7 Facts About the Navy Reserve

By Danielle DeSimone

Since its establishment in 1915, the United States Navy Reserve has been providing the U.S. Navy with the operational capabilities needed to successfully carry out its mission of maintaining freedom of the seas both at home and abroad.

With more than 59,000 reservists in its ranks, this reserve arm of one of the largest navies in the world has been involved in almost every global conflict that the U.S. has engaged with over the past century – and it continues to do so today.

Here are a few facts about the U.S. Navy Reserve:

1. The U.S. Naval Reserve – Renamed the U.S. Navy Reserve in 2005 – Was Officially Established on March 3, 1915.

The Reserve was created in anticipation of the U.S.’ impending involvement in World War I. Once the nation declared war on Germany two years later, its approximately 8,000 reservists were quickly put to work, many of them tasked with hunting German U-boats. By the end of WWI, the Navy Reserve had grown to nearly 250,000 reservists and made up 54% of the American naval force at that time.

Photo credit National Archives and Records Administration

Reservists are trained in a boat drill at Naval Training Station Wissahickon Barracks in Cap May, New Jersey, in 1918

2. “Citizen Sailors” Have Been Serving Since the Revolutionary War.

While the Navy Reserve was not founded until the 20th century, unofficial seafaring forces have supported U.S. naval efforts since the 1700s. During the Revolutionary War, tens of thousands of patriotic private citizens were provided with a “Letter of Marque,” which authorized American merchant ships to disrupt the paths of British ships and harass them.

Photo credit U.S. Naval Academy

An engraving shows the British Royal Navy vessel Brigg Observer engaging with the American privateer ship Jack in May 1782, off the harbor of Hallifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.

Technically, these “citizen sailors” (or rather, privateers) were not a part of the Continental Navy, but because they served as a supportive force to the Navy’s efforts during the war, the Navy Reserve today unofficially considers these bold revolutionaries to be their forbearers.

3. The Navy Reserve Played a Major Role in World War II.

A pilot in the Navy Reserve stands beside a Navy trainer plane in 1944. | Photo credit National Archives and Records Administration

With the onset of World War II, there was an unprecedented need for fighting forces, with approximately 16 million Americans serving in the war. Under such dire circumstances, literally millions of men and women answered the call to serve and joined the Navy Reserve, with the force’s numbers swelling to 3 million strong by 1945, making up 84% of the Navy at that time.

4. Enlistees Go to the Navy’s Only Bootcamp.

Eligible enlistees in the Navy Reserve must all complete their basic training at the U.S. Navy’s only bootcamp: Recruit Training Command (RTC) in Great Lakes, Illinois. Along with active-duty Navy enlisted recruits, the RTC graduates approximately 40,000 recruits each year. These recruits can also take advantage of the USO Naval Station Great Lakes Center at RTC, which supports service members from the moment they arrive to the moment they head off to their first duty station.

5. The Navy Reserve Has Had Some Notable Reservists in its Ranks.

Before he was president, John F. Kennedy was a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Reserve. He served during World War II and received several honors for his brave actions in the Pacific. | Photo credit National Park Service

Over the course of its over 100-year history, the Navy Reserve has had several notable reservists in its ranks, including five future presidents of the United States (John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush), fifteen Medal of Honor recipients and even the late Bob Barker, longtime gameshow host of “The Price is Right.”

6. The Navy Reserve Paved the Way For Diversity in the Armed Forces.

Despite being initially discouraged from applying for the Navy’s aviation program, Ens. Jesse L. Brown made history in 1946 when he joined the Navy Reserve and became the first African American to complete U.S. Navy aviation flight training. Sadly, Brown was also the first African American naval aviator to be killed in combat, when his plane was hit while he was serving in Korea. Brown was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal and the Purple Heart. The USS Jesse L. Brown Knox-class frigate was also named in his honor.

Photo credit U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command

Ens. Jesse L. Brown in the cockpit of an F4U-4 Corsair fighter, circa 1950.

7. The Navy Reserve Has Recently Been Called Upon in Large Numbers.

More than 70,000 Navy reservists have been mobilized in support of the Global War on Terror since Sept. 11, 2001. Reservists also stepped up to support their communities and front-line medical staff iduring the COVID-19 pandemic.

-This story was originally published on USO.org in 2021. It has been updated in 2022.

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