Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence: Who Is Joseph D. Kernan?

Wednesday, August 09, 2017
Joseph D. Kernan

President Donald Trump’s love affair with military officers appears to show no sign of abating. On July 17, 2017, he nominated Joseph D. Kernan, a retired Navy vice admiral, to be under secretary of defense for intelligence, a position that was established in 2003. Kernan is the fifth man to occupy this office. Although it is considered a civilian post, he is the third with a military background.


Kernan was born February 4, 1955, at Travis Air Force Base, California, where his father was an Air Force pilot and his mother a nurse. Kernan went to the U.S. Naval Academy, where he was a swimmer and held the school record in the 50-yard freestyle for a time. He graduated in 1977 with a B.S. in operations research. He later earned an M.S. in resource management from National Defense University in 1997.


Kernan began his career in surface ships, serving as an engineering officer in the guided missile cruiser USS Horne and the frigate USS Downes. He moved over to the SEALs in 1981 and led units of Underwater Demolition Team 12, SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team 1 and SEAL Team 5. By 1994, he was commander of SEAL Team 2 and in June 1999 was named to head the Naval Special Warfare Development Group (SEAL Team 6), a position he held until August 2003.


In March 2002, he took part in the Battle of Takur Ghar (Battle of Roberts Ridge) against al-Qaeda forces in Afghanistan, which gained a reputation as one of the most difficult of the post-9/11 era and the largest battle fought by the U.S. military in more than a decade.


While serving as branch head of Naval Special Warfare Branch, N751, in Washington, D.C., in 2004 he was promoted from captain to rear admiral and given the post of director of Operations at the Center for Special Operations at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida.


In 2006, he was made deputy commander of Naval Special Warfare Command in Coronado, California, the first admiral to hold the post.


Kernan continued to work his way up and in 2007 was promoted to rear admiral and in June took over as commander of Naval Special Warfare Command, in charge of the SEAL teams and other associated units.


Kernan returned to his roots as a surface warfare officer in July 2008 when he was given command of the reestablished U.S. 4th Fleet, responsible for operations in Central and South America and the Caribbean. Kernan was the first SEAL to be given command of a numbered fleet. Much of the 4th Fleet’s responsibilities centered around interdiction of drug trafficking but it also provided relief supplies to Haiti in after Hurricane Ike.


In May 2009, Kernan was promoted to vice admiral and then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates made Kernan his senior military assistant. Two years later, he was named deputy commander of the U.S. Southern Command, which oversees all U.S. military operations in Central and South America and the Caribbean from Miami.


Kernan retired from the Navy in August 2013 and joined software giant SAP as senior vice president of corporate development for the company’s National Security Services unit. In addition, Kernan headed up NS2 Serves, an SAP program that provides training and employment assistance for veterans.


Kernan and his wife, Janet, a real estate agent, split their time between Florida and Virginia, where they own a vineyard. They have two children: Sean and Shannon.

-Steve Straehley, David Wallechinsky


To Learn More:

Joseph Kernan (Wikipedia)

Kernan Becomes Military Deputy Commander of SOUTHCOM; Keen Heads to Pakistan (U.S. Southern Command)


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