As head of U.S. Cyber Command and the National Security Agency, Army Gen. Paul Nakasone has a remarkable resume — even though he skipped mention of his early career as a caddy at the White Bear Yacht Club. His accomplishments post-high school are being recognized May 20 when the White Bear Lake native, Class of 1982, is inducted into the district's Wall of Fame.
In his cyber command role, the general works directly for the Secretary of Defense and the President. He is responsible for conducting cyberspace operations to defend the nation, secure Department of Defense networks and support joint force commanders. As head of the NSA, Nakasone reports to the Secretary of Defense and the Director of National Intelligence, overseeing the protection of national communications systems.
The general rose up through the military ranks following graduation from St. John's University, where he commissioned as a U.S. Army officer through ROTC. He has served our nation for more than three decades, including deployments to Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan. Nakasone was at the Pentagon on 9-11. He has commanded a company battalion and brigade and served as senior intelligence officer at the battalion, division and corps levels. He has served as a staff officer on the Joint Chiefs of Staff and in May 2018, he was nominated by the president and unanimously confirmed by the Senate for promotion and service in his current roles.
He holds graduate degrees from the U.S. Army War College, the National Defense Intelligence College and the University of Southern California.
The son of two high school educators, Nakasone said he learned the value of education early in life. In correspondence with Wall of Fame committee Chairman Steve Johnson, the general said he benefitted from "incredible teachers who challenged students to do more than just solve difficult equations or analyze literature. They taught us to find the deeper value in hard work, persistence and teamwork."
Looking back on his high school experience, the inductee remembers an atmosphere that embodied critical thinking and effective communication — skills he would use throughout his career.
In an archived email interview with the Press, Nakasone credited his father, Edwin “Bud” Nakasone, as having a major influence on his career choice. The elder Nakasone taught 11th grade American history at White Bear Lake High School from 1956 to 1970. Bud grew up in Hawaii and was 14 when he witnessed the attack on Pearl Harbor. He enlisted after high school and served as an Army officer during World War II, aiding Japan's reconstruction as an interpreter.
The Nakasones were former neighbors of Peter Reis and fellow members of the St. Mary of the Lake janitorial gang that met for breakfast on Monday mornings. When someone suggested getting Paul for the Wall of Fame, Reis called Bud and Mary, who had since moved from their Lake Avenue home to St. Paul. They made the contact with their son, who Reis said agreed, saying "he'd be honored."
"For someone who is the head of the NSA agree to be inducted into his high school's Wall of Fame says something about how human and down-to-earth he is," noted Reis. "But it's something you'd expect from someone from White Bear."
In his correspondence to the committee, Nakasone wrote that he enjoyed his high school years and its variety of activities "that ranged from organized sports, intramural broomball and summers working at the Yacht Club."
The general said he is "humbled and honored to be inducted into the Wall of Fame and stand among classmates who are equally accomplished and remain his closest friends."
He added that "Team Nakasone," which includes his wife and four children, have lived around the world but still consider White Bear Lake home.
As a side note, Nakasone was actually nominated last year but COVID-19 postponed the recognition, pushing the award to 2021. Johnson said this year's induction will be part of the annual spring awards ceremony at the South Campus football field. Alternative plans are in place in case of rain or other COVID-related issues.
The Wall of Fame was started in 1992.
— Debra Neutkens