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Sanibel resident shares experience as a Navy captain

By Staff | Nov 29, 2017

Captain Nori Ann Reed provided the Veterans Day address on Nov. 11 during the Veterans Day ceremony at City Hall. MEGHAN MCCOY

After serving in the United States Navy for 30 years, one Sanibel resident said the experience taught her how lucky she is to be an American citizen living in the greatest country on this earth.

“When I was stationed in the Middle East I would get up every morning, I would just thank God that I was an American woman born in the 21st century,” Captain Nori Ann Reed said. “When I lived in this middle eastern country off the coast of Saudi Arabia and I met women who were lovely and educated, they felt sorry for me because I didn’t have a husband, son, or brother taking care of me. I felt very sorry for them that they had to be answerable. If you are a woman you can’t leave some of these countries without a permission slip from your husband, or your brother, or your father.”

Reed comes from a long line of family members serving in the military. Her father was a Marine Corps officer who served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, and her mother was a Navy flight nurse who served in World War II and Korea.

“She was the first Navy flight nurse to arrive in Korea and start flying individuals out,” Reed said.

The service goes even deeper with both of her grandfathers serving in World War I, as well as one of her ancestors serving in the Civil War.

“On my mom’s side especially, it’s an honorable profession,” she said.

In 1977 when Reed graduated from Florida Atlantic University the thought of joining the military was not there, especially post Vietnam, at the age of 20.

“Knowing what my family had done . . . how do you get leadership and management experience, except through leading and managing,” she said eventually changed her mind.

Reed went through Officer Candidate School. She said before being commissioned into a big group, there is an opportunity to be privately commissioned by someone close to you, which was her father.

“My dad was almost 6 foot 5, a tall Marine. He was in a coat and tie and he was looking at me. We are standing there face to face and he goes ‘Now sweetheart you couldn’t have made this decision before I paid for your education?’ And I went, ‘No, daddy, I couldn’t,'” Reed said. “My dad goes ‘OK, raise your right hand.'”

Thirty years later, in 2008, she retired from the Navy.

“I literally said in my retirement speech that it went by so fast. I didn’t feel that much older. There was always a new challenge. I moved 28 times,” Reed said. “There was always some place new to go. There was always someplace to be.”

Her first duty station was at the Navy Facility Guam, rather than on a ship in 1978 after she was commissioned .

When the Navy opened up the Women at Sea Program, she fell in love in 1980. Reed was one of the first women assigned onboard a Navy ship. She recalled the first time being the officer at deck at midnight with a smile on her face.

“I’m standing there and I have the deck. Everyone else is asleep. The captain has come up and said goodnight to me. The ship is settling down. You are out at sea. You are responsible for everything that is going on during your watch. There were 900 men, five women officers. I was responsible for them. Not just a little bit, but totally,” Reed said. “That was an incredible feeling that someone had trust in me to do that job.”

A beautiful starlit night, Reed recalls thinking “I like this.”

For the remainder of her service she never lost that feeling.

“When I was at sea, that is when I was the happiest,” Reed said.

The day she took command of her very first ship still stands out during the time she served.

“There was something going wrong. It’s a very funny thing because what happens when things are not going particularly well, everybody starts looking at you. All of a sudden I realized I couldn’t look at anyone else. They were all looking at me to solve this issue,” Reed said. “It was great, wonderful and kind of scary at the same time.”

As the commander of the ship she was responsible for everything. The ultimate responsibility fell on Reed’s shoulders.

“It’s not just getting the ship from A to B. It’s their medical, dental, their physical, their emotional well-being. That’s just your crew members. If they have family members, which pretty much everybody does in one flavor or another, then you are worried about them too,” she said, in addition to ships coming at them and firing missiles.

Reed said she thoroughly enjoyed her service because everyday was a new challenge, both good and sad.

Another moment that stuck out was Sept. 11 when she was in command of the USS. Detroit, which was stationed 11 miles from the World Trade Center.

“Finding out that it was not an accident, that it was a real issue. As the day ticks along you don’t know what else is coming,” Reed said. “In some respect, it was almost easier for me than some of my friends who were glued to the television. I don’t mean that it was easy, I had a focus, getting the ship underway. People just came back on board, God Bless them.”

The average age of her ship was a little less than 20 years old.

“They still felt the responsibility. They still came back. They still did what they thought they ought to do. That is a fabulous thing that we have going for us,” Reed said. “The step up and do what they need to do.”

The diversity of her ship included 50 different countries represented with 600 people.

“Not everyone was an immigrant themselves, some of them were first generation. The great news was I could pretty much go anywhere in the world and someone could speak that language,” Reed said.

Throughout her service, Reed served on six ships, and was the first woman to have the honor of being the captain of the USS Kiska, USS Willamette and USS Detroit.

She also commanded a task force, which included multiple ships, aircraft, helicopters and people permanently stationed in five different countries.

“At one point I had about 2,000 people working for me,” Reed said. “My task force had lots of moving parts.”

The task force operated personnel, shops and aircraft over 10 countries and 2.5 million miles of water, which included the Arabian Gulf, Indian Ocean and Red Sea.

Reed grew up on Sanibel; her parents moved to the island when she was a teenager. After retirement, in 2008 she returned to the island to take care of her mother from 2008 to 2015. Her mother, almost 92 years old when she passed, suffered from dementia.

Now Reed is a member of Zonta, volunteers at F.I.S.H., along with many other organizations that might need help. This year she started traveling again to visit with friends, which has been a real joy.