• Exploring American History

Joseph Paul Reason USN, America’s first black Admiral

The son of Joseph and Bernice Reason, Joseph Paul Reason was born in Washington, D.C. on March 22, 1941. In the years to come, he rose to the rank of Commander in Chief of the United States Navy’s Atlantic Fleet – the first black individual to do so. With a doctoral degree in the romantic languages, his father was a professor at Howard University and his mother taught high school biology.

Growing up in a multiracial environment, Joseph was an active participant in the Boy Scouts and attended McKinley Technology High School. Each summer he spent a portion of his vacation at Camp Belknap. Located on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire, the camp’s aim, from early on, is to make good boys better. Camp Belknap prides itself on a home-grown leadership program with the motto "God first, the other fellow second, and myself last."

Living near the Chesapeake Bay, Reason continually watched the ships and developed a fascination regarding how they operated. This served to influence his later decision to join the Navy.

During his senior year of high school (1957-1958), Joseph wanted to participate in the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (OTC); however, though he was ranked 2nd of the 300 candidates, he was not selected to participate. Following high school graduation, Reason enrolled at Swarthmore College for his freshman studies. His sophomore year was spent at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania and his junior year at Howard University.

During his junior year, Congressman Charles Diggs, Jr. (D-MI) encouraged Reason to apply to the United States Naval Academy. He followed the congressman’s advice and was accepted into the Class of 1965. Midshipman Reason reported to Annapolis on June 28, 1961, and Ensign Reason left on June 9, 1965 with a Bachelor of Science degree in naval science.

Three days after graduation, wedding bells rang for Ensign Reason and his bride, Diane Lillian Fowler, on June 12, 1965 in the Naval Academy Chapel. They later became parents of a son, Joseph P. Reasons, Jr. and a daughter, Rebecca L. Reason.

Ensign Reason spent the next three months aboard the USS J. Douglas Blackwood (DE-219) as the operations officer, then enrolled in the Naval Nuclear Power School located at Bainbridge, Maryland in September. Beginning in March 1966, he transferred to the Naval Nuclear Power Training Unit in Schenectady. His next assignment was the USS Truxtun (CGN-35) where he was aboard for the ship’s first deployment in 1968 to Southeast Asia. The following year, Reason entered the Naval Postgraduate School and completed his Master of Science in computer systems management.

The nuclear aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN-65) was Reason’s next assignment. Beginning in December 1970 and continuing until January 1973, he served two deployments which took him back to Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean. He was back in school from January to August 1973 to attend Naval Destroyer School at the Naval Station in Newport, Rhode Island. This was followed by additional studies at the Combat System Technical Schools Command at Mare Island from August 1973 to January 1974.

When Reason completed his training at Mare Island, he returned to the USS Truxtun, serving as her Combat Systems Officer from January 1974 until June 1976. Completing this sea assignment, he now became a detailer with the Bureau of Naval Personnel in Washington, D.C. until December 1976, at which time he became the Naval Aide to President Gerald Ford. He retained this position during the opening years of the Carter Administration, then returned to sea in 1979. On October 1, 1983, Reason was promoted to Captain.

From 1986 to 1988, Reason became Commander of Cruise-Destroyer Group One and oversaw all naval activities in Alaska, Washington and Oregon. This was in addition to leading Battle Group Romeo, involving operations in the Persian Gulf, along with the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

Reason’s rank continued to increase during this time and he received his third star in 1991 when he took command of the Naval Surface Force of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet. In December 1996, President Clinton nominated Reason as the first black four-star admiral and named him Commander in Chief of the Atlantic Fleet (consisting of approximately half of the entire United States Navy). In this position, Reason oversaw a naval armada stretching from pole to pole, the Mediterranean and Caribbean Seas, Persian Gulf, African Coast and South America. He was now responsible for 120,000 sailors, 26 admirals, 195 warships and 1,375 aircraft, spread over 18 major naval bases.

In his new position, Admiral Reason adopted several priorities. Among these was making the Navy more efficient through the use of technology. He concentrated on the use of technology and computers in an effort to update the Navy’s fleet of ships, in addition to enhancing his sailors’ and staff’s quality of life. He also sought to make naval warfare less expensive. “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.” This priority would later be put to the test early in his tenure when he was forced to relieve Rear Admiral Robert S. Cole of his command when a female employee registered a complaint regarding inappropriate behavior by Admiral Cole.

Admiral Reason retired from the Navy in 1999 and chaired the board for the U.S. Navy Memorial Foundation. He also served on the Naval Studies Board of the National Academy of Sciences.

Reason encourages the youth of America to seek an education due to the fact acquiring knowledge provides increased opportunities, whereas life can be much more difficult without it. He also informs them of the need to possess a positive, confident attitude, along with a reputation of a good performer who possesses the right values in life.

Admiral Reason continues to team with various minority recruiting programs at the Naval Academy as he presents America’s youth examples of how military service can be an outstanding career option due to the fact promotion is based on job performance and test scores, in addition to how they rank you among your peers. Admiral Reason believes no one should walk through obstacles without finding a method of conquering them.

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"When something is broken, no matter how complex it may be, try to fix it. The worst outcome will be that it still doesn't work. But then again, you may be surprised!" Admiral Joseph Paul Reason

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