military for the past 18 months. Numerous women have complained they are afraid to come forward when they are subjected to sexual misconduct because their superior officers and commanders don’t take their allegations seriously and when they do get the nerve to speak out they find they are subjected to retaliation. In the wake of these allegations, the Pentagon vowed to hold commanders accountable if they fail to act.
A legislative bill that failed to pass would have taken prosecution for sexual harassment and assault out of military commanders and into the hands of special prosecutors. The bill introduced by Sen. Kristen Gillibrand also included at least two dozen reforms which would radically change the military’s sexual misconduct reporting system. Gllibrand’s reasoning behind the legislation is that a third party would be more likely to aggressively pursue a case than a commander.
Gillibrand’s legislation was also inspired by shocking statistics which showed that sexual assaults and harassment increased 37 percent in 2012.
The legislation failed because members of Congress are very reluctant to disrupt the military’s chain of command which is seen as crucial to maintain order among the ranks.
The fact that McWherter allowed sexual harassment to continue and possibility encouraged is clear indication that some military commanders are failing the very people they are supposed to protect. His reassignment, though a step in the right direction, shows that the status quo is not working and the military needs to do more to protect soldiers from sexual misconduct. If a military commander fails to stop harassment or take allegations seriously, the victim has little recourse. The military isn’t like the civilian workplace where a victim can end their harassment by retaining a sexual harassment attorney.