The following interview with Joe Wasson was printed in The Weekly Navy News celebrating NERA's 25th Anniversary.
Today, with over 50 years of supporting and fighting for enlisted reservists rights we can appreciate the foresight of the two navy chiefs. The article displays the strong foundation NERA is built upon, the amazing vision, insight and courage displayed by its founding members Joe Wasson and Thomas Patten.
The Weekly Navy News Thursday, March 25, 1982 Front Page, Continued to Page 4
The Naval Enlisted Reserve Association is 25 year old and still growing every day. The organization was founded on 25 March 1957 by two Naval Reserve Chief Enginemen who drilled at the Washington Navy Yard.
Joe Wasson and Thomas Patten were two old friends that believed something needed to be done for the enlisted drilling Reservist. “We wanted to have an organization that paralleled the one that officers had (Naval Reserve Association) started four years earlier,“ said Wasson, who joined the Naval Reserve in 1942, serving on active duty during World War II.
Wasson recalls there was no charter in the beginning. “We had applications printed and started signing up members-at-large, “said the Manchester, NH, native. In the early years it only took ten people to start a chapter. “It was a lot easier to start a chapter then but, it was also easier for it to fall by the wayside at the end of the first year.”
At the time the organization was founded there were about 70,000 enlisted Reservists in the program with about 30,000 considered to be careerists. “We had high hopes of enrolling as many of those career people as we could,” Wasson added. “Of course, dreaming is one thing and reality is another.”
The organization struggled along with about 400-500 members for many years. Wasson and Patten worked signing up new members where and when they could, working out of cardboard boxes in their homes. Due to personal reason Patten dropped from active participation in the early ‘60s. “Even though Tom dropped from active participation we should never forget the many contributions he made,” said Wasson.
A drilling Reservist from 1947 until he accepted a TEMAC Recruiting billet in 1962, Wasson has remained active with the organization over the 25 years.
In the early years, the organization did not accept TAR (Training and Administration Reserves) personnel as active members. Only drilling Reservists could hold active membership.
In the mid-60s the organization, with Wasson serving as a non-paid National Executive Director, began to grow in leaps and bounds. “Coincidentally, two captains and two chief petty officers in widely spread areas began to talk up NERA. CAPT George Ropper and PNC Richman in COMSIX and CAPT Charles Gibson and EOC Sargeant in COMTHIRTEEN began talking about NERA and helping establish chapters during their visits to Training Centers. Six chapters were formed in COMSIX and 11 or 12 in COMTHIRTEEN. This gradually led to chapters being formed across the country, “he said. About 1968 the organization reached more than 2,600 members. Today the membership is well over 16,000. NERA gives Naval Enlisted Reservists a voice before Congressional Committees and study groups like the Defense Manpower Commission, Reserve Compensation System Study as well as Department of Defense officials and Department of the Navy panels and study groups.
Wasson, who transferred to the retired Reserve list with pay in 1980, resides in Falls Church, VA. Wasson is still active with the Navy: in his civilian life he works of the Navy’s Office of Information at the Pentagon.
“Things are better in the Naval Reserve than they ever have been,: said Wasson. “The last four Chiefs of Naval Operation have really started to see the value of a strong Reserve Force.”
In the future, Wasson hopes the organization will continue to grow and provide the services and counsel that was intended some 25 years ago. He said, “Cooperation and understanding will be the keys to future successes of NERA.”