Mr. Joe Richard, former Fort Belvoir Garrison Public Affairs Director.
Mr. Richard: Not your average Joe
from D.C. police, to MP, to PAO, Joe Richard devoted his life to public service
It seems Joe Richard, 71, has been working his entire life – or, at least for the last half-century.
“I’ve been working since I was 12,” Richard said during a PAO interview for this story. From delivering newspapers, and later as the circulation manager for the Courier Post newspaper in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, to cutting grass and helping dig graves at a cemetery as a ‘finishing man,’ Richard never seemed to bypass an opportunity. He recalled how his father always told him, “You want something? You’ve got to work for it.”
A big influence in his life and his faith was a life of Catholic schooling, having never set foot in a public school through his primary and high school years. That influence also caused him to consider a life of service, initially, in the church, with plans to attend seminary after college.
A life of Public Service
Life had other plans, however. Richard pursued a history major at Mount St. Mary’s College, where he was student government president at the all-male school. Nearing graduation in 1974, Richard realized he needed a plan to pay off his student loans, and he explored the opportunity to receive community service loan forgiveness working as a police officer. Joining the Washington D.C. Metropolitan Police in 1974, he was assigned as a beat cop in the District’s 1st District, where he protected and served for more than five years.
While still doing overnight police patrols, Richard began graduate studies at Catholic University, because he said his life as a police officer still left him wanting something else.
“There was something lacking; I didn’t know what it was. I wasn’t totally satisfied. My father in law, a retired colonel, suggested I consider the Army, and said I could go to ROTC while attending graduate school,” Richard said.
“In the morning, I’d get off duty as a police officer, come over to Catholic University and take classes. Since they didn’t have an Army ROTC, I enrolled in the ROTC at Howard University,” he said, “I found it kind of an exhilarating experience, simply because I was a minority,” he said about attending a historically black research university, adding that everyone in the unit meshed very well.
Military Police, eventually
Richard graduated and was commissioned as an Army officer in 1981. Before he could go on active duty, he was offered an opportunity to intern on Capitol Hill as part of his degree. A couple of congressional phone calls later, Richard’s active duty was deferred for two years, and didn’t swear in until 1983 after being a legislative assistant for a Maryland Congressman.
After being initially branched into infantry, his two- year deferment required another choice, and, realizing his years in MPD, Richard chose to go into Military Police, and was assigned to MDW and was a platoon leader at Fort Myer.
“In those days,” Richard explained, “we had what we called ‘white hat duty’, which was law enforcement on the installation,” which was separate from tactical operations. He said he realized that by then, his people skills were already well-honed.
He also realized how much his upbringing had shaped his faith, work ethic and sense of responsibility.
“I carried that with me to the police force, and also the military police in the Army,” Richard said. “I was fortunate enough that I was able to manage my career, where I usually received the assignments that I was looking for.”
Army Public Affairs
By the time Richard was a senior captain, he transferred to a functional area, when he was selected for public affairs, because of the people-oriented nature of both positions. He did admit he was concerned at that time that public affairs might be a ‘career killer’.
Richard was given command of a Public Affairs Detachment to support the 6th Infantry Division in Fort Wainwright, Alaska, for about four years. In that time, the 6th ID travelled throughout the Pacific for multinational exercises.
One of his tours while he was a Major was with the On-site Inspection Agency (which is now the Defense Threat Reduction Agency). After the fall of the Soviet Union, his teams conducted numerous inspections for weapons treaties.
“I went to Moscow; I went to Belarus; I spent weeks and weeks in Ukraine, living in a safe house. And so we had the opportunity to go through the entire Soviet Union during that process.”
Another public affairs tour found him in the Pentagon, with the Office of Chief of Army Public Affairs, and had several tours through the Pentagon and related agencies for another 12 years until his mandatory retirement.
Civilian Public Affairs
Not long after his first retirement, in 2014, Richard couldn’t resist an opportunity to drive Garrison Public Affairs on Fort Belvoir, noting his love for command messaging.
“Not to be cliché, but the garrison is the tip of the spear, as they say, because you do everything here. This is like a true community, especially Fort Belvoir. It's much more multi-service than it is Army,” said Richard. “Frankly, it was like being in the Army again. I saw an opportunity to continue to serve. For me, service is important.”
Explaining that every day brings a fresh challenge to the job, he admitted there is the element of excitement.
“What I find exciting about public affairs is being able to cut through the noise, and get right to the signal: ‘here are the facts, as I understand them.’ There’s also a sense of satisfaction, when you’re able to control the message,” he said.
Now, Richard said it’s time for him and his wife, Jane, to spend time with family.
“I’ve got five grandkids who are waiting for me to retire so I can start taking them places,” adding it’s a chance to spend some extended time on his house on the Potomac, in St. Mary’s County, Maryland.
When he was hired in 2014 for his final career, the deputy commander asked him how long he expected to stay on the job.
“I told him, ‘I think I have one good decade left in me – and I almost made it.”
Fort Belvoir Public Affairs