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Yes, I am a West Point Airborne ranger named Jack Reed, but, no, I am not THAT Jack Reed

Posted by John Reed on

This morning, I was watching Tim Russert’s Meet the Press program when he said one of his next guests was going to be “Jack Reed, a West Point graduate former airborne ranger.”

As explained elsewhere at my military Web site, I am a West Point graduate. I was also a paratrooper (airborne) and I graduated from U.S. Army Ranger School.

As you can see at my home page, my name is John T. “Jack” Reed.

Jack is the standard nickname for John. Astonishingly to me, many people are not aware of that. For those who still doubt it, I remind you of this famous incident. In a 1988 vice-presidential debate, Republican candidate Dan Quayle invoked the name of President John F. Kennedy to show that he had the same years of Senate experience as Kennedy. Democratic vice-presidential candidate Lloyd Bentsen famously replied, “Senator, I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.”

The other Jack Reed that I do not want to be confused with is the current Democrat Senator from Rhode Island. His actual full name is John F. “Jack” Reed.

Like me, he is a West Point graduate and a former airborne ranger. He and I also each did a tour with the 82nd Airborne Division (at separate times). As I said at my military home page, it was standard in my era for West Point graduates to go to airborne and ranger schools after graduation. (In his Newsweek column on 2/25/08, Jonathan Alter said Sen. Reed was a “decorated Vietnam Veteran.” No he’s not. Senator Reed graduated from West Point too late to go to Vietnam. He is not “decorated” and could not be because he was never in a combat zone. If he has any medals, they are not listed in the West Point Register of Graduates. Since he was never in combat, he could only have what I call attendance or good bureaucrat medals.)

I graduated from West Point in 1968; the other Jack Reed, in 1971. That Jack Reed has a masters in public policy (Class of 1973) and a law degree (Class of 1983), both from Harvard. I have an MBA from Harvard (Class of 1977).

The fact that we graduated from West Point three years apart may make you wonder if we knew each other there.

Actually, we did.

‘First Beast’

That Jack Reed entered West Point at the beginning of July, 1967. For his first month there, I was his platoon sergeant. A platoon is about 40 guys. To put it in West Point vernacular, I was his “First Beast” platoon sergeant. First Beast is the month of July. “Beast” refers to Beast Barracks which is the slang name for the two summer months of New Cadet Basic Training. Second Beast was the month of August and all the upperclassmen who run it change on the first of August.

Normally, seniors there do not remember freshmen (called “plebes” at West Point), but, as you might expect, his name was unusually memorable to me.

My recollection of him was that he was rather short and he was uniquely famous for an encyclopedic knowledge of military history, —a subject which West Point cadets of that era did not study until senior year. Since I was about to become a senior for academic purposes, I had not yet studied military history when I knew that Jack Reed.

I did not hang around with him or become friends with him. Such fraternization between upper classmen and plebes was strictly prohibited at West Point and not a good idea because of the military chain of command in the student body.

You can actually see a video of the New Cadet company Senator Reed and I were in that July. It’s of a different platoon, but if you could pan to the left or right, you would see me in dress gray over white trousers and Senator Reed in Sierra (gray slacks and a white short sleeve shirt). 

That scene is about 8:30 into the movie. I am actually in the film. I am the guy on the right in the Russian class at 10:13 into the movie.


My best friend from West Point, Dick Steiner (a.k.a. “the Steins”), was the First Beast platoon leader. Steins and I had been in the same cadet company for three years, but First Beast in 1967 was the first time he and I roomed together. He is now a nationally-known, professional magician in the DC area. (I know. Your West Point tax dollars at work turning out magicians and Harvard MBAs. Hey, we both did a tour in Vietnam.)

In 2014, Steins found and sent to me a list of corrections I had written down apparently during an inspection under arms of our platoon in July 1967. In an inspection under arms, each man in the platoon stands at order arms until the inspecting officer slide steps in front of him. Then he executes a manual-of-arms move known as “inspection arms” which means he brings his rifle up to port arms position (45-degree angle across his chest) opening the bolt and locking it open as he does. The inspecting officer then grabs the rifle out of his hands and inspects it closely. He, as platoon leader would inspect each plebe and especially his rifle. I, standing next to him, as platoon sergeant, would write down all the things he found wrong with each plebe. I immediately looked for Senator Reed’s name. Next to it I had written down at the platoon leader’s direction:

rusty butt [on his M-14 rifle]
imp[roper] man[ual of arms—Probably did not execute the “inspection arms” maneuver correctly—it is quite difficult to master initially]

These two corrections were common in those inspection notes. Senator Reed was not any kind of an abnormal screw-up as a plebe.

In his capacity as a well-known magician, Steins has run into that Jack Reed a couple of times. Once, at fancy DC affair when that Jack Reed was a Congressman, Steins was co-MC-ing the supper with TV journalist Cokie Roberts. After Steins sat down, Congressman Jack Reed, came over to Steins’ table and said, “Dick, I don’t know if you remember me.” To which the Steins replied, “Of course I do. You’re Smackhead Reed!” This apparent disrespect to a Congressman horrified the others at Steins’ table, but Reed laughed.

“Smackhead” is a standard disparaging remark often made to plebes by some of the more theatrical upperclassmen at West Point. Stein and I did not actually call plebes that at West Point. We were not among the more theatrical upperclassmen. At the supper, Steins was exaggerating for the fun of it. Its origin is unknown.


When he got there and introduced himself, Congressman Reed said, “Dick, my back was to you. I heard and recognized your voice when you began speaking on stage and I reflexively stiffened to the sitting position of attention.” It had been 25 years since First Beast!

Now that’s post-traumatic stress syndrome!

'Decent and fair'

Steins ran into that Jack Reed again after he became a Senator several years later at another event. This time it was a West Point Society luncheon and Senator Jack Reed was the main speaker. Steins went up to speak to Reed afterwards and got someone to take a picture of the two of them. He also took some pictures of Reed with his classmates and sent Senator Reed a copy. The Senator wrote back thanking him and said he remembered Steins and me as having been “decent and fair.” Whew! (Steins’ Web site flashes a series of photos of him with various celebrities, but not the one of him and Senator Reed.)

Not all the upperclassmen at West Point are perceived that way by plebes. Some upperclassmen are mean to them. My friend and I generally were not like that, although I’m sure I got mad at a couple of plebes during my three years as an upperclassman. Thank God the Senator was not one of them. I’m sure we would have been even more “decent and fair” had we known he was a future senator.

Cub reporter

You never know whom you’re dealing with. I once owned an apartment complex in the small town of Corsicana, TX. A cub reporter just out of journalism school with the Corsicana Sun newspaper wanted to rent one of my apartments and we let him even though he did not quite make enough money. My managers violated my policy because they feared bad press if they did not. I chewed them out when I found out about it.

Years later, I was being interviewed by a Wall Street Journal reporter. I answered one of his questions by referring to my Corsicana apartment complex. Turned out, he was that cub reporter and remembered that we rented to him even though he didn’t make enough.


On another occasion, I was a member of the press at a press conference at the Mortgage Bankers Association convention. To my astonishment, the big CEO whose press conference we were attending was a former plebeian mortgage solicitor who used to come to the real estate company where I worked regularly trying to get us to use his company.

So, yes, I am a West Point, airborne, ranger, 82nd Airborne Division vet with an advanced degree from Harvard but I am not the West Point, airborne, ranger, 82nd Airborne Division vet with an advanced degree from Harvard who is now Senator from Rhode Island. I can claim to be the first of the two of us in all those regards except getting an advanced degree from Harvard. The other difference between us is, unlike the politician Jack Reed, when I got out of the Army, I went straight.

John T. Reed

Link to information about John T. Reed’s Succeeding book which, in part, relates lessons learned about succeeding in life from being in the military


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