Three-star Army General with Hawai‘i Roots is Leading the Charge

Headshot photo of Lt. Gen. Paul Nakasone
“I became interested in the military when I was in high school and started learning about the 442nd (Regimental Combat Team).” — Lt. Gen. Paul

Gregg K. Kakesako
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald

Gregg Kakesako worked for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Gannett News Service and the Honolulu Star-Advertiser for more than four decades as a government, political and military affairs reporter and assistant city editor.

In her working days, Lt. Gen. Paul Nakasone’s grandmother cooked and cleaned as a live-in maid for several Army officers at Wheeler Army Airfield and Schofield Barracks. Today, nearly a century later, Nakasone is one of the U.S. Army’s top officers, leading the national charge to prevent “a cyber Pearl Harbor” — in other words, a malicious attack on the Army’s computer systems.

The 53-year-old sansei assumed command of U.S. Army’s Cyber Command and Second Army last October at Fort Belvoir in Virginia, where he also received his third star. The Army Cyber Command is the Army’s headquarters within the United States Cyber Command. While the FBI is charged with protecting civilian networks and infrastructure, the job of the Army Cyber Command is to defend the Department of Defense Information Network. Nakasone is responsible for overseeing the defense and protection of the Army’s data, networks and information systems.

A 1995 family photo of Mary and Edwin “Bud” Nakasone with their two sons, Paul (standing between them) and John behind Paul. (Photos courtesy Lt. Gen. Paul Nakasone)
A 1995 family photo of Mary and Edwin “Bud” Nakasone with their two sons, Paul (standing between them) and John behind Paul. (Photos courtesy Lt. Gen. Paul Nakasone)

According to a survey by the Japanese American Veterans Association, Paul Nakasone is one of 46 Japanese Americans who have been promoted to generals or admirals. Three have obtained four-star-ranking: Army Gen. John Campbell, who served as the commander of U.S. Forces – Afghanistan; Gen. Eric Shinseki, U.S. Army chief of staff from 1999 to 2003 and secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs from 2009 to 2014; and Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., who heads the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Command.


Nakasone, whose Army career spans more than three decades, said the biggest threat today are “nation-state actors that are looking for ways to get into our networks to steal our data or to impact our operations. We do everything on our network — our operations, our logistics and our defensive support,” he said. “If we don’t have confidence in our network, we can’t accomplish our mission.”

“We see threats ranging from nation-state actors, unaffiliated terrorists groups that operate in cyberspace and independent criminal actors,” Nakasone said of the cyber threats facing America. “Their attempted actions range from penetration of Army networks to degrading and destroying our critical data assets to disrupting our ability to conduct reliable command and control in battle. To defend against these threats requires unfailing defense of our networks, systems and weapons platforms,” the general said.

“We must also ensure integrity and safeguarding of data that we consider valuable, things like personnel information and mission-critical data for our weapons and transport systems.” Nakasone said the Army must also “protect the ability for our soldiers to reliably coordinate and communicate with each other and our command centers, especially in remote combat situations.”

According to Nakasone, a major security breach in 2008 involving a thumb drive — that portable computer data disc that is literally the size of a human thumb — led to the establishment of the U.S. Cyber Command.

Nakasone was stationed at Fort Meade in Maryland at the time. He helped to design the joint U.S. Cyber Command, which is responsible for protecting Department of Defense networks, defending the nation in cyberspace and providing the cyber support to fight ISIS.

Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Daniel Allyn told an Association of U.S. Army conference last year that when cyber was established as a career branch in 2015 — one of 27 — there were only six officers. Today, it has grown to 530 officers, 270 warrant officers and 1,400 noncommissioned officers. It was the first career branch established by the Army since the Special Forces branch 30 years ago. The Army’s cyber training school was established at Fort Gordon, Ga., a year later to train soldiers in cyberspace and electronic warfare skills. Every year, the school graduates about 500 students who have undergone 37 weeks of classroom training. The Army school will be doubling its number of graduates this year.

Nakasone and his family — his wife Susan and their four children — returned to the Virginia Army base where he was deputy commanding general for operations at U.S. Army Cyber Command prior to leaving nearly three years ago to command the Cyber National Mission Force.

Speaking at his October 2016 change of command ceremony, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, the highest-ranking uniformed Army leader, said Nakasone had been appointed to head the three-year-old Army command which is at the forefront of the nation’s effort to prevent a “cyber Pearl Harbor.”

In an Army Times report last year, Milley was quoted as saying, “Army Cyber is racing the clock literally every day to stay ahead of adversaries in cyberspace.”

“The first shots of the next actual war will likely be fired in cyberspace and likely with devastating effect,” Milley said at the event. “Many analysts and senior government officials have said their greatest fear is a cyber Pearl Harbor . . . . We never want to see that day happen again.”

Today, Nakasone commands about 19,000 men and women — 9,000 soldiers and 10,000 civilian employees and contractors — spread across four states: Virginia, Maryland, Georgia and Arizona. Each locale has its own specific responsibilities.

Also under his command are five regional cyber centers: two in the U.S. — in Hawai‘i and Texas, and in South Korea, Kuwait and Germany. Hawai‘i’s cyber center is based at Schofield Barracks, where 100 soldiers, civilians and contractors provide cyber support to 50,000 soldiers and civilians in Hawai‘i, Alaska, Japan and Guam.


In the audience at the Fort Belvoir ceremony were the general’s parents, Edwin and Mary Nakasone. Edwin “Bud” Nakasone was 14 years old when Pearl Harbor and other military installations on Oahu were attacked on Dec. 7, 1941. Bud Nakasone was eating breakfast in the kitchen of his family’s Wahiawä home when he saw Japanese zeroes through the screen door.

“I saw the planes coming through Kolekole Pass and then come down and strafe Schofield Barracks,” said the now-89-year-old Nakasone by phone from his home in St. Paul, Minn., where he has lived since graduating from the University of Minnesota. He saw blasts from bombs that were dropped on Wheeler Airfield.

Nakasone he said he saw “the big red ‘meatball’” as it flew over his house. “The cockpit of the plane was open and the pilot had goggles and a white scarf and I realized we were at war.”

Bud Nakasone expanded on his Dec. 7, 1941, recollections in a book he published in 2012 titled “Nisei Solder.”

In August 1945, he was drafted into the Army just before the war ended. He passed a Japanese proficiency test at Schofield Barracks and, by Christmas, was attending Military Intelligence Service Language School at Fort Snelling in Minnesota. He served as an interpreter during the postwar Allied occupation of Japan. Nakasone later transferred to the Army Reserve and retired as a colonel with 41 years of service.

A lifelong student of history, Nakasone made his living as a high school teacher and professor at Century College in White Bear Lake in Minnesota for more than 20 years. Besides “Nisei Soldier,” he also authored “Japanese Americans of Minnesota.”

A long history of military service to America runs through the Nakasone family. Besides the general’s father, his late uncle, retired Air Force Master Sgt. Edgar Nakasone, served for 20 years, including a combat tour in South Vietnam. Another uncle, the late James Iha, former principal of Leilehua High School in Wahiawä, retired as a colonel in the Hawai‘i Army National Guard.

“I became interested in the military when I was in high school and started learning about the 442nd (Regimental Combat Team),” said Nakasone, who was born in White Bear, Minn. “I did a paper on it and interviewed lots of the veterans in 1981 . . . . that got me interested in serving and that led to ROTC.”

He was also drawn to the ROTC program in college as a result of his father’s World War II service in the Military Intelligence Service and his subsequent career in the Army Reserve.

After four years of active duty, Paul Nakasone decided to continue on in the Army. “I liked what I did and I found out that I was pretty good in what I did. I decided to stay around, and here I am 31 years later,” he said.

After graduating from the Army ROTC program at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minn., in 1986, Nakasone was stationed at Fort Carson in Colorado, then Fort Gordon in Georgia and Fort Huachuca in Arizona. He also served two tours, a total of six years, in South Korea.

His military education included graduation from the U.S. Army War College, the Command and General Staff College and the Defense Intelligence College. Additionally, Nakasone holds graduate degrees from the U.S. Army War College, the National Defense Intelligence College and the University of Southern California.

Nakasone served deployments South Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan and has been a commander at both the company and battalion levels and also served as the senior intelligence officer at the battalion, division and corps levels. He has amassed an impressive collection of awards and decorations in his military career, including the Distinguished Service Medal, the Defense Superior Service Medal (with three oak leaf clusters), Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, Defense Meritorious Service Medal (with oak leaf cluster), Army Commendation Medal, Joint Service Achievement Medal (with oak leaf cluster), Army Achievement Medal (with four oak leaf clusters) and the Joint Chiefs of Staff Identification Badge, among many others.

The general stays fit by running every morning and his aides describe him as “a voracious golfer.” He is also a diehard Minnesota sports fan who loves ice hockey, especially the Minnesota Wild professional ice hockey team.


Gen. Nakasone’s paternal grandmother, Ushii (Shimabukuro) Nakasone, immigrated to Hawai‘i as a picture bride. She is among the 16 picture brides whose stories author/researcher Barbara F. Kawakami included in her latest book, “Picture Bride Stories,” which was published last year by University of Hawai‘i Press.

Ushii Nakasone arrived in Hawai‘i from Okinawa in 1914 at the age of 18 to become the picture bride of Matsukichi Nakasone. She was among the more than 20,000 “picture brides” who immigrated to Hawai‘i from Japan, Okinawa and South Korea between 1908 and 1924 to marry men whom they knew only through the exchange of photographs and letters. Ushii Nakasone told Kawakami that she worked for more than 20 years as domestic, starting as a live-in maid for an Army lieutenant to supplement her husband’s earnings as a farmer even though she could not speak English.


The general recalled spending many a Christmas holiday with his family in Hawai‘i. “I have a wonderful ‘ohana there,” he said. He fondly recalls his Uncle Jimmy Iha taking him to see the Hawaii Islanders, a semiprofessional baseball team, in action at the old “Termite Palace” (Honolulu Stadium) and eating saimin in the stands.

And although he never actually spent more than a few weeks of summer or winter vacation in Hawai‘i in his youth, he developed a taste for Island snacks, thanks to care packages from his ‘ohana in Hawai‘i.

“I would get omiyage with Li Hing Mui and wet seed and things like Diamond [Bakery] Soda Crackers, which I would crave. When I was in Afghanistan, my aunts and uncles would always send me those.”

Even after having traveled around the world and despite never having lived in the Islands, Nakasone calls Hawai‘i “my second home.”

“Of all the places I have been to around the world, either for work or vacationing, none compares to Hawai‘i and the aloha spirit,” he said.

“The one thing that never changes is my enjoyment of visiting family in Hawai‘i,” he said. “I have wonderful memories . . .”

Gregg Kakesako worked for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Gannett News Service and the Honolulu Star-Advertiser for more than four decades as a government, political and military affairs reporter and assistant city editor.


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