Traveling to Pensacola for the Flag Officer’s Symposium the week of May 5 served as a homecoming of sorts for Adm. Harry B. Harris, Jr., U.S. Pacific Fleet commander. Although born in Japan, Harris grew up in Tennessee and graduated high school in Pensacola.
Harris attended the Helicopter Training Squadron EIGHT change of command ceremony at NAS Whiting Field Friday, May 9 while in the area, and it served as a prime opportunity to express appreciation for not only the outgoing officer – Cmdr. Matthew Bowen with whom he had worked previously, but also the squadron as a whole.
“He’s a leader who empowers the team to do the work, supports them as they get the job done, and the results speak for themselves, the success of his command is a testament to each of you, to your professionalism, your teamwork…and to his leadership,” Harris stated emphatically.
As the officer responsible for the Navy’s rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region, Harris has an eye on the high demands placed on Sailors, and he expressed his appreciation toward the families in the audience during the ceremony.
“Our Nation draws its strength from those who served before us, and will draw its strength from those who will serve after us - an unbroken chain linking Americans generation to generation,” he said. “Our strength also comes from loyal citizens and patriots who are aware of the challenges, opportunities, and dangers we face around the world. Your Navy is in high demand, literally everywhere. Our operating tempo is as high as I’ve seen in my 36 years in the Navy. But our mission – to protect and defend America on the high seas – is juice worth the squeeze. And we’re grateful for people like you who support us, who make us what we are today - the world’s strongest force for stability and peace, a global force for good.”
Coming from a military family, Harris cites his father as the “biggest influence” in his life. The son of a Chief Petty Officer who married a Japanese woman, Harris’ father retired when he was two and settled in his home state. The family moved to Pensacola years later, and those years formed the foundation and inspiration for his entry into naval service. This included viewing the Blue Angels for the first time instilling a desire to fly into the youth.
However, another Pensacola resident fueled his drive to become an officer as opposed to enlisted man his father preferred. Air Force General Daniel “Chappie” James, the first African-American four-star general visited Harris’ school and left a profound impact on the future officer.
“He told us that if ‘I can become a general officer, you can too.’ My inspiration is Chappie James. He is probably why I am where I am today,” Harris said.
Graduating from Booker T. Washington High School in 1974 was just a stepping stone for the young Harris. He followed it with four years at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis and a quick trip back to his stomping grounds for Naval Flight Officer Training at NAS Pensacola. In the intervening 36 years, Harris served tours with VP-44, VP-4, Patrol and Reconnaissance Wing 1, USS Saratoga (CV-60), U.S. 5th Fleet and U.S. Southern Command as well as commanding VP-46, Patrol and Reconnaissance Wing 1, Joint Task Force Guantanamo, U.S. 6th Fleet and Striking and Support Forces NATO.
These tours have encompassed some of the most challenging and politically sensitive events of the past 40 years including actions involving the 1985 S.S. Achille Lauro terrorist hijacking incident, Operation Willing Spirit – a Colombia hostage rescue, and Odyssey Dawn which implemented a no-fly zone over Libya during that country’s civil war in 2011. Additionally, with more than 400 combat flight hours, Harris is a tested veteran from Desert Shield/Desert Storm, Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom and more.
Harris has had a dynamic career thus far, and his visit to the base brought a significant impact to the Training Air Wing FIVE team.
“We are very honored for Admiral Harris to spend so much of his valuable time at the Change of Command ceremony and also meeting many of our students and instructors following the ceremony,” Training Air Wing FIVE Deputy Commodore Col. Gary Kling stated. “As one of our nation's foremost strategic thinkers and senior naval leaders his comments and presence reflected a heartfelt and penetrating insight into the significance of our mission, the greater mission of all Naval forces, and the importance of taking care of our people.”