Philly guy has a naval approach

Rear Adm. Gerard P. Hueber (left), who grew up in Philadelphia, with Rear Adm. Kudret Cela, commander of Albanian Naval Forces. U.S. NAVY
Rear Adm. Gerard P. Hueber (left), who grew up in Philadelphia, with Rear Adm. Kudret Cela, commander of Albanian Naval Forces. U.S. NAVY
Posted: April 05, 2011

TWO WEEKS AGO, Rear Adm. Gerard Hueber - from the deck of the USS Mount Whitney, the 6th Fleet's command-and-control vessel in the Mediterranean -was trading verbal blows with the regime of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi over civilian casualties.

But when he wasn't checking the results of U.S. air missions over the war-torn North African nation, the 1977 St. Joseph's Prep grad was finding a minute or two to get the latest news from Phillies' spring training.

"I know that Roy Halladay is pitching today," Hueber, who served as high-ranking chief of staff for the military's Operation Odyssey Dawn, said in a Friday telephone interview from his land-based headquarters in Naples, Italy. "And I'm a die-hard Eagles fan."

That's not surprising, since, despite three decades traveling the globe and much of the seven seas since graduating from the Naval Academy, Hueber's worldview is still rooted in the rowhouse world of the lower Northeast, where he grew up.

He still describes his childhood neighborhood in Juniata and the streets of Port Richmond and Fishtown, where his dad and mom grew up by their parish names, and he jokes that he was the "black sheep" of his family for attending St. Joe's Prep after his dad and two brotherswent to rival North Catholic.

But Hueber, 52, was certainly the star of the family (not always a slam dunk, since his brother Jim was former assistant coach with the Minnesota Vikings) at the height of U.S. involvement in military operations in Libya.

As chief of staff for the operation commanded by Army Gen. Carter Ham, Hueber was heavily involved in briefing the media about the operation from aboard the command ship, and he appeared frequently in print and on TV. He sought to reassure Americans that the U.S. was sticking to its vision for a limited and brief campaign, even after air strikes on the Gadhafi ground forces.

Hueber insisted that the more aggressive strikes were allowed under the United Nations resolution that brought the allies into the conflict last month, and necessary to prevent genocide by Gadhafi's troops.

"The president spoke the day after the U.N. resolution and he talked about a cease-fire to stop [Gadhafi's troops] advancing in Bengazhi, and he demanded humanitarian assistance. Those demands were non-negotiable," Hueber said. "The Gadhafi forces did not cease fire, and so there was a challenge getting humanitarian assistance."

Hueber also said that Americans might not be aware of the broad scope of the international coalition working together in the Libya campaign. "We have Muslim countries," he noted, referring to support from Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, in addition to the lead forces from NATO.

Teamwork is something that Hueber learned in his youth. At St. Joseph's Prep in the mid-1970s, he was team captain and an early star for soccer coach Jim Murray, who still runs the program he started four decades ago.

"The word that I still recall using for Gerry Hueber at the team banquet was 'confidence,' " Murray said yesterday, noting that surely helped him on his rise to rear admiral. "He was a very confident young man."

He could also occasionally be a prankster, added Murray, recalling the time that Hueber tried to hide under a pile of sweats and skip the daily run when the team practiced. Such moments were rare, though, as the hard-charging midfielder led the team with 22 goals on his way to a collegiate soccer career at Navy.

Hueber said that going to the annual Army-Navy football game also helped seal his career choice.

"It was everything the Navy claimed," he said. "It was adventure, an opportunity to see the world, with an opportunity to get a great education. Did I ever think I'd be in the Navy for coming up on 30 years? Absolutely not."

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