Take These Wings

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Carol wasn't so sure. She called Brigadier General David Wagie, the dean of faculty, who told her he'd look into it. Brigadier General Taco Gilbert, then-commandant of cadets, got back to her on May 10. "He said he had Andrea's personnel file and that he was questioning her officership," Carol says. "My daughter had been harassed for six months, and no one did anything about it, and now he's questioning her officership? He told me she didn't get along in groups and that people didn't like her, including the class president. Why was he talking to the class president? What does the class president have to do with this?

"I proceeded to tell him about all the harassment she experienced, and he told me it was her fault -- that she put herself in that position because she didn't set clear boundaries and because she volunteered to be in Matt's group! So what -- she asked to be abused by this guy?" Carol recalls. "He said, 'If I walk down a dark alley with hundred-dollar bills hanging out of my pocket, it would be my fault if I got robbed.'" (That's almost identical to what Gilbert told Westword in January about a conversation he'd had with alleged rape victim Lisa Ballas. Partly as a result of those statements, Gilbert was removed from the academy and reassigned to a job in the Pentagon.)

Five days later, Andrea received an e-mail from one of the cadet investigators informing her that her case would go before a Wing Honor Board on May 21 -- just eight days before she was supposed to graduate.

In the meantime, Matt was still stopping by her squadron and asking Andrea's roommate about her, so she noted that in a formal memo to the academy. Meyer e-mailed a response on May 16: "Maj. Bennett, Lt. Col. Marselle and I met today to discuss what we are going to do about Matt's previous behavior. Bottom Line: We conclude that there isn't much we can do at this stage of the game. We all felt that although Matt's behavior wasn't justified last semester, you didn't establish boundaries to keep him at bay.

"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.

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Julie Jargon
Contact: Julie Jargon