Tailhook Scandal Resurfaces for Stapleton Running Mate Lang Sias

Walker Stapleton (left) introduced running mate Lang Sias at the Wings Over the Rockies Air Museum in Denver on July 11, 2018.

As John Frank reports today for the The Colorado Sun, Republican Lieutenant Governor candidate Lang Sias played a not-insignificant role in the infamous Tailhook scandal of the early nineties. We’d encourage you to read the entire story for yourself, but we’ll try to summarize the key points here as best we can.

For those of you who don’t remember the Tailhook scandal (or were too young to recall the story, or maybe not even alive yet), let’s pause to recap. Tailhook was a major national story at the time and remains one of the biggest black marks in the history of the American military. The name stems from “The Tailhook Association,” a private organization for Navy pilots that held an annual “conference” in Las Vegas that brought 5,000 current and former aviators together for a drunken bacchanal. The most disturbing accounts include multiple allegations of sexual assault – women were reportedly forced to walk a hallway called “the gauntlet,” where they were groped and fondled – as well as reports of prostitutes performing sex acts on military members in front of an entire room full of people.

To understand how out of control the Tailhook parties had become, consider this line from a Department of Defense (DOD) report in 1993: “Investigative activity to date has confirmed more than isolated instances of men exposing themselves, women baring their breasts, shaving of women’s legs and pubic areas, and women drinking from dildos that dispensed alcoholic beverages.” [Pols emphasis]

As Frank explains for The Colorado Sun:

In total, a Pentagon report determined that 117 officers were implicated in one or more cases of assault, indecent exposure or conduct unbecoming an officer and 51 additional individuals made false statements during the investigation. “Furthermore, several hundred other officers were aware of the misconduct and chose to ignore it,” the investigation concluded.

In 1997, William McMichael published a book about Tailhook titled “Mother of All Hooks,” that included extensive detail from testimony made to DOD investigators and plenty of references to Sias. In 1991, Sias was a naval pilot with the VAF-83 squadron, also known as “the Rampagers.” Sias was not disciplined for his involvement with Tailhook, though the scandal essentially ended the career of his commanding officer, Robert Stumpf.

Now, here’s how all of this becomes a problem for Sias:

In order to reach the Tailhook Conference, Sias and Stumpf flew in an F/A-18 jet from a naval base in Florida to a military airfield in California that was a few hours drive to Las Vegas. We don’t need to explain why taking a military jet to a giant party is a bad look. Sias and Stumpf shared a room at the Las Vegas Hilton, where the parties took place. Sias was among those in attendance when a pilot received oral sex from a prostitute in front of a room full of people – an incident that later became a focal point of the DOD investigation.

Rep. Lang Sias (R-Arvada)

During the DOD investigation, Sias told officials that he didn’t remember seeing Stumpf in the room when another pilot was with the prostitute. Stumpf later admitted to being in the room, which didn’t do much for Sias’ credibility.

Fast-forward 27 years, and Sias remains pretty tight-lipped about the entire incident. As Frank reports for The Sun:

But Tailhook is a topic Sias is not willing to discuss in detail. In an interview this week, The Colorado Sun asked Sias at least nine times in a 17-minute interview about what he saw at Tailhook, but Sias refused to directly answer each time. Instead, he repeated iterations of the same line.

“I was never accused of doing anything wrong ever by anybody at any time,” he told The Sun and its television partner, CBS4. “You’ve seen my records, and there’s no way that I would have the fitness reports that I have … if there were any blemishes on my record.”

Okie, dokie. What about the fact that Sias flew a fighter jet across the country to attend the Tailhook “convention”?

Asked about the flight three times, Sias eventually told The Sun: “I think we behaved appropriately, and I think that’s documented in the record.”

Um…sure. And what about Sias claiming that he didn’t see Stumpf at the party?

In an interview with The Sun, Sias declined to address the apparent inconsistency. “I would simply say the record and the facts stand for themselves,” Sias said. “If I had said something that created a conflict or otherwise was illegitimate on my part that would have been reflected in my record.”

According to Frank, Stapleton’s campaign knew all about Sias’ involvement with the Tailhook scandal when he was tapped to be Stapleton’s running mate in early July.

16 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. Pseudonymous says:

    Goddammit. How do I get into investigative journalism school?

    Pseudonymous says:

    July 11, 2018 at 8:13 PM MDT

    I don't have the book, just some idle searching, but was Sias involved in Tailhook (he’s named in full in another excerpted page shown in that search)?

  2. Voyageur says:

    And the hits just keep on coming.

  3. Sias's not-fully-corroborated account, his refusal to answer direct questions about the scandal, and his assertion that flying a fighter jet to a conference was perfectly fine make this at least a "worth reminding voters of" item.

    Despite the somewhat wide repercussions, I am not at all convinced the Pentagon got everyone involved. This was prior to #MeToo and many military reforms; attitudes were different back then.

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