Baltimore native tops list to head Naval Academy

Rear Adm. Voelker is chief of recruiting

March 13, 2002|By Ariel Sabar and Tom Bowman | Ariel Sabar and Tom Bowman,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore native who is the Navy's chief recruiting official tops a short list of candidates to replace Vice Adm. John R. Ryan as superintendent of the Naval Academy, Pentagon sources said yesterday.

Rear Adm. George E. Voelker, 51, a 1972 academy graduate who heads the Navy's Recruiting Command, is the leading candidate for the top post at the 4,000-student military college, several sources said.

The Pentagon is expected to announce its choice in the next couple of weeks.

Though 23 three-star admirals and 46 two-star admirals are technically eligible for the superintendent's post, many fewer are close enough to the end of their careers to want -- or qualify for -- the job. Navy officials have also given preference to academy graduates, further shrinking the pool.

"I'm pretty sure it's going to be Voelker," said one source.

Voelker was recruited to play baseball at the academy and later commanded submarine groups before moving in September 2000 to the Navy's recruiting command outside Memphis, Tenn.

Voelker could not be reached yesterday. His spokesman, Lt. Cmdr. Steven C. Lowry, would say only that Voelker was expected to be interviewed for the post in the next two or three days.

Also under consideration

Other candidates under consideration are Rear Adm. Kevin P. Green, commander of the Navy's Southern Command and a 1971 academy graduate; Rear Adm. Christopher E. Weaver, commandant of the Naval District Washington and a 1971 academy graduate; and Vice Adm. Michael G. Mullen, deputy chief of Naval operations for resources, requirements and assessments.

Mullen is a former ship commander and a 1968 academy graduate. He was part of a noteworthy class that produced former Iran-contra figure Oliver L. North and James Webb, the former Navy secretary, author and decorated Marine Corps veteran of the Vietnam War.

Green's spokeswoman, Lt. Cmdr. Katherine Goode, said she knew of no official interest in Green. "To my knowledge, there has been no conversation detailing where he's going to be going," she said yesterday. "As far as rumors go -- they're rumors."

A spokesman for Weaver said last night he was out of town and could not be reached, and a spokeswoman for Mullen declined to comment.

Ryan, in the final stretch of a four-year tour as academy superintendent, is retiring from the Navy in June to become president of the Maritime College of the State University of New York.

The Board of Visitors, the academy's oversight panel, asked Ryan to stay. And sources said yesterday that some board members are disappointed with the field of candidates to replace him.

"We were looking for someone of stature going there" -- a more senior officer, the source said.

In searches for a new superintendent, the chief of naval operations typically reviews candidates with the secretary of the Navy, who then forwards a recommendation to the president. The Senate confirms, though most nominees sail through hearings.

Law requires retirement

One complicating factor in the search, sources said, is a new law requiring all superintendents at military academies to retire after completing their tenures. The law, enacted in 1999, is intended to ensure that they focus on training the next generation of military leaders, rather than using the post as a career springboard.

As a result of the law, sources said, at least two admirals have withdrawn their names from consideration.

There is no shortage of other inviting jobs for senior admirals. Two top-level posts opening up in the coming months are commander in chief of U.S. forces in the Pacific, which Adm. Dennis Blair is leaving, and chief of Navy personnel, being vacated by Vice Adm. Norbert R. Ryan Jr., John Ryan's twin brother.

"A big interest among flag officers is who's going where," said a Navy source.

Spokesmen at Navy headquarters and the U.S. Naval Academy would not talk about the search. "We decline to comment on a process that's ongoing," said Lt. Cmdr. Pauline Storum, a Navy spokeswoman.

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