Ex-Academy chief named to command U.S. Pacific forces Prueher picked to quiet furor over Okinawa rape

January 11, 1996|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Defense Secretary William J. Perry yesterday named Adm. Joseph W. Prueher, a former commandant of midshipmen at the Naval Academy, to be the new Pacific commander. He will replace Adm. Richard C. Macke, who was forced to resign in November after suggesting three U.S. servicemen accused of raping a 12-year-old Japanese schoolgirl should have hired a prostitute.

Admiral Macke's remark outraged the Japanese, created a diplomatic furor and provoked demands for U.S. troop withdrawal from the island of Okinawa, where the rape occurred in September.

Admiral Prueher's selection, which is meant to help quiet the uproar, is subject to Senate confirmation. He is vice chief of naval operations, the second-highest post in the Navy. His assignment to the Pacific billet is regarded as a promotion -- although he already holds the four-star rank -- because he takes command of all 330,000 U.S. forces, not just sailors, in the region.

Admiral Prueher, 53, was responsible for disciplining a previous case of sexual harassment when, during his 1989-1991 tenure at Annapolis, a female midshipman, Gwen M. Dreyer, was handcuffed to a urinal in a campus bathroom after a snowball fight with male colleagues.

More recently, Admiral Prueher decided to prosecute Capt. Everett L. Greene, head of the Navy's equal opportunity office, for undue familiarity with a female junior officer. The captain was cleared in October of all charges.

As chief disciplinary officer in the Dreyer case, then-Captain Prueher was criticized by the young woman's parents as being too lenient with the perpetrators. Five male midshipmen were penalized, but only two received reprimands on their records.

Ms. Dreyer's father, Gregory, a 1967 Annapolis graduate, was quoted at the time as accusing Admiral Prueher of threatening to publish a photograph of her smiling during the incident, and as chiding the Navy for failing to take any action against Captain Prueher. Captain Prueher denied making the photograph threat.

"To me, Joe Prueher is the epitome of the failure of Navy leadership," Mr. Dreyer said at the time. Mr. Dreyer could not be reached for comment at his Virginia home yesterday.

His daughter, a third-generation midshipman, left the Academy in 1990 because "of what I have been through and have seen -- not only because of what has happened to me personally." She lives in California, and could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Sean O'Keefe, Navy secretary in 1992, said: "The issue was run to ground. A lot of people were held accountable for that. I don't know how anybody could hold him accountable for not having done enough."

In choosing Admiral Prueher, a native of Nashville, Tenn., and Annapolis graduate of 1964, Mr. Perry selected an officer with a wide variety of experience. He has clocked 5,500 flying hours in 52 types of aircraft, has made more than 1,000 carrier landings and had flown combat missions over Vietnam. He was a test pilot and flight instructor at the Naval Air Test Center, Patuxent River.

Before becoming vice chief of naval operations last May, Admiral Prueher commanded the 6th Fleet and NATO's strike and support forces in southern Europe, which includes Bosnia. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, the Maryland Democrat who is a fierce campaigner against sexism in the military, said yesterday: "I do not oppose Admiral Prueher's nomination as Pacific Commander. He has learned a great deal from the incident at the Naval Academy."

Admiral Prueher, who was not available for comment yesterday, told The Sun in an earlier interview: "In the light of current circumstances, we might make a different decision [in the Dreyer case]. We probably would have seen Midshipman Dreyer better or as a little more of a victim than we did at the time."

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