The U.S. Navy Blue Angel fly in the Diamond formation at the Rhode Island National Guard Open House Air Show. / U.S. Navy
In the wake of a high-profile misconduct investigation of the Blue Angels, the Navy on Tuesday announced sweeping changes to the flight demonstration squadron's structure.
Vice Adm. David Buss, the head of Naval Air Forces, ordered that the Blue Angels will get an executive officer for the first time in the squadron's history and the member selection process will be overhauled to include more oversight from personnel officials.
The executive officer will be a aviator, Buss said, but will not fly as part of the team, instead focusing on travel, training and other administrative programs.
"We're not going to add another plane or position to the flight demonstration," Buss said in an exclusive phone interview Tuesday with Navy Times. "The XO will oversee the day-to-day management and business of the command, and I think that will be very helpful in strengthening this command triad."
The team announced Tuesday that new executive officer is Cmdr. Bob Flynn, 45, of Moorestown, N.J. He is a 1992 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy.
Cmdr. Tom Frosch, the current Blue Angels commanding officer, will continue for another year.
The controversy that led to the changes burst into public view in April, when a former member of the squadron alleged that former commanding officer Capt. Greg McWherter and members of the team fostered a hostile working environment rife with pornography, lewd behavior and other sexual harassment.
McWherter was fired as the executive officer of Naval Base Coronado, California, in April. A subsequent investigation into McWherter's 2010-2012 Blue Angels command tour - his second as their skipper - found that pilots flew with pinups of naked women in their cockpits, pornographic images were sent across a group text messaging service used in an official capacity, and McWherter on occasion requested to see naked photos of a junior officer's girlfriend in the ready room, among other incidents of misbehavior.
The report said authority lines blurred under McWherter. The team's officers are trained to see each other as equals, where junior officers are free to critique the flying of more senior team members, including the commanding officer, all of whom are flying at high speed in tight formations. But under McWherter, this democracy extended to situations well beyond flying, the investigation found, and diminished the commanding officer's charge to enforce Navy regulations.
Buss described the changes as "opportunities to update and strengthen" how the squadron operates on a day-to-day basis. He has also updated the selection process for new team members, from the pilots down to the support personnel.
Some officials close to the team had recommended against installing an executive officer and other changes to the selection process. Retired Rear Adm. David Anderson, president of the Blue Angels Association, said in a June interview that if the unit "were to select officers for the team the way the Navy selects officers for a squadron, it would be very detrimental."
"The reason I did that is because within naval aviation and across the Navy, we have a very powerful leadership and organizational model in our commands that we call the command triad, made up of the commanding officer, executive officer and command master chief," he said.
"Rank structure is important, but to be able to have a solid two-way conversation between CO and XO in a peer or near-peer relationship is important for the heath and welfare of the origination," Buss added.
Buss also overhauled the selection process. The Blue Angels will still get to pick the next generation of team members, but once those selections are made, Buss said new checks and balances will be used to vet those selections.
Once the flying and nonflying new members are picked, those selections will first get looked at by the squadron's immediate boss, the chief of Naval Air Training.
From there, Blue Angels selections will be sent to Navy Personnel Command for a final review to ensure there's nothing in the person's record to preclude their selection and that a tour of duty with the team won't be bad for their career progression.
Contributing: Pensacola (Fla.) News Journal
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