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by John Konrad (gCaptain) Yesterday Vice Admiral Jack Buono is resigning his position as Superintendent of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA), ending a maritime career spanning more than 45 years.
The federal service academy announced his forthcoming retirement on Thursday.
Vice Admiral Buono, a 1978 Kings Point graduate, has spent the past three and a half years at the Academy, and will relinquish command at a ceremony in June 2022, on a date to be determined later. His successor has not been announced.
“For Ginger and I, serving as the Superintendent and First Lady of the Academy has been the honor of a lifetime,” said Buono. “The young women and men who come here are truly the best and brightest America has to offer. .”
Jack Buono arrived at USMMA in November 2018, after the previous superintendant James Helis, was fired by the Mark Buzby, then head of the US Maritime Administration (MARAD). Helis was not very popular. A former Army officer, Helis’ lack of maritime knoweledge and industy connections, made it difficult for him to win over stakeholders or bring positive changes to the school.
MARAD, which overseas the school, accepted over 70 applications for the job and picked Buono, a USMMA Alumnus who previously served as CEO of SeaRiver Maritime, Exxon’s shipping subsidiary headquartered in Houston, Texas. Buono was highly popular with the large majority of alumni and students gCaptain interviewed over the years.
As superintendent, Vice Admiral Buono guided the Academy through the COVID-19 global health pandemic, graduating two classes during the height of the crisis – on time, and COVID-free – with the expectation he will do the same with a third graduating class this year.
Buono faced his most difficult challenge last year when a 19 year student, #MidshipmanX, reported being raped aboard a Maersk ship. Buono and MARAD’s Acting Administrator Lucinda Lessley, took swift action immediatly after the report. USMMA’s Sea Year training program, was quickly paused in November as more students reported sexual assaults. The shutdown was highly upopular with students but Buono and Lessely enacted rapid changes and restarted Sea Year in December as promised.
“They listened to every stakeholder, acted deliberative, and are committed to doing what is right for the nation’s security as well as female midshipmen,” said USMMA Alumni President Jim Tobin in response to Buono’s actions in an interview with gCaptain last year. “There are multiple investigations into the misconduct, and we believe these should play out before any major decisions are made in terms of modifying mission-critical Sea Year training aboard commercial vessels.”
While some, including some staff and Maritime Legal Aid, the adcovacy group that broke the Midship X scandal remain critical of Buono’s tenure, the large majority of stakeholders we interviewed say MARAD will have great difficulty finding a replacement as popular and effective as Buono.
In adition to navigating the school through COVID-19 and the Midshipman X crisis, Buono aso brought deficiencies in the Academy’s infrastructure to the attention of the leadership at MARAD and DOT, creating the conditions for broad modernization at the Academy in the future. He also led the implementation of The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Strategic Plan, making it the benchmark for day-to-day operations at the Academy.
Some alumni were surprised by the resignation but sources close to the Admiral tell us it was planned. “Buono committed to 3 years when he took the job and he’s coming up on 4 years in the position,” said a freind of Buono.
“I’d like to thank all those involved in the day-to-day operations at the Academy,” said Buono in an official statement. “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.”
MARAD has not announced a successor but, a source at the administration says they have started reaching out to potential canidates.
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