The commander of the Blue Angeles investigated and found nothing to a rumor that one of his pilots was having an affair with a female officer in the Navy's precision flying squadron.
But that was not the end of the story in this time of hightened sensitivity about male-female relationships in the military.
On June 8, both officers still ended up being removed from the team, based at Pensacola Naval Air Station.
The Lemoore Naval Air Station Air Show June 12 and 13 was the Angel's first performance without Marine Major Scott Wedemeyer, who was removed reportedly for "inappropriate personal behavior" at the request of team leader Cmdr. Patrick Driscoll.
After the June 12 show, Driscoll told Sentinel Reporter Davin McHenry, "I lost trust and confidence in him (Wedemeyer). It's basically an administrative decision on my part."
A news release announcing the reassignment said that only Wedemeyer, a married pilot, and Navy Lt. Tanya Wallace, a public affairs officer who is single, had been removed "due to a loss of trust and confidence" and for safety reasons "to ensure that squadron personnel are not distracted."
They were reassigned for disobeying written and verbal orders to avoid contact, to avoid any perception that something inappropriate was going on, according to a Navy official who did not want to be identified.
Their "personal relationship" involved non-sexual activities such as jogging and working out together, the official said.
Since then, the team has flown with five planes instead of the usual six. A former Blue Angel pilot has been called in to replace Wedemeyer for the rest of the air show season that ends in November. That replacement was identified to the Sentinel last week as being the team's former "slot pilot" Lt. Cmdr. Mark Dunleavy.
"I'm hearing about more and more of these non-contact orders," said Eugene R. Fidell, a civilian lawyer and president of the National Institute of Military Justice, a private information and educational group.
"What it says is 'avoid problems,'" Fidell said in a telephone interview from his Washington office Thursday. "Such an order is a shot across the bow."
Military commanders are trying to avoid such highly publicized situations as the resignation of 1st. Lt. Kelly Flinn, the Air Force's first female B-52 pilot, and the Navy's Tailhook scandal, Fidell said.
The Air Force let Flinn resign in 1997, relenting on plans for a court-martial that could have meant a prison term, after she disobeyed orders to end an affair with an enlisted woman's husband.
Female officers accused drunken Navy and Marine Corps aviators of grabbing and groping them during a Tailhook Association convention in 1991 at Las Vegas.
"Commanders are getting pro-active on this," Fidell said.
But commanders risk crossing a line that separates the rights of personal association and the need to maintain good military order
"There is still a lot of confusion where the lines are," said Frank Spinner, the Fairfax, Va., lawyer who represented Flinn. "It's not a healthy environment at all."
The issue of simple friendship in the military is an outgrowth of struggles with sexual relationships and fraternization - prohibited personal relationships, not necessarily sexual, between officers and enlisted personnel.
Spinner says two camps have emerged: One wants to throw the book at anyone who violates moral standards while the other says "don't kill a fly with a sledge hammer."
"In any given case, a commander may be feeling tugged in both directions," Spinner said, "I don't see a resolution of this problem soon."
Tom Ensign, a director of Citizen Soldier, a New York-based military advocacy group, said he thought Wedemeyer and Wallace might have a good case if they challenged the reassignments.
"To be removed from such a unit is difinitely an adverse personnel action" and could effect future promotions and assignments, Ensign said.
Fidell, however, said transferring people before a problem occurs can be considered good management. "In principle, it's very hard to object to this assuming there was some cogent basis for the order," he said.
Spinner said the Blue Angels may be atypical because of the unit's high visibility.
"You are living in a fish bowl," he said.
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