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ARPC remembers its first African-American commander

Col. Joseph C. Ramsey was the first and only African-American commander of the Air Reserve Personnel Center when it was previously located at the former Lowry Air Force Base, Colorado. He served as the 21st ARPC commander from May 16, 1987 until Aug. 23, 1991. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)

Col. Joseph C. Ramsey was the first and only African-American commander of the Air Reserve Personnel Center when it was previously located at the former Lowry Air Force Base, Colorado. He served as the 21st ARPC commander from May 16, 1987 until Aug. 23, 1991. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)

Col. Joseph C. Ramsey presents a certificate to Margaretta “Gretta” Burroughs in an undated photo. Ramsey was the first and only African-American commander at the Air Reserve Personnel Center when it was previously located at the former Lowry Air Force Base, Colorado. He served as the 21st ARPC commander from May 16, 1987 until Aug. 23, 1991. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)

Col. Joseph C. Ramsey presents a certificate to Margaretta “Gretta” Burroughs in an undated photo. Ramsey was the first and only African-American commander at the Air Reserve Personnel Center when it was previously located at the former Lowry Air Force Base, Colorado. He served as the 21st ARPC commander from May 16, 1987 until Aug. 23, 1991. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)

Col. Joseph C. Ramsey was the first and only African-American commander of the Air Reserve Personnel Center when it was previously located at the former Lowry Air Force Base, Colorado. He served as the 21st ARPC commander from May 16, 1987 until Aug. 23, 1991. Since retiring from the Air Force, Ramsey has done management consulting in Europe, Africa and the Middle East in service of his clients. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)

Col. Joseph C. Ramsey was the first and only African-American commander of the Air Reserve Personnel Center when it was previously located at the former Lowry Air Force Base, Colorado. He served as the 21st ARPC commander from May 16, 1987 until Aug. 23, 1991. Since retiring from the Air Force, Ramsey has done management consulting in Europe, Africa and the Middle East in service of his clients. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Mikhail Gorbachev were three leading names of the 1980s. Another great leader made headlines in the U.S. Air Force Reserve May 16, 1987, when the Air Reserve Personnel Center welcomed an African-American as their commander.

Col. Joseph C. Ramsey was the first and only African-American commander of ARPC when it was previously located at the former Lowry Air Force Base, Colorado. He served as the 21st ARPC commander until Aug. 23, 1991.

He described what it meant to him to be ARPC's first and only black commander.

"Frankly, I've never given that idea much thought. It was a high honor for me just to command that outstanding organization, and I'm sure I approached that challenge in the same way as all other ARPC commanders have," he said. "Nevertheless, I suspect that my experience has significance for some, and if my example can somehow be used to inspire others, then my time at ARPC is something worth noting."

He was inspired by a number of people throughout his life. However, he considers his parents, Joe and Alma Ramsey, to be his most important inspiration.

"They both lived their faith through their good works, charity and ever-ready willingness to help others. In every place where we lived, they were lauded as pillars of the community, and I grew up wanting to be just like them."

He said the thing he liked the most about his Air Force career was the ability to make things better.

"I liked to improve things in terms of mission capability, the organization and the welfare and morale of the people who did the work. That's probably the reason I stayed in the Air Force as long as I did," he said. "I once told my wife, Amanda, we'd only stay until we didn't enjoy it anymore. That ended up being another 23 years - retiring at the pinnacle of my career and still enjoying every minute of it."

His leadership philosophy at ARPC evolved over his career, and was born of many lessons learned.

"My philosophy included the imperative to remove obstacles - regulatory, procedural, traditional or otherwise. Add to that the need to constantly look for ways to improve work procedures and systems technologies," he said. "I recognized early on one area of weakness at ARPC was the preparation of first-line supervisors for their duties managing people and programs. Too many of these new supervisors arrived on the job with little or no previous supervisory or management experience and had to muddle through the best they could."

To correct the deficiency, his staff - in collaboration with Aurora Community College - developed a series of supervisory training courses for first-line and mid-level supervisors.

"I am convinced that ARPC's singularly successful call-up of Air Force reservists and guardsmen for Desert Storm in 1990 was in large measure attributable to supervisory improvements growing out of those training courses," he said.

Margaretta "Gretta" Burroughs, ARPC accountability officer and contracting officer representative, remembers Ramsey fondly.

"He was a man with integrity. His word was sound and he showed the people of ARPC that he cared about them," she said. "He didn't let there be any difference in civilian or military - we were all equal. We all had the same value and purpose to serve and be leaders."

Burroughs, who has worked at ARPC more than 27 years, said Ramsey helped direct ARPC in the direction for the future.

"He brought hope and great change to the people here and introduced a program of empowerment to all of ARPC," she said. "He was the commander who eliminated the old rotary phones when he was able to get the phone system upgraded to the push button system."

Although there was resistance from some leaders who didn't support empowerment for the people at ARPC, she described the significance to having Ramsey as the first black commander at the center.

"It was a great joy for me. I was excited. This meant we had a chance to see a man of color be in charge as well as lead an organization like ARPC," she said. "People here could see he was trying to bring new and positive changes to help improve us, and have ARPC grow future leaders and better opportunities."

Burroughs said Ramsey's smile was infectious, and he knew all his employees' names.

"He walked around, spoke to people maybe two or three times weekly," she said. "He always asked how things were going in our section, or if we had any new ideas to help improve the mission, and asked if there was something he could help us with."

Along with giving people tools for empowerment, Burroughs remembered the colonel felt education and training were key to the success of ARPC. She said his advice to her was to do her best.

"He executed leadership for all people civilian and military to be a team," she said. "He strived to make everyone equal, and bring ARPC to the level of excellence with success."

Ramsey said most of his big challenges during his Air Force career were ones where he felt it was important to push for changes that were constrained by existing regulations or policies or were adamantly opposed by his superiors.

"After the Gulf War in 1991, the Air Force directed a manpower reduction in all organizations - no exceptions. As the regular Air Force experienced the normal drawdown in operations following a war, the opposite was true for ARPC," he recalled. "Despite the 'no-exceptions' mandate, we decided to fight any cuts. The ARPC staff put together a briefing that made our case so convincing the chief of the Air Force Reserve had me brief it to the Air Force chief of staff who approved our exemption on the spot. To my knowledge, ARPC was the only AF organization to receive an exemption of that force reduction directive."

When it comes to what he remembers the most about being assigned to ARPC, he said he was proud to command and work alongside the great people who make it special.

"ARPC has been blessed with the finest, most dedicated and hardworking group of folks I've ever encountered in one place," he said. "I think it is the unique culture and personnel classification structure at ARPC that serves to imbue the ARPC family with its extraordinary cohesiveness, its strong work ethic and its dogged pursuit of excellence."

An example of just how much the people of ARPC still care for him occurred less than two years ago.

"Amanda and I were overwhelmed by the outpouring of support we received from dozens of ARPC old-timers after the loss of our son Joey in late 2013," he said. "To be remembered in such sincere and heart-warming fashion - 20 whole years after I left ARPC - simply confirmed something we already knew: that ARPCers are a very special bunch, indeed. We thank you from the bottoms of our hearts."

Since retiring from the Air Force, Ramsey has done management consulting in Europe, Africa and the Middle East in service of his clients. He said he has been enjoying home life in Fort Washington, Maryland, where he and his wife recently celebrated their 49th wedding anniversary.

In his spare time, he loves photography, chess and reading books.

He received his commission through the Air Force Reserve Officers Training Corps upon his graduation in 1964 from Butler University, Indianapolis, Indiana. He was a distinguished graduate at both Squadron Officers School in 1971 and Air Command and Staff College in 1979. While at ACSC, he earned a master's in public administration from Auburn University, Montgomery, Alabama. He also graduated from the Industrial College of the Armed Forces in 1985.

Before arriving at ARPC, Ramsey held several positions: education and training officer, joint processing unit chief, foreign training branch chief, student detachment commander, military assistance program training officer and office of the assistant chief of staff for officer commissioning and management director, among others.

As ARPC commander, Ramsey was responsible for the center's primary mission of mobilization to provide personnel support and administrative capability to ensure Air Reserve forces were a prepared, available resource in the event of a national emergency.

Ramsey's military decorations include the Legion of Merit with two oak leaf clusters, the Meritorious Service Medal with three oak leaf clusters and the Joint Service Commendation Medal. He retired from the Air Force in 1991 after 26.5 years of service.