Z-grams & Q-tips
The early 1970s were turbulent years for the U.S. and its military services. The Vietnam War was underway and millions of young men were drafted for service in the military. The draft meant that many servicemen were in the military only because they had to be, not because they had any particular desire or commitment to military service. Additionally, anti-war protesters were demanding an immediate end to the U.S.’s involvement in the war, and many people wondered what, if anything, the U.S. had accomplished during the war.
In mid-1970, against this unsettled backdrop, Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt, Jr., assumed the duties of Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) and very quickly introduced a number of controversial changes to Navy policies. While these changes were intended to reduce racism and sexism in the Navy, many of the policies seemed to be a general relaxation of military standards allowing men, for example, to wear beards and longer sideburns and hair. His directives, which were generally popular with young officers and enlisted men, quickly became known as Z-grams.
Women had been serving in the U.S. Navy since 1942 under the official (and later unofficial) title of WAVES (Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service). In the beginning WAVES held clerical-type positions, allowing more men to serve on ships, but they eventually assumed a wider variety of assignments both in the United States and abroad. Although the WAVES were an official part of the Navy, they also had their own director, a female officer who dealt with issues and policies for women in the Navy.
Captain Robin L. Quigley served as director of the WAVES between 1970 and 1972. Given the popularity of Admiral Zumwalt’s “Z-grams,” it was probably inevitable that any statement Captain Quigley issued became known as a “Q-tip.” Though I was in the WAVES between 1969 and 1979, I don’t remember a particularly impactful Q-tip, but I do have one enduring memory of her stewardship. There was a young woman in our barracks who repeatedly traveled without permission to visit her boyfriend and, as a result, was absent from both military and professional assignments. She was, of course, disciplined for her actions with restriction to barracks, reductions in rate (and pay), etc. At some point, she called into a talk show on a Washington, DC, radio station to complain about her situation. It didn’t take long for Captain Quigley to hear about the incident, and in less than 24 hours she arranged for the immediate discharge of the young woman.