Paula Coughlin

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Paula Coughlin
Born 1962 (age 55–56)
Nationality American
Other names Paula Puopolo
Occupation Naval officer, pilot
Yoga instructor

Paula Coughlin was a lieutenant and naval aviator in the United States Navy. She was a whistleblower who played a role in opening investigations into what was known as the Tailhook scandal.[1][2][3][4]

Coughlin attended Old Dominion University, where she joined the Reserve Officer Training Corps. She joined the navy in 1984 and became a helicopter pilot.[5]

She attended the Tailhook conference in September 1991, organized by former navy aviators at the Las Vegas Hilton. Many of the attendees got raucously drunk. Coughlin was one of the first female attendees who reported being indecently assaulted by male attendees. Coughlin testified she feared being gang-raped when she was forced to "run the gauntlet".[4] She had reported the incident to senior officers, but after a lack of progress due to "closing ranks and obfuscation," she went public in June 1992.[6] The President, George H.W. Bush, met with Coughlin and expressed sympathy with her and promised a full investigation.[7] Coughlin met with Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney—who told her he had just fired the Secretary of the Navy, implying it was her fault.[2] She resigned from the Navy in February 1994, after being subject to abuse in retaliation for her allegations.[8][9] She settled out of court with the Tailhook Association in October 1994, and was awarded $5.3 million in damages from the hotel after a jury concluded that the Las Vegas Hilton hotel had been negligent in not providing adequate security at the Tailhook convention.[8]

A May 1995 made-for-television movie broadcast on ABC was based on Coughlin's story, though she was not involved in making it.[3][10][11]

In 2012, Coughlin was speaking for Protect Our Defenders, a nonprofit civil rights organization that supports victims of sexual assault in the United States military. She was featured in a Retro Report documentary called The Legacy of Tailhook and the Academy Award-nominated documentary on the subject, The Invisible War.[12]

USA Today on December 5, 2017, in the midst of the 2017 Harvey Weinstein and Weinstein effect sexual abuse allegations, reported that women who reported past sexual harassment have suffered purgatory. The first instance in the article was Paula Coughlin who testified against Tailhook, and hasn't been able to find work in the private sector since.[13] She now owns and operates a yoga studio in Atlantic Beach, Florida.


Though many have praised Coughlin and others who came forward in the aftermath of Tailhook, some have maintained that the whistleblowing and subsequent political purging by the Clinton administration of military personnel who were merely at the convention have taken a devastating toll on cohesion and morale within the military and that this damage has had a lasting effect on America's battle readiness.

Many conservatives and retired officers alleged that in ending the careers of over 300 officers, the Clinton administration had gone far beyond punishing wrongdoers and had used the scandal as a pretext for carrying out a purge of the officer corps.[14] Former Navy Secretary Jim Webb, speaking at the Naval Academy said, "When the Tailhook investigation began, and certain political elements used the incident to bring discredit on naval aviation as a whole, and then on the Navy writ large, one is entitled to ask... Who fought this? Who condemned it? When a whole generation of officers is asked to accept ... the destruction of the careers of some of the finest aviators in the Navy based on hearsay, unsubstantiated allegations, in some cases after a full repudiation of anonymous charges that resemble the worst elements of McCarthyism ... what admiral has had the courage to risk his own career by putting his stars on the table, and defending the integrity of the process and of its people?"[15]

Another former Secretary of the Navy, John Lehman, "condemned the Clinton White House for imposing policies of 'political correctness' on the navy and the Senate Armed Services Committee for impeding the career advancements of officers linked to the 1991 Tailhook sexual assault scandal. It is 'terribly damaging to the very fiber of the Navy as an institution, this continuing attack from so many quarters'... Officers were victims of media 'character assassination.' Following what should have been a minor story, he said, '14 admirals have been cashiered, 300 naval aviators have been driven out of the Navy or their careers terminated.'"[16] Lehman also wrote that "Of course there are many journalists, armchair strategists and think-tankers who applaud the victory of those like Rep. Pat Schroeder who vowed to 'break the culture' after Tailhook '91."[17]

Many officers raised the case of decorated Blue Angels commanding officer Bob Stumpf, who was denied promotion and retired simply for having gone to Tailhook '91 to receive an award.[18] Stumpf himself has decried the post-Tailhook climate and its effect on morale and readiness: "[T]he essence of that warrior culture has been severely diluted in this decade. Politically inspired social edicts enforced since Tailhook '91 have rendered a ready room atmosphere so different now that it is nearly unrecognizable... Pilots are hampered in their ability to train as warriors by the policies of their senior leaders. They are faced with social experimentation and double standards in training. Experienced pilots are forced to qualify certain trainees who may or may not demonstrate established quality standards. This leads to distrust and resentment, two powerfully harmful factors in terms of unit morale, and thus military effectiveness."[19]


  1. ^ Los Angeles Times (1993-04-23). "For Tailhook scandal whistle-blower, wait ends today with release of report". Baltimore Sun. Archived from the original on 2010-08-23. Retrieved 2010-08-23. For Lt. Paula Coughlin, the naval aviator who blew the whistle on sexual assaults at the 1991 Tailhook Association, the waiting ends today, when the Defense Department publicly releases its investigation of the now-infamous party in Las Vegas. 
  2. ^ a b Knowles, David (2009-04-30). "From Tailhook Whistleblower to Warrior Pose". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2010-08-23. 
  3. ^ a b Mink, Eric (1995-05-22). "Stars brighten 'tailhook'". New York Daily News. Retrieved 2010-08-23. Neither the first woman assaulted at the annual gatherings known as Tailhook conventions, nor the only one assaulted that year, Coughlin was the first to press the issue afterwards and keep pressing until action was taken. [permanent dead link]
  4. ^ a b Noble, Kenneth B. (1994-10-04). "Tailhook Whistle-Blower Recalls Attack". New York Times. Archived from the original on 2010-08-23. Retrieved 2010-08-23. 'I felt that if I didn't make it off the floor, I was sure I was going to be gang raped,' said the former officer, Paula A. Coughlin, describing the scene at the convention in 1991 of the Tailhook Association, an independent group of retired and active naval aviators. Ms. Coughlin was among several dozen women who Navy investigators determined were groped or fondled by drunken male aviators in a crowded third-floor "gantlet" on the final day of the convention. 
  5. ^ Sherrow, Victoria (1996). Women and the military: an encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. p. 82. 
  6. ^ Boo, Katherine (September 1992). "Universal soldier: what Paula Coughlin can teach American women – sexual assault victim demands justice". Washington Monthly. Retrieved 25 August 2010. 
  7. ^ Lewis, Neil A. (28 June 1992). "President Meets Female Officer In Navy Incident". New York Times. Retrieved 25 August 2010. 
  8. ^ a b Skaine, Rosemarie (1996). Power and gender: issues in sexual dominance and harassment. McFarland. p. 350. ISBN 0-7864-0208-3. 
  9. ^ "Tailhook Case Whistle-Blower Quits Navy". New York Times. 11 February 1994. Retrieved 25 August 2010. 
  10. ^ "She stood alone: The tailhook scandal (made for tv) 1995". Retrieved 2010-08-23. 
  11. ^ Kowalick, Vince (11 May 1995). "TV Producer Brings Personal Insight to the Tailhook Scandal". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 25 August 2010. 
  12. ^ Browning, William, (October 24, 2012). "Jacksonville resident in historic 'Tailhook' military scandal keeps pressure on sex assault issue", Florida Times-Union. Retrieved 2013-05-14.
  13. ^ Guynn, Jessica, "Sexual harassment used to cost women their careers. That may be changing.", USA Today, 5 December 2017
  14. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2002-11-14. Retrieved 2011-03-17. 
  15. ^ "frontline: the navy blues: "Defending the Navy's Culture" - PBS". Retrieved 14 September 2017. 
  16. ^ [1]
  17. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-07-13. Retrieved 2013-07-27. 
  18. ^ "frontline: the navy blues: Interview with Commander Robert E. Stumpf - PBS". Retrieved 14 September 2017. 
  19. ^ Center for Military Readiness Conference, "The Culture of the Military," October 21, 1998.

Further reading

  • Zimmerman, Jean. Tail Spin: Women at War in the Wake of Tailhook (1995)

External links

  • Biography on Ocean Yoga site
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