The Public War of Captain Greene
The case focused on several allegedly inappropriate notes and small gifts Greene sent to two junior officers—Lieutenant Mary Elizabeth Felix and Lieutenant Pamela J. Castrucci—while they were in his command at the Navy’s Office of Equal Opportunity in Washington, D.C. One note read, “Whenever you need to be adored, I will be there. Whenever you need to be comforted, I will be there. Whatever you need now, or in the future, I will be there.”
Insisting the cards and letters were simply offerings of support intended to build his subordinates’ self-esteem, Greene presented his case before an eight-member court-martial jury. In fact, Greene requested the court-martial—risking a possible jail sentence—to clear his name. Last October, the jury of six men and two women acquitted him of all charges of sexual harassment, fraternization and disgracing his uniform through “unduly familiar relations” with the two women.
But Greene’s story had no happy ending. Soon after the acquittal, his name was removed from the nomination list for one-star admiral by Navy Secretary John Dalton, who reportedly had lost faith in the captain’s judgment and leadership abilities. President Clinton has since approved of Dalton’s action.
Greene refuses to accept the Navy’s decision. In a recent interview, Greene told San Diego Magazine he is preparing a “major lawsuit” against the Navy in which he will cite defamation of character and libel, among other things. The suit, he says, will name at least four or five senior Navy officials—including Secretary Dalton—as defendants.
“The Navy simply abused its power in my case,” Greene says. “We’re looking at both federal and civil courts. My attorneys tell me I have a strong case.”
Meanwhile, Greene, an off-and-on San Diegan since 1970, says he’s trying to focus on what’s really important in life: his good health, his loyal friends and his family. But sometimes his bitterness surfaces. A proud, stoic man with a sterling military record, Greene, 48, ended his two-year Coronado command in July and is currently assigned to Rear Admiral Thomas Richards here while awaiting a more permanent command. Still, he finds it “disturbing and confusing” that he didn’t get the promotion to admiral, which would have been a dream come true.
“In the Navy now,” says Greene, “all someone has to do is allege sexual harassment against you, and one way or another, you will be punished—even if there is no basis to the allegation.”
Greene, the first African-American to lead a SEAL squadron, says he initially did not believe race had anything to do with his nomination rejection. Now he believes it did.
“I definitely think racism was a factor after all,” says Greene, suggesting conflicts of interest existed for several senior officers who decided his fate. He says one admiral involved in his case had been charged with racism by minority officers in the early ’90s. “He should have excused himself from my case,” says Greene.
“There are other individuals in the Navy with higher ranks than mine who have shown poorer judgment on matters far more serious than sending greeting cards to a subordinate who was going through a difficult time in her life. These people are still in their jobs. Where is the fairness in the system? They said I was innocent of these charges, but that was not good enough. The same standard just doesn’t apply to everyone.”
Greene recently wrote a letter to President Clinton outlining his complaints, which he says was hand-delivered to White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta. He has received no response. Greene says he never dreamed he’d be writing the president, or going up against the institution he has served so long and loyally. But he still believes he deserves to be an admiral.
“There are many, many fine individuals in the Navy. I’ve had all kinds of support since all this began,” he says. “But the Navy at large has put out distorted information on me from the beginning. The charges didn’t hold up, yet I am still trying to clear my name.”
Captain Charles Connor, the Pentagon-based spokesman for Navy Secretary Dalton, says, “The secretary considered Captain Greene’s case very carefully and met with him personally for more than an hour in his [Dalton’s] office. The secretary did not view this case as a close call. Merely because a court clears an individual of a criminal offense does not mean that individual is eligible to become a flag officer. Sound judgment is absolutely necessary for any senior officer, especially an admiral. After carefully reviewing this case, it was clear to the secretary that Captain Greene lacked sound judgment.
“For an extended period of time, Captain Greene sent multiple cards and letters to a junior officer containing personal sentiments inappropriate for a senior to express to a junior. Those comments included ‘adore you’ and ‘make your dreams come true.’ There were also repeated phone calls placed by Captain Greene in the evening to the residence of the junior officer. It got to be such a nuisance that the officer got a phone machine to screen the calls,” says Connor.
GREENE, WHO GREW UP in Cincinnati and in high school was voted “most likely to succeed,” entered the U.S. Naval Academy in 1966 and went on to become the first commissioned black officer accepted into the elite SEALs program. In 1972, while stationed in the Philippines, he met Violeta Ecarwan, then a Navy laundress. Two years later, they married. Today, Greene and his wife live in Chula Vista. Their three children—Josephine, Everett II and Federico—are grown.
Greene says his wife and children have been at his side since he received the call from Washington last year ordering him to appear for questioning. Violeta, his number-one supporter, says she knows her husband is innocent. Sending greeting cards
to colleagues was a common practice of his, she says. He often came home from trips with a large handful of greeting cards to send to family and friends. “He’s a card person,” she explains.
Greene believes he was simply caught
in the political crossfire of a post-Tailhook Navy. “Timing-wise, regardless of whether Dalton had supported me and believed me, he could very well have withdrawn his support anyway because of the political climate right now,” Greene says.
Greene acknowledges there are deep problems in the Navy regarding gender relations: the 1991 Tailhook convention incidents; Naval Academy midshipmen hurling a woman plebe into a men’s restroom, then chaining her to a urinal; a captain attached to the White House calling women staffers “dumb bitches”; the chief petty officer convicted of indecent assault on a female petty officer during a cross-country commercial flight; a rape in Okinawa and subsequent shocking comments made about it by high-ranking Navy officers.
Greene disapproves of all of that. Yet, he contends, the more often there are untrue allegations of sexual harassment, as in his situation, the less seriously the Navy will take cases where such charges are legitimate.
“It’s sort of a cry-wolf situation,” he says. “The kinds of false charges that came out in my case will eventually destroy the credibility of those with legitimate complaints. Ultimately, that could harm women in the Navy even more than the men, and that’s unfortunate.”
Whatever the result of his pending lawsuit, Greene says he will continue to defend his command style and the personal way in which he interacts with subordinates—male and female. Even during his court-martial, he says, there were female officers who came to him with problems, and he helped them any way he could.
“Of course, I am more cautious now about how I interact with female subordinates, and about what I say,” he says. “But the way I treat people has not changed, and it will not change. “
Says his former secretary, Sherry Dorn, a civilian employee of the Navy: “Captain Greene is a sincere human being who is genuinely concerned about his people. He was never out of line with me. The whole thing is very sad. He’s made a real effort to keep his bitterness in check. And I think he’s bouncing back. I just tell him he has to keep fighting for what he believes in, and, well, he just smiles.