War and American Women: Heroism, Deeds, and Controversy

By William B. Breuer | Go to book overview

31 Navigating Troubled Waters

Commander Robert F. Stumpf, leader of the world famous Blue Angels precision flying team, had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and other decorations for leading his F-18 fighter squadron in twenty-two dangerous missions to destroy Iraqi Scud missiles during the Persian Gulf War. A 1993 fitness report by Rear Admiral W. R. McGowen described Stumpf as "our best" and saw in him "a gentleman" and "truly remarkable officer" --notable for his "exceptional, inspirational leadership."

Those who served with Bob Stumpf predicted that he would eventually reach four stars. In early 1994 he seemed to be on his way to that high plateau when the secretary of the Navy put him on a list for promotion to captain. His elevation was endorsed by the Senate Armed Services Committee and then confirmed by the full body on May 24, 1994.

Among those pushing for Stumpf's promotion were Navy Secretary John Dalton and Chief of Naval Operations Mike Boorda. When a year passed and Stumpf had not yet been officially promoted, Admiral J. L. Flemming, commander of the Strike-Fighter Wing, Atlantic Fleet, wrote:

[ Comander Stumpf] is unquestionably one of the finest officers I have ever known. A leader and a warrior with no equal, he will be a superb Airwing Commander. He is the kind of officer we need to lead naval aviation into the next century.

A high-profile officer because of his leadership of the elite Blue Angels, Stumpf had attended Tailhook 91 to accept an outstanding achievement award for his fighter squadron in the Persian Gulf conflict. He had spent a short time one night in one of the hospitality suites at the Las Vegas Hilton. Bawdy behavior had occurred in the suite, the ensuing investigation disclosed, but only after Stumpf had departed and retired for the night. However, he was caught in the post-Tailhook dragnet.

During formal weeklong proceedings before a three-member Court of Inquiry in 1993, Stumpf's superiors testified that the Blue Angels had performed flawlessly under his leadership, and they told of his involvement, on his own initiative, in helping young persons and in community volunteer activities. By a unanimous vote, he was found innocent of mis-

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