Take These Wings

Andrea Prasse was an honor student -- until she met the honor board.

"We all feel that both you and Matt need to go through sensitivity training with HR. Again, you can disagree with me here, but I have talked to Lt. Col. Marselle, Lt. Col. Harris, Msgt. Adcox, Maj. Bennett, Maj. Bode, Greg Steenberge, Joe Harding...not to mention Gen. Gilbert. We all pretty much see the same things happening here. You failed to set clear boundaries/guidance when Matt irritated you last semester and then you put yourself back into a bad situation this semester by being in his group."

At her honor board, Andrea was surprised not to see Aek. Cadets have a right to face their accusers in honor hearings, but Aek had been allowed to leave base. Still, Andrea was hopeful. Surely, she thought, the members of her board would see the ridiculousness of the charge against her. But they didn't.

Carol, who wasn't allowed inside the room, knew the verdict wasn't good as soon as the hearing was over. "Andrea came bursting out of the door screaming, 'How can they do this to me, Mom, how can they do this?' She was hysterical, and she started hyperventilating," Carol remembers. "The cadets on the honor board walked out smiling."

Carol panicked. "I had 26 people coming to Colorado for Andrea's graduation. We had hotel rooms booked and a restaurant reserved, and I hadn't told any of those people anything," she says. "I had a heart attack in February 2001, and one of my thoughts in the ambulance was, 'I am going to make it to Andrea's graduation.'"

But Andrea wouldn't be graduating on time -- if at all. The honor board had recommended disenrollment, and the Prasses had to tell all of their friends and relatives to cancel their flights. "That was the most stressful time of this family's life," Carol says. Although Andrea's fraternal twin sister was getting ready to graduate from the University of Minnesota, no one felt like celebrating.

The day after the hearing, two honor officers sent an e-mail out to all "Wolverines" -- the name for Andrea's squadron mates -- explaining that Andrea had been found guilty and that the honor process works. "This was not one or two people with a vendetta for Cadet Prasse who were out to get her and brought her up on honor," they wrote. "The process that her case went through ensured this."

Andrea tried to bring Matt up on honor charges for lying, but was told by the head of the honor division that she had no substantial evidence. In June, the Prasses asked the Air Force inspector general to investigate the handling of Andrea's case, specifically singling out Gilbert for interfering with the honor process and failing to protect Andrea from harassment.

Andrea returned home while Gilbert was deciding whether to disenroll her or to put her on probation. Then in July, the Prasses received a call from his office: Andrea had 48 hours to report back to the academy. Gilbert had decided on disenrollment. The Prasses immediately appealed that decision with then-superintendent Lieutenant General John Dallager (who has since been reassigned and demoted in the wake of the rape scandal).

While her appeal was under way, Andrea was ordered to remain on campus, where she shelved books in the library. The academy also moved her to Squadron 41, the disciplinary quarters, where she was placed in a room between a drug user and a male cadet who had been found guilty of downloading child porn. The real indignity, though, was having to wear shoulder boards indicating that she had no rank.

Academy officials refused to discuss Andrea's case with Carol, so she went to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which published an article about Andrea's situation on July 21. The academy let Andrea go home the next day. Since then, several other news organizations have picked up the story, including the New York Times, the L.A. Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Associated Press and CBS Evening News.

In January 2003, the Prasses were contacted by a Colorado Springs Gazette reporter who'd been leaked the results of the inspector general's investigation, which had found that every claim they'd made about the mishandling of Andrea's case and Gilbert's role in it was unsubstantiated. "I was like, 'What?' Do they contact me? Do they contact my congressmen? No, they call this reporter," Carol says.

To get the report, Carol had to file a formal request under the Freedom of Information Act; she was told that it would be April before she'd receive it. Meanwhile, Carol's Wisconsin congressmen, who were aware of Andrea's case from the beginning, had been calling and writing to the Air Force secretary.

The Prasses finally heard from Dallager in February, when he called with an offer: Andrea could return to the academy and serve six months' probation under Gilbert's supervision -- as long as she admitted to lying about having drawn the engine liner. If she successfully completed the probation, she could receive her diploma. The Prasses rejected the offer. "I said I would never take probation for this," Andrea says. "At the end of it, I'd have to turn myself in for lying, because it would have been a lie to admit to something I didn't do."

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