The Las Vegas Hilton, a plush, thirty-story structure with 3,000 guest rooms and suites, several restaurants, and a large gambling casino, was jumping with 4,000 guests attending the 35th annual Tailhook Association convention, the largest to date. Named after the device that catches an aircraft after it lands on a flight deck, Tailhook had 15,479 members, including active duty, reserve, and retired Navy and Marine Corps pilots. It was the first week in September 1991.
Tailhook 91 had as its main thrust an evaluation of Navy and Marine aviation in Desert Shield/Desert Storm through a series of symposiums conducted by naval aviation experts and concerning new developments in tactics and weapons systems. These briefings have led to more effective and safer performances in the cockpit by providing professional "cross talk" between aviators and top commanders.
For many of the Navy "top guns," Tailhook also was a celebration of victory over the Iraq armed forces, similar to the boisterous revelries held by their predecessors on Victory in Europe and Victory in Japan Days in World War II. In essence, most of the younger pilots rightfully regarded themselves as returning war heroes, knowing that the U.S. Navy had suffered six casualties in the Gulf conflict, all of whom were aviation officers.
Although Tailhook is an independent organization, it always had been customary for the Pentagon to provide high ranking officers and civilian leaders to participate in forums and speak at two banquets. The major symposium was the Flag Panel, a unique aspect of Tailhook conventions, where Navy admirals and Marine generals, in an informal atmosphere, reply to tough questions from members of the audience.
The Flag Panel sessions were free of the stifling aspects of military protocol. Those in the audience wore civilian clothes (usually shorts and T-shirts), so his or her identity or rank would be unknown to the panel of brass, thereby encouraging candor from the questioners. For their part, the participating admirals and generals benefited by learning firsthand the reactions of those in the ranks to high-level decisions that sound great in