U.S. Merchant Marine Academy superintendent to retire in June

U.S. Merchant Marine Academy superintendent to retire in June
Vice Adm. Jack Buono, the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy's superintendent, announced earlier this month he will retire from his position in June. (Photo by Janelle Clausen)

Vice Adm. Jack Buono, superintendent of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, will retire from his post in June, school officials have announced.

“I’d like to thank all those involved in the day-to-day operations at the Academy,” Buono said in a news release. “From the staff, faculty and coaches, to the alumni and the parents, to the support staff members that keep the lights on and the water running, I want each of you to know how proud and thankful I am to have served as the leader of this great institution.”

Buono, whose maritime career has spanned more than 45 years, took the post in 2018. A 1978 graduate of the Merchant Marine Academy, Buono has graduated two classes and navigated the school and its cadets through the coronavirus pandemic, while trying to implement parts of a five-year strategic plan he introduced in 2018.

The 11-page plan, academy officials said, has become “the benchmark for day-to-day operations.” Aspects of the plan that have been introduced include focusing more on “transparent communication,” modifying cadets’ education and increasing the academy’s public awareness.

“During his change of command ceremony, he challenged the regiment to be strong supporters and advocates for one another,” officials said of Buono in the news release. “He implored them to take care of one other as shipmates, setting the groundwork for improvements in institutional culture at the Academy.”

Part of the plan focused on creating a “climate of respect” among the cadets, which officials said  Buono aimed to provide through his leadership.

Last year, the academy experienced an instance of sexual harassment that became widely publicized.

A female cadet, a member of the 2022 graduating class, said she was a 19-year-old virgin when she was assaulted by a 60-year-old supervisor, whose name was not disclosed, during training aboard a ship during Sea Year. The supervisor who raped her, she said, made derogatory comments to her and other women on the ship.

“He was creepy, made romantic passes at me and made crude and demeaning comments about me in front of other members of the engine department,” her account read. “It was a difficult work environment, to say the least, and not what I had expected Sea Year to be like.”

After around 50 days at sea, the ship pulled into a Middle East port where the officers purchased “a lot of alcohol,” according to the cadet. She said she was pressured to drink alcohol by older men and supervisors on the ship.

As she continued drinking, the cadet said, her sea partner became sick and was taken back to his room. The cadet said she blacked out shortly after, taking roughly another 8 to 10 shots of alcohol. The next morning, she woke up naked in her bed with a massive hangover and noticed blood on her sheets.

“I knew immediately that I had been raped,” the cadet said. “I was a virgin and had been saving myself, and as soon as I woke up I could feel that I was very sore and knew exactly what had happened.”

The allegations led to the academy suspending its annual Sea Year program.

In the news release, Buono touted the work of each cadet and expressed his excitement to see how the cadets will benefit the maritime industry once they graduate.

“For Ginger and I, serving as the Superintendent and First Lady of the Academy has been the honor of a lifetime,” Buono said. “The young women and men who come here are truly the best and brightest America has to offer. I am amazed at their resilience and perseverance, and know the future of the maritime industry is in good hands with them at the wheel.”

Academy spokesman George Rhynedance said Buono’s retirement was a “personal decision.”  Polly Trottenberg, the deputy secretary of Transportation, said the search for a new superintendent has already begun.

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