By CDR Bari J. Jones
“Success in life is the result of several factors. My formula is simply education plus motivation plus perseverance.”
Reuben Keith Green’s insightful, and inspirational memoir, “Black Officer, White Navy” is an eloquently written personal account of what it is was like to serve as a minority officer between 1975 and 1997. This remarkable memoir was written from Green’s point of view and openly captures his experiences in the Navy during a time when racial challenges were obvious to some and oblivious to others; nevertheless, racial challenges existed in both society and the Navy. Perhaps those same challenges still exist today.
When Green enlisted in the Navy without a high school diploma, and against the stern advice of his father, he didn’t know he was going to be confronting discrimination on a recurring basis as he pursued his goal
of becoming a flag officer. Of note, there were persistent concerns regarding equal opportunity at the highest level of leadership in the Navy. Senior Navy leadership implemented changes in policy and regulation; however, it appears some leadership didn’t agree with the changes nor executed accordingly. Green does an excellent job articulating how Navy policy and regulation, not being executed or supported by leadership affected his career and those of others.
As Green continues to pursue his desire of becoming a flag officer, he struggles throughout his career not to succumb to the constant disrespect from subordinates, interference from peers, lack of trust and support from superiors, in addition to discrimination manifestations within his chain of command. Green’s motivation, pursuit of higher education, and determination to excel despite racial challenges are apparent as is his love for the Navy.
Green built-in some humorous acronyms, however; my challenge was remembering them, perhaps because of the time lapse between when they were originally cited and revealed later in the book. I enjoyed reading this book and found the book to be very thought provoking. The humor infused in the memoir is genius. I won’t give all the details but there was one point in the book where Green had a run in with “rubbing alcohol,” and I laughed for a good minute. Through his comprehensive story telling I was able to visualize his experiences and his stories. Green’s experiences were easy for me to visualize because I too started out in the enlisted ranks and I too have experienced racial challenges as an enlisted sailor and naval officer.
Green’s story reminded me of a situation I encountered as a young enlisted sailor. To make a long story short, I was accused of trying to submit a bogus Officer Candidate School (OCS) package by my new departmental Master Chief. Fortunately, the new Command Master Chief was the one who convinced me to transfer to the ship and was aware of my package and helped push it through. Based on my encounters with the departmental Master Chief I felt as though there were some cultural biases. I can’t say for sure it was because of my ethnicity but I can tell you the way he spoke me, and his mannerisms certainly made me feel race was the issue. Being a native of Texas, I’ve been in situations where I was treated the same way and it was a race issue.
Green’s choice to continue his naval career, stand up for himself against unjust treatment, and come forward to tell his story, which not many minority sailors and officers do, is inspiring and certainly an important part of naval history. His decision to turn down a flag aide assignment was likely because of a lack of mentorship or sponsorship. That decision changed the course of his career. There are lessons to be learned from Green’s experiences and I strongly believe as leaders we have the responsibility to look back at our history and see what we could have done better, and ensure we do better, in the present and future. I felt this memoir was particularly strong in the area of research and historical data. As you read the book, you will notice the extent of research Green devoted to his memoir along with many great book references, which I have added to my
personal reading list.
One of my favorite quotes, which I believe could be a summation of Green’s successful career, was by a trailblazer, the first African American flag officer. “Success in life is the result of several factors. My formula is simply education plus motivation plus perseverance.” Vice Admiral Samuel L. Gravely, USN (Retired)
I give “Black Officer, White Navy” a 5/5. Green does a great job conveying the challenges he overcame in his naval career and the effect it has had on him in retirement. I highly recommend those who aspire to enlist in the military, those who are currently serving in the military and seeking a commission, and most importantly those who choose to be better leaders, to read this thought-provoking book. Green has inspired me to tell my story in the future.
Black Officer, White Navy by Reuben Keith Green. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. 339 pages. $19.45 Available on Amazon