ED081795b: Casualties of the Navy's Thought Police

COMMENTARY Political Process

ED081795b: Casualties of the Navy's Thought Police

Aug 17th, 1995 2 min read
Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D.


Edwin J. Feulner is the founder and president of The Heritage Foundation.

Lt. Cdr. Kenneth Carkhuff was an outstanding Naval Academy graduate, ranked No. 1 in every command to which he was assigned after his 1982 commissioning, and only a year ago was praised by his commanding officer as "destined for command and beyond."

Now, the U.S. Navy wants to kick him out.

Why? Because Lt. Cdr. Carkhuff believes it is wrong to send women into combat. Such a view -- even if it doesn't affect Carkhuff in the performance of his duties -- is "not compatible with further military service," according to his now former commanding officer.

A Navy review board recently recommended that Carkhuff be discharged. Now President Clinton's Secretary of the Navy, John Dalton, must decide the future of an officer of obvious talent and firm faith.

Dalton faces no legal deadline to act, so he could simply allow the case to sit without comment on his desk. A Navy spokesman says, however, that this is "highly unlikely since we want a quality decision in a timely fashion."

Meanwhile, Lt. Cdr. Carkhuff and his family are twisting in the wind as legal bills pile up. If Secretary Dalton upholds the discharge, Carkhuff loses all Navy benefits, including his pension and health-insurance coverage.

This case raises disturbing questions about the Navy's hostility to those Americans who, like Carkhuff, base their opposition to women in combat on religious values.

Of Carkhuff's talent and devotion to duty there is no question. His commanding officer in the Navy's Helicopter Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Squadron 44, based at Mayport Naval Air Station in Florida, said in 1994 that Carkhuff "earned my strongest possible recommendation for early promotion ahead of his peers."

But then President Clinton ordered the U.S. invasion of Haiti, which involved the participation of Squadron 44 and the unit's two female pilots.

Squadron 44's commander claims Carkhuff told him privately a few days before the invasion that he opposed sending women into combat, and that he requested transfer to an all-male unit.

Steven Gallagher, a former Navy officer who is now Carkhuff's attorney, says his client made it clear he would still lead his unit into combat if ordered to do so. "However, as a Christian, he felt the moral obligation to express his views," Gallagher says.

Carkhuff's keel-hauling is the latest example of the Navy's abject surrender -- in the wake of the infamous Tailhook Scandal of 1991 -- to the demands of feminists. Against the recommendation of the 1992 Commission on Women in the Armed Forces, the Navy decided early in the Clinton administration's first year to put women in front-line combat positions on board ships and in aircraft.

Now, the Navy must cope with tragedies like that of Kara Hultgreen, the first woman promoted to fly a Navy fighter jet, who was killed earlier this year while attempting a carrier landing. After first claiming that "engine failure" caused Hultgreen's crash, the Navy later admitted that pilot error was involved. Now they say Hultgreen was qualified for flight duty despite errors in previous carrier landings that would have disqualified male pilots.

A growing number of critics, both inside and outside the military, think the Navy is sacrificing too much on the altar of political correctness, including the high training standards that might have saved Hultgreen's life.

It's time for Congress to demand answers from the Navy and the Clinton administration, beginning with why Kenneth Carkhuff is being persecuted for expressing views held by most Americans and consistent with hundreds of years of military combat experience.