Reason, J. Paul 1943
J. Paul Reason 1943
J. Paul Reason, the Navy’s first four-star Admiral and Commander of the Atlantic Fleet, was born and raised in Washington D.C. His father Joseph, a former professor of Romance Languages and the holder of a Ph.D., was the director of university libraries at Howard University. His mother Bernice taught science in the Washington D.C. public school system. As a child Reason was drawn to the sea—fishing, crabbing, swimming, or just hanging out on a pier.
In the Navy Reason found a perfect marriage of two of the most prominent influences of his life—education and the ocean. After graduating from high school he did not immediately enlist in the Navy or apply for the Naval Academy, but went to Howard University. He spent three years at Howard before Representative Charles Diggs, a congressman from Michigan, nominated him for the Naval Academy. Reason was accepted and had to start over academically as a freshman. Reason graduated from Annapolis in 1965, but he had previously decided to stay in school and try to enter the Navy’s nuclear propulsion program.
In applying for the prestigious program Reason was put to the test by Vice Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, the creator of the nuclear submarine. Reason, who now credits Rickover with helping his career, said that their first meeting was not so comfortable for the young officer in training. Rickover lit into Reason for not being ranked higher in his class with all of his previous education. Rickover told him that he could enter the training program if he promised to improve his class-standing by 20 places. Reason kept his cool and responded that it was impossible to make a promise on that issue because no matter how well he performed, he had no control over the 20 students ahead of him. Rickover became furious at the cool and logical Reason and threw him out of his office. But Reason did not leave the building. One of Rickover’s aides told the young midshipman to stay around and hours later a different officer entered the room with a note. Reason told Hans J. Massaquoi of Ebony what the deputy told him: “Admiral Rickover says you can have the nuclear power program if will sign this statement that says, ‘I swear I will increase my class standing 20 numbers by graduation.’” Reason looked at the statement which guaranteed him entry into the much-coveted program and crossed it out. In its place he wrote: “I will do everything in my power
Born Joseph Paul Reason in 1943 in Washington, D.C.; son of Joseph (a college professor) and Bernice (a teacher); married in 1965 to Dianne; children: Rebecca and Joseph. Education: Attended Howard University for three years before attending the U.S. Naval Academy and graduating in 1965; Masters Degree in Computer Systems Management; Defense policy study at Harvard’s Kennedy School.
Career: Served on the USS J.D. Blackwood until 1967; Served on the USS Truxturn 1968-70; served on the USS Enterprise, 1971-75; again on the USS Truxtun, and became an Assignment Officer at the Bureau of Naval Personnel; Naval Aide to the President of the United States 1976-79; named Executive Officer of the USS Mississippi, 1979-85; Commanding Officer of the USS Coontz and the USS Bainbridge; Commander of Naval Base Seattle, 1986-88; Commander of Cruiser-Destroyer Group One, 1988-94, earned three-star rank and was named Commander, Naval Surface Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet; Deputy Chief of Naval Operations, 1994-96; Promoted to four-star rank and named Commander in Chief, U.S. Atlantic Fleet, December 1996 to present; First African-American to earn four-star rank in the U.S. Navy.
Awards: First African American to earn four-star rank in the U.S. Navy. Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Navy Commendation Medal, the Venezuelean La Medulla Naval Almirante Luis Brion Medal, the Republic of Vietnam Honor Medal, the Navy Unit Commendation, Navy “E”, National Defense Service Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, the Sea Services Deployment Ribbon, the Republic of Vietnam Meritorious Unit Citation, and the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal.
Addresses: Residence —Norfolk, VA; Naval Office —Commander in Chief, U.S. Atlantic Fleet, 1562 Mitscher Ave., Ste. 250, Norfolk, VA 23551-2487
to improve my class standing by 20 numbers.” Rick-over’s aide tore up the paper and had his secretary type up the first oath again. Reason held his ground knowing that he would be agreeing to something over which he had no control. For the second time in one day he was thrown out of a high-ranking officer’s office, but Rick-over must have been impressed by something. The next day Reason’s name was the third one posted on the list of candidates who had been accepted into the program. Not only did Reason take an enormous step in his Naval career in 1965, but he also got married three days after his graduation from the academy. The new Dianne Reason taught elementary school and was used to military life being the daughter of an Army officer.
Reason served as Operations Officer in the destroyer escort USS J.D. Blackwood. After he completed his nuclear training in 1968 he was transferred to the nuclear powered guided missile cruiser the USS Truxtun and immediately sent to Southeast Asia. In 1970 Reason earned a masters degree in computer systems management. He shipped out again in 1971 to Southeast Asia this time on the nuclear powered aircraft carrier, the USS Enterprise. Reason rejoined the crew of the USS Truxtun as the Combat Systems Officer and then went on to the Bureau of Naval Personnel as an Assignment Officer.
Before Christmas in 1976 Reason joined the administration of President Gerald R. Ford as Naval Aide to the White House. When Jimmy Carter took over in 1977 Reason kept his position until going back to the sea in 1979. Reason was named the Executive Officer of the USS Mississippi and then became Commanding Officer of the USS Coontz. From that assignment he assumed command of the USS Bainbridge, a nuclear powered guided missile cruiser. It was at the helm of the USS Bainbridge that Reason met another man who influenced his career—Mike Boorda, the man who would eventually become chief of naval operations. Reason told Rudi Williams of Sea Services Weekly about his relationship with the other future admiral: “We got to know West Africa and each other quite well. A bond formed, first a professional bond, then a personal bond. He was the most capable naval officer I ever went to sea with. He knew how to do everything. But at the same time, I was a better engineer because I’d spent most of my time running propulsion plants in cruisers and aircraft carriers … With his operational expertise and my ability to solve engineering problems, it was a very professionally rewarding cruise to West Africa, the Mediterranean, and the Black Sea.”
From 1986 through 1988 Reason was in charge of all naval activities in Washington, Oregon, and Alaska as Commander of Cruiser-Destroyer Group One. At this time he also led Battle Group Romeo through operations in the Pacific and Indian Oceans and the Persian Gulf. As a result of his continued excellence, Reason earned a three-star rank along with the command of the Naval Surface Force of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet. He was then named the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations in August of 1994.
In December of 1996 President Clinton nominated Reason to become the first African American naval officer to achieve the four-star rank. With the elevation in rank Reason was also named Commander in Chief of the Atlantic Fleet—about half of the entire U.S. Navy. Reason overseas a multi-billion dollar budget of a naval armada from the North Pole to the South Pole, the Mediterranean and Caribbean Seas, South America, the African Coast, and the Persian Gulf. He is in charge of the majority of U.S. naval bases along the East and Gulf Coasts in the United States, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Iceland. In total he is responsible for over 120,000 soldiers, including 26 admirals, 195 warships, 1,357 aircraft on 18 major naval bases.
As the Commander in Chief of the Atlantic Fleet, Reason has several priorities. He wants to make the Navy more efficient by possibly cutting the size of the crews through the use of technology. In addition to making naval warfare cheaper, he wants to make the Navy quicker through new tactics and innovations. The Admiral also maintains an emphasis on creating a fair environment. Reason told Massaquoi of Ebony: “I hold every commanding officer responsible for the environment within his command. And every reporting senior, this is every officer in charge of those in command, must evaluate those commanders on their performance of ensuring equal opportunities.” Reason had backed up his claim earlier in his tenure by relieving Rear Admiral Robert S. Cole of his command of the Atlantic Fleet’s shore facilities after female employees complained about Cole’s inappropriate behavior. In a wave of sexual scandals throughout the armed forces in the late nineties, the 32-year Navy veteran became a key part in restoring the credibility of the services and one of the few high-ranking officers to take meaningful action against this type of behavior.
Admiral Reason, who also served on a panel about the future direction of the U.S. Naval Academy, is the father of two. Despite constantly shipping out to different locations around the world during his climb to the top of the Navy, Reason has stayed happily married to his wife Dianne. His daughter Rebecca is an accountant and his son Joseph also joined the Navy. Reason and his son are believed to be the first African American father and son to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy. He summed up his enormous responsibilities for Williams of Sea Services Weekly: “I represent sailors the best way I know how. My test of everything I do, for every decision I make is, is it good for sailors? If I can’t prove it’s good for sailors, we shouldn’t be spending taxpayers’ money. And we don’t—as long as it’s my decision.”
Ebony, April 1998.
The Virginian-Pilot, August 5, 1997.
The Washington Post, August 12, 1997.
Sea Services Weekly Website at http://www.dcmilitary.com/navy/seaservices/feb27/ss_e22798.htm.
Admiral Reason’s Homepage at http://www.lantflt.navy.mil/cinbio.htm.
—Michael J. Watkins
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