Reason, J. Paul

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J. Paul Reason

Military leader

In 1996, J. Paul Reason's outstanding naval career peaked when he became the Commander in Chief of the Atlantic Fleet in the United States Navy. He concentrated on using computers and technology to update ships and enhancing his sailors' and staff's quality of life. His success was based in part on pursing excellence with honesty and integrity, and having a supportive family, especially his parents and his wife Dianne. He was always striving to learn more, and willingly helping others as he progressed. He also credits those pioneering African Americans whose accomplishments paved the way for his success and those individuals, such as ADM Hyman Rickover and Chief of Naval Operations Mike Boorda, who gave him opportunities to excel.

Reason urges America's youth to seek an education because having knowledge provides increased opportunities and life can be much more difficult without it. He also explains to them the importance of having a confident and positive attitude and a reputation as a good performer who has values. He works with minority recruiting programs at the Naval Academy and presents military service as an outstanding career option because promotion is based on job performance and test scores and how they rank you among your peers. Reason believes that one should not walk through obstacles but find a means of working around them.

Background, Upbringing, and Education

Joseph Paul was born to Joseph and Bernice Reason on March 22, 1941, in the nation's capital. He had a sister Barbara who succumbed to multiple sclerosis at the age of 50 after a career as an analyst and writer in international studies. With a doctoral degree in the romantic languages, his father taught at various schools including Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University in Tallahassee, Florida where he met fellow faculty member Bernice. After they were married, she taught in the District of Columbia school system, while he worked as the director of libraries at Howard University. Joseph Paul's middle class upbringing in the Brookland section of northeast Washington emphasized intellectual development, education, and being culturally well rounded. Seeing ships on the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland and his fascination with how they operated influenced his decision to consider joining the Navy. He also enjoyed playing sports and the Boy Scouts, shared with life long friend Fred Gregory, who became the first black space pilot.

Reason attended Benjamin Banneker Junior High School and McKinley High School where he applied for the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC), a military sponsored college program. His application, he later learned, was denied even though he scored the third highest exam score out of three hundred persons. The southern ROTC officials reviewing applications did not believe that an African American would be accepted at the southern schools. He attended Swarthmore College, Lincoln University, and Howard University studying mathematics and engineering prior to attending the Naval Academy. Democratic Congressman Charles Diggs of Michigan discussed the low number of black midshipmen at the military service academies with a dean at Howard University who recommended Joseph Paul Reason for an appointment.

Reason was over six feet tall, older, and more educated than the average first-year student and one of four blacks in the class of 1965. Like him, many of the persons he studied with went on to have tremendous success and to become his lifelong friends, such as former Secretary of the Navy John Dalton; Floyd Grayson, who started Grayson Homes of Ellicott City; Pete Tzomes, the first black officer to command a nuclear submarine; and Stanley Carter, a professor of naval science at Florida State University. While Reason admits that racism prevailed at the Academy, he prefers to focus on those individuals who helped him succeed. His extracurricular activities included the public relations club which involved announcing sporting events, the antiphonal choir, and intramural volleyball and field ball.

Three days after graduating from the Naval Academy, he married Dianne Fowler whom he had known since childhood, at the Academy chapel. He became a father with the birth of his daughter Rebecca in 1967. His wife had some familiarity with the military lifestyle as her father was a retired Army colonel and a professor of military science at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland. Their son, Joseph was born April 22, 1968.

Becomes Nuclear Surface Warfare Officer

In 1965, Vice Admiral Hyman Rickover, the "Father of the Nuclear Navy" and later the first Jewish person to become a four-star admiral, personally screened hundreds of applicants for nuclear propulsion school. When Rickover interviewed Reason he commented that his class standing should be better and challenged him to improve it by twenty points before graduating. Reason responded that he could not do so within the next six months but promised to work as hard as he could to rank higher. Rickover asked him to leave his office and had him sit in a small office to reconsider his reply. Some twelve hours later, one of the admiral's aides asked Reason to sign a statement committing to the admiral's initial request. Reason amended it to read that he would endeavor to increase his class standing by trying to achieve all A's and signed it. At that point, he returned to the Naval Academy. The next morning he discovered that his name was third on the list of those persons entering the nuclear propulsion program. Long after Reason completed his training Rickover continued to follow his career. For instance, when Reason's commanding officer gave him an adverse fitness report following outstanding ones, Rickover inquired about the justification. His reports improved shortly afterwards. Reason was not aware of Rickover's intervention at the time.

The U.S. Navy assigned Reason to the USS J. D. Blackwood, a destroyer escort, before sending him to the Naval Nuclear Power School, Naval Training Center in Bainbridge, Maryland and the Naval Nuclear Power Training Unit in Schenectady, New York. Reason spent three years on the USS Truxtun, a nuclear-powered guided missile cruiser, and participated in its first deployment to Southeast Asia in 1967. While en route, the Truxtun responded to the North Korean seizure of the USS Pueblo.


Born in Washington, D.C. on March 22
Enters U.S. Naval Academy
Graduates USNA; commissioned an ensign; marries Dianne Fowler
Earns M.S. at the Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California
Begins service as Naval Aide to the president of the United States
Becomes commanding officer of USS Coontz
Becomes rear admiral as commander, naval base, Seattle
Advances to four-star admiral as Atlantic fleet commander
Retires from naval service
Serves as corporate executive; director on several corporate boards

Reason was a reactor training officer when he left the Truxtun in 1969. He reported to the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California where he earned an M.S. in computer systems management. In 1970, he became the electrical officer on the USS Enterprise, a nuclear-powered carrier that completed two tours in the Southeast Asia and Indian Ocean areas.

His next two jobs during the 1970s returned Reason to the nation's capital as the detailer for the Surface Nuclear Junior Officer Assignment and Placement Branch in the Bureau of Naval Personnel and as the naval aide to President Jimmy Carter. His duties included carrying the "football," a case containing the codes for activating the country's nuclear weapons. This job gave him a chance to meet with ADM Rickover again.

During the 1980s, Reason served as the executive officer on the USS Mississippi, a nuclear-powered guided missile cruiser, and as the commanding officer of the USS Coontz, a guided-missile destroyer, and the USS Bainbridge, a nuclear-powered guided missile cruiser. He earned the nickname "Go Fast" on the Coontz because he seldom traveled under twenty-five to thirty knots.

When the navy designated Reason a rear admiral in 1986, he became the first member of his 1965 Naval Academy graduating class to achieve that rank and was assigned as commander of the naval base in Seattle, Washington. He managed all naval activities in Washington, Oregon, and Alaska. The navy acknowledged his skills and abilities by assigning him to command Cruiser-Destroyer Group One in 1988. He simultaneously led Battle Group Romeo through operations in the Pacific and the Indian Ocean regions and the Persian Gulf. His son Joseph graduated from the Naval Academy in 1990.

In 1991, the navy selected him for the commander of the naval surface force of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet following his promotion to three stars. Three years later, he became the deputy chief of Naval Operations for Plans, Policy and Operations (N3/5). President Bill Clinton nominated him for promotion to four stars in 1996 and the job as commander in chief of the Atlantic fleet. Reason's responsibilities included managing a significant portion of the navy's operational forces, a $5 billion budget, and over 140,000 civilian and military personnel. Reason's arsenal included 195 ships and submarines and 1,300 aircrafts that he used every five months or so to send a carrier battle group and an amphibious ready group in response to the various war fighting needs of the Atlantic, Europe, and Southwest Asia commanders in chief. Taking this position of four-star admiral made Reason the first African American to attain this rank.

Reason's military awards and medals are extensive; of special note, he received the Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, and the National Defense Service Medal. He retired in 1999.

Becomes Successful Entrepreneur

After he retired, corporate America recruited Reason because of his exemplary leadership and management skills. In addition to consultant work and sitting on corporate boards such as Wal-Mart Stores Incorporated, he served as vice president for Ship Systems at Syntek Technologies, Inc., a technical and engineering services firm in Arlington, Virginia and the president and chief operating officer of the Metro Machine Corporation, an employee-owned ship repair and conversion business in Norfolk, Virginia, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Reason also served as the director of Amgen Inc. and Norfolk Southern Corporation. He also presents at the Naval Academy's Admissions Outreach conferences.



1965 Lucky Bag. U.S. Naval Academy Year Book.


"DE Admiral Moving Up," DESA News, July-August 1996, 1.

Massaquoi, Hans J., "J. Paul Reason, The Navy's First Black Four-Star Admiral." Ebony, April 1998, 116-22.

Mintz, John, "Clinton Nominates First Black Admiral," Washington Post, May 14, 1996, A-13.

"Navy Pins 4th Star on D.C. Native, First Black Officer to Achieve Rank." Washington Times, May 14, 1996, A-6.

Simpson, Ann, "DC Native Sails to the Top in the Navy; Move Makes Joseph Reason 9th Black Admiral in Service's History." Washington Post, September 22, 1996.


Williams, Rudi, "Reason is Navy's First Black Four-Star Admiral" American Forces Information Service News Articles, (Accessed 13 December 2005).

                                      Regina T. Akers