Most of the nation's news executives considered the invasion of Grenada to be a disaster as far as media-handling was concerned, but the Navy apparently doesn't share that view.
No reporters were allowed on the island until the third day of the operation last October, and then only a small pool accompanied by military escorts. Some reporters who attempted to reach the Caribbean island without official approval had to turn away when military aircraft buzzed their small boats.
But the Navy awarded its first Rear Admiral William Thompson Award for Excellence in Public Affairs to the public affairs staff of the the Atlantic Fleet, under the direction of Cmdr. Ronald E. Wildermuth, for its efforts during the Grenada invasion.
Officials point out that the decision to exclude reporters was made at the highest levels -- by Gen. John W. Vessey Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger and others -- and that the local public affairs officers had little say in the matter. Once reporters were allowed in Grenada, the staff had to contend with more than 600 reporters -- and several hundred others claiming to be reporters -- who wanted transportation to the island.
"Under Wildermuth's leadership, his staff provided quick professional response and enthusiastic assistance to already agitated media," Michael I. Burch, assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, said. "Their efforts, I firmly believe, took some of the sting out of the press criticism we have faced."
Apparently, that sting hasn't fazed the Navy's top leadership anyway. Navy Secretary John F. Lehman Jr. recently praised Vice Adm. Joseph Metcalf III, the man who led the invasion and most forcefully kept the press away.
"Judging from a recent conversation I had with Dan Rather, Joe Metcalf is not going to get the CBS nomination for 'Man of the Year,' " Lehman said, according to Navy Times. "But Joe, you sure get mine."
The Navy award, by the way, is named for the admiral who served as Navy chief of information from 1971 to 1975.
Burch, meanwhile, is continuing to pursue the suggestions for changes that arose from the media's outcry after the invasion. The Pentagon's chief spokesman met with several news executives yesterday to discuss ideas, including setting up a pool of reporters who could be ready to move out, secretly, on a moment's notice to cover operations. AND AFTER NOVEMBER . . .
Kathleen P. Troia, principal deputy assistant secretary of public affairs, is leaving after less than a year on the job. Troia, who previously served as a speech writer to Weinberger, said she was leaving to finish a dissertation and to get married.
She said she wouldn't rule out returning to government "if there's a second term, and if somebody wants me, and if it's a job I want."
Speculation about second-term appointments abounds in the Pentagon, where Republican officeholders look confidently past Nov. 6. Former Texas governor Bill Clements reportedly is helping prepare second-term personnel plans, but the word is that most top officials want to stay where they are, at least for a while.
All three service secretaries -- Lehman, Army Secretary John Marsh and Air Force Secretary Verne Orr -- want to stay on, sources say. That would take care of three of the most coveted Pentagon jobs.
Richard D. DeLauer, undersecretary for research and engineering, has been talking about leaving for months, but now expects to stay on until after the election, sources say. If the administration decides to fill his place this fall, three insiders are said to have an edge: Melvyn R. Paisley, assistant secretary of the Navy for research, engineering and systems; Thomas E. Cooper, who holds the equivalent position in the Air Force; and Alton G. Keel Jr., who heads the national security division of the Office of Management and Budget.
One new addition to the team: Richard E. Carver, who takes over as assistant secretary of the Air Force for financial management. Carver, 47, has been mayor of Peoria, Ill., for the past 12 years.