Take These Wings

Andrea Prasse is reviled at the Air Force Academy. Not only was she branded a liar, but she dared to go public about it.

So when the superintendent offered to let her return in February, nine months after she was found guilty of breaking the honor code, cadets blasted her on an Air Force-related Internet message board. "It would be even worse if she makes it into the real AF," a fellow member of the class of 2002 wrote on "I can think of a few people who would even mail their rings back to the Academy if that should happen."

"If she ever is allowed back in (and I hope to God she isn't) put her in a dead-end recruiter job in the middle of BFE where she's isolated from society, family, and the short list of supporters," wrote another classmate. "If she doesn't leave then, boot her for 'legitimate' reasons like inability to meet any of her duty requirements. For the record, honor-vio was plenty legitimate for all of us, but apparently not the press or lawyers."

But her former classmates needn't worry. Andrea would never go back to the Air Force Academy. Not after what happened to her there.

Andrea thought about attending the Air Force Academy for the first time during a plane ride to Florida when she was twelve. She told her mom she wanted to be a flight attendant, and when her mother, Carol Prasse, asked why, Andrea replied, "Because I want to fly." To which her mother responded, "Why not be the pilot?"

When she asked her mom where she could learn to fly, Carol, whose brother was a career Air Force officer and whose father was a longtime reservist, naturally said, "The Air Force Academy." It was a suggestion she would regret a decade later.

The Prasses, both psychologists from Elm Grove, Wisconsin -- Carol works in the Milwaukee Public Schools, and David is an associate dean and professor at Loyola University in Chicago -- impressed on their four daughters the importance of education and hard work. Andrea's dedication in high school paid off when she earned her senator's nomination and got accepted to the Air Force Academy. When she arrived there in the summer of 1998, it seemed she would have a charmed experience: She was selected to be part of a Discovery Channel documentary about life at a military academy, and a camera crew followed her every move throughout basic training.

Once classes began, things quieted down and Andrea, who wanted to become an astronaut, chose to study aeronautical engineering -- one of the hardest majors at the academy. A professor warned her that many students who start out in that department never finish, but she was undaunted, studying hard, training hard and avoiding the parties that got many of her peers in trouble. By her senior year, she was in the top third of her class, had a 2.8 grade-point average, was the third-highest-ranking cadet in her group and was named group director of operations, an important leadership position. And in three years, she'd acquired only twenty demerits -- a relative miracle for most students, considering the hundreds of rules -- for minor offenses ranging from being tardy to class to reporting late to base when her flight back after winter break was delayed.

While she was excelling in school, though, Andrea says she was battling almost constant harassment from Matt Rabe, a fellow aeronautical engineering major her roommate had introduced her to early in her junior year. The two were in several of the same classes and became lab partners. But Matt wanted to be more than that. "I was dating someone at West Point at the time, and Matt would talk badly about him," Andrea says. "After we broke up, I made it clear that I wasn't going to date anyone for a while, and I know I told him I would never date him. I could tell he liked me, because he asked me for E.I. [extra instruction] in kissing."

Andrea tried to ignore Matt's comments and stay focused on their assignments (many of which involved group work), but he was constantly finding fault with her. "Nothing I did met his standards," Andrea says.

The criticism continued into their senior year, when Matt and Andrea again found themselves in many of the same classes and in the same groups. But when Andrea saw that no one else in her department was working as hard as she and Matt were, she started meeting with him less. And that, she says, is when he became very controlling.

Their dorm rooms were across the hall from each other, and he would keep his door open, constantly asking Andrea where she was going and with whom. He told her he needed to know when she'd be back so they could work on assignments together, and demanded that she give him her room key so that he could use her computer.

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Julie Jargon
Contact: Julie Jargon

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