Commentary | March 22, 2021

Commentary: Instructor Reflects on Women's History, Tailhook Scandal

By Lt Col Jennifer E. Kennedy Joint Forces Staff College

It was circa 1992, CAPT Paul T. Kennedy, USN (ret) was adamant that I would be an excellent military officer. So, while applying to colleges and on the hunt to figure “what I wanted to be when I grow up,” he encouraged me to consider the US Navy. I was a bit shy, not sure the military was the right choice for me, and hesitant to ‘deal with’ men who did not see woman as equal. It was also during this same period that the Navy “Tailhook” scandal was grabbing the headlines and unfolding a true miscarriage of treatment toward women in the military. 

Fast forward to 2002 and CAPT Kennedy (ret) commissioned 2Lt Jennifer Kennedy into the US Air Force. It took ten years, and not only did I find my voice as a strong female, but the military also came a long way to understand that woman are equals and, in many cases, better able to be successful leaders in our military.  

While the Tailhook scandal of 1991 played a large role in my initial decision to not consider the military at the time, the scandal – or more specifically, the woman involved – played an even larger role in my ultimate decision to join. I admired the strength of these junior-ranking female officers to stand up for what is right and against the leadership of a male-dominated Defense Department. Not only did those women initiate a larger investigation into inappropriate sexual behavior, but they also leveled the playing field for woman to enter combat operational positions.  

Those women, plus many after, paved a path for me and countless other women to be successful in our military. Because those women were strong enough to ‘deal with’ the inequalities, they ultimately rewrote history through their perseverance. We owe them a debt of gratitude that cannot be fully expressed or repaid. We are the world’s best military because of them. 

I was asked “what are you most proud of” as a woman. I am most proud of my success in the military. My dad joined me when I pinned on Major and Lieutenant Colonel - second only to me, was him - so proud his daughter found her voice…and as he had always known I could be, I was a successful female military officer.