Joe R. Reeder was born on November 28, 1947 in Tacoma, Washington. After high school, he attended the United States Military Academy, graduating in 1970.
After graduating, Reeder joined the United States Army. He attended airborne, ranger, and artillery basic schools 1971-72 and then served in the 82nd Airborne Division 1972-73, ultimately attaining the rank of major.
In 1972, Reeder entered the University of Texas School of Law, graduating with a J.D. in 1975. He then spent a year clerking in a United States district court in Texas. He joined the Judge Advocate General's Corps, United States Army in 1976. Following the passage of the Contract Disputes Act of 1978, he spent a year with the Army's Contract Appeals division.
Reeder joined the Washington, D.C. law firm of Patton Boggs in 1979. He spent 1980-81 at the Georgetown University Law Center, receiving an LL.M. in 1981.
In 1993, President of the United States Bill Clinton nominated Reeder as United States Under Secretary of the Army and Reeder subsequently held this office from November 24, 1993 to November 12, 1997. As Under Secretary, he was responsible for long-range planning, material requirements, readiness, acquisition reform, infrastructure reduction, and financial management of the United States Army. He also oversaw the Army's international affairs, especially those related to NATO, Panama, and Latin America; among other things, he served as Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Panama Canal Commission. He was also one of five members of the United States Department of Defense's Base Realignment and Closure Council. He became a member of the American Law Institute in 1994.
Upon leaving the United States Department of the Army in 1997, Reeder returned to Patton Boggs for two years, and then moved to Greenberg Traurig in 1999.
In addition to work as a lawyer, Reeder has been active on the Board of Governors of the National Defense Industrial Association, the Armed Services YMCA, the United Service Organizations, and other corporate and charitable boards. Since 2009, Reeder has been the Chair of the board of the Peace Research Endowment, a charitable entity incorporated in 2009 New York by Peace Research Institute Oslo.