WASHINGTON — Washington. -- In the drawer of the desk in his Pentagon office, Adm. Jeremy M. Boorda, the new chief of naval operations, has a bottle of stomach-calming Maalox.
"I have taken it out a couple of times, but I have not had the need to drink it just yet," the Navy's top admiral says. "I'm still having fun."
Eight weeks into his job of revitalizing a service shamed by sex and cheating scandals, battered by downsizing and challenged by global crises, Admiral Boorda, 55, appears to be thriving under pressure.
The Maalox was left by his predecessor, Adm. Frank B. Kelso II, who took early retirement in April in the wake of the Tailhook scandal, an episode of sexual harassment that brought shame and embarrassment to a service that Admiral Boorda aims to imbue with a renewed sense of honor and mission.
That's not all that's required of him. He must also define the Navy he thinks the country needs for the 21st century, persuade Congress to fund it and make sure it can serve the nation's interests -- all with less money, fewer ships and smaller ranks.
That is no small order for a high school dropout from South Bend, Ind., a grandson of Jewish immigrants from Ukraine who ran away from home, enlisted at 17 and rose to the top without attending the Naval Academy, the usual breeding ground for the service's elite, or joining a college ROTC unit, the main alternate route to a commission.
Mr. Boorda was selected in 1962 -- under the "Seaman to Admiral Program" -- for Officer Candidate School in Newport, R.I. He graduated from the University of Rhode Island and the Naval War College.
"Going from seaman to CNO is an extraordinary feat and should serve as an inspiration for the young sailors in the fleet today," Navy Secretary John Dalton said of Admiral Boorda's appointment.
Admiral Boorda has had several tours at the Pentagon. Just before his appointment as the top Navy admiral, he was the top U.S. admiral in Europe, commanding NATO air patrols over the former Yugoslavia.
Being the first chief of naval operations to rise from the enlisted ranks in modern times has given Admiral Boorda the reputation of being a "people's" person.
"I would rather talk about people than anything else," he said in a recent interview in his office.
He will, however, have to talk about more than people in Washington, where Congress is grappling with how big defense budgets should be, what the military should be able to do and how it should be structured.
"His greatest vulnerability is he doesn't understand yet what a shark pit he is in in Washington," said a member of his staff who requested anonymity.
There is also some concern that by concentrating on "people issues," Admiral Boorda may not focus sufficiently on the machines of war. There is a strong constituency for constantly upgrading weapons.
One of the admiral's "hardware" challenges is deciding what type of plane the Navy should be flying in the early 21st century. The Navy is now relying on an upgraded FA-18 fighter. But the FA-18 is not a "stealthy" plane, able to avoid enemy radar and air defenses.
"The Navy's aircraft-modernization plans are in an absolute shambles," said Loren B. Thompson, deputy director of Georgetown University's National Security Studies program.
Admiral Boorda must also decide what kind of force the Navy, lacking a Soviet threat, needs.
Above all, the chief challenge for Admiral Boorda is resurrecting the service's sullied image and reviving morale.
"The Navy is tired of being pummeled," said an officer who works for Admiral Boorda, asking that his name not be used. "We are trying to deal with some of the problems we have had, whether it's cheating at the academy, the Tailhook scandal or sexual harassment."
The admiral said: "There's a lot of talk about having to change the culture. Let me tell you, the culture in the Navy has changed. We pay a lot of attention to things that got us into trouble before."
He has a reputation for personally trying to solve sailors' problems. When a female sailor told him that her husband had left her a week after they arrived in Italy for a three-year "accompanied" assignment, he ordered her tour to be cut to two years -- the normal assignment for a single sailor.
Admiral Boorda asserted in his interview with The Sun that the Navy seemed "to be having trouble getting away from things that happened in the past that we have learned from."
The admiral also attracted attention during his Senate confirmation when he suggested that media coverage of Tailhook and other scandals had "created a public outcry" against the Navy. The public, he said, realized that the scandal was caused by individuals, not the institution.
RTC But Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, a think tank on military personnel issues, accused Admiral Boorda himself of institutionalizing double standards in the Navy by giving preferential treatment to women.
Mrs. Donnelly, who served on the Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces, said the admiral was being "whipsawed around" by activist feminists in the military and in Congress. "I think he is a weak CNO," she said.
She pointed to Admiral Boorda's offer of a Pentagon job to a female officer who had attributed her failure in helicopter pilot school to reprisals by male instructors for the successful accusation of sexual harassment she brought against one of them.
A Navy investigation found that there had been no reprisals, and that the officer's performance had been consistently below standard before and after the sexual harassment.
Mrs. Donnelly said the admiral's attempt to keep the female officer in the Navy was "an affront to level-headed, capable servicewomen who don't want official condescension, quotas, double standards, and special treatment in the name of 'equality.' "
The officer Lt. Rebecca Hansen, 28, refused Admiral Boorda's offer, and the Navy began discharge proceedings against her last month.
Mrs. Donnelly said: "It was Admiral Boorda being Admiral Boorda, trying to make it all better. There's too much emotionalism among the men at a very high level in the Pentagon. You don't solve the problem of sexual harassment by institutionalizing new double standards. That's what Admiral Boorda doesn't understand, and I wish he did."
The Hansen case led to the withdrawal of the nomination of Adm. Stanley Arthur, the vice chief of Naval Operations, to be commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific. Admiral Arthur endorsed the finding that Lieutenant Hansen should not continue pilot training. That incurred the wrath of Lieutenant Hansen's home senator, Sen. David Durenberger of Minnesota, and Admiral Arthur's nomination was withdrawn.
Critics accused Admiral Boorda of bowing to political pressure and currying feminist favor. "The knives are out for Boorda," said an outside Navy analyst who asked not to be named.
If Admiral Boorda is committed to strengthening the role of women in the Navy, one thing he is not out to change is the service's basic role in the post-Cold War world. This requires the Navy and the Marine Corps to be able to project U.S. force rapidly into regional conflicts.
To do this, Admiral Boorda said, the Navy needs at least 11 active aircraft carriers, with one carrier in reserve; 110 to 120 surface warships, mainly destroyers and cruisers; and 45 to 55 submarines. Under current plans, the Navy fleet will total 330 ships in 1999, down from nearly 600 during the Reagan years. The Navy now has 404 ships.
Haunting the Navy and the other shrinking military services is the specter of the "hollow force" of the 1970s, after the Carter administration's defense cutbacks.
"If we are going to have a smaller Navy -- and we already have one -- then we have to be smart about how we use it," Admiral Boorda said.
The Navy, by its own estimates, needs an extra $3.5 billion a year by 2000 for ships and planes, up from an original estimated cost of $13.4 billion to $16.9 billion.
That money is earmarked to come from savings from closing more bases. But members of Congress, sensitive to the pain inflicted by the last round of base closures in 1993, are showing signs of revolt against the next round, due next year.
For Admiral Boorda, the trick will be to enlist the support of politicians whose districts will benefit from new weapons orders. He will need their support to overcome the opposition of legislators whose districts have military bases facing closure.
"He has to convince Congress and other people, that the Navy has to close bases down to free up the money it needs to buy the new ships and airplanes it needs," said the Congressional Research Service's Ronald O'Rourke.
What, Admiral Boorda was asked, has been his biggest surprise since moving into his office April 23?
"How much harder it is to get smaller than it was to grow; trying to get little and do it the smart way; not turning these things into self-fulfilling prophecies where smaller means everyone works harder and no one wants to stay, but rather that smaller means smarter, with commitments matching force levels.
"That is hard stuff to produce, and I have spent a lot of time working on that."
Adm. Jeremy Michael Boorda, Chief of Naval Operations
Born: Nov. 26, 1938; South Bend, Ind.
Educated: B.A. (political science), University of Rhode Island, 1971; Graduate of Naval War College, 1971 and 1983.
Career: Enlisted in U.S. Navy, February, 1956; ensign, 1962; lieutenant j.g., 1964; lieutenant, 1966; lieutenant. commander, 1970; commander, 1974; captain, 1980; rear admiral, 1987; vice admiral, 1988; admiral, 1992.
Assignments: Destroyer officer, instructor 1962-1977; Principal assistant to assistant secretary of defense for manpower, reserve affairs and logistics, 1977-81; Commander, Destroyer Squadron 22, 1981-83; Executive assistant to Chief of Naval Operations 1984-86; Commander, Cruiser Destroyer Group 8, 1986-1988; Chief of Navy Personnel, 1988-1991; Commander in chief U.S. Naval Forces, Europe, and commander in chief NATO southern forces 1991-1994; chief of Naval Operations 1994 -.
Military awards: Defense Distinguished Service Medal, Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Meritorious Service Medal, and several other personal and campaign awards.
Personal: Married, three sons, one daughter, nine grandchildren. Two sons and one daughter-in-law are naval officers.