BLACK HISTORY MONTH FEATURE: LT Jon Harris ('05)

Once again, as the calendar turns to February, we have a chance to look back and reflect as we celebrate Black History Month. In doing this, we will catch up with a pair of former Coast Guard student-athletes who distinguished themselves while at the Academy and have continued to do so upon seeking a military career following commencement. This is the first of two articles in which their success will be highlighted.

Lieutenant Jon Harris, a 2005 high honors graduate of the Academy, earned his degree in Operations Research and Computer Analysis and is currently an assistant track coach at the Academy in addition to serving as the Delta Company Officer at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, supervising the professional development of 120 cadets. In addition to his bachelor’s degree, LT Harris began studying – in June 2009 – in the Academy Company Officer Leadership Studies advancement. After the Coast Guard selected him for graduate education, he applied to the Eisenhower Leadership Development Program at the U.S. Military Academy, and as a result he was able to earn a Master's of Arts in Social Organizational Psychology from the Teachers' College of Columbia University in May 2010. 

LT Harris credits his time as a cadet with helping him immensely both with his job and developing his leader ship abilities. He especially cites his cadet career as a major factor in preparing him for the role as company officer as it provided a baseline of knowledge and experiences that help him to make decisions on a day to day basis, but also had the following to say:

“However, I find that it is foolish for me to compare my experiences as a cadet to those of the cadets that are here today. Today's cadets face substantially more distractions than my peers and I faced nearly a decade ago with the tremendous proliferation of social networking and personal electronic devices calling for their attention 24x7.”

While the Coast Guard provides opportunities to develop proficiency in four leadership competencies (Leading Self, Leading Others, Leading Performance and Change, and Leading the Coast Guard), it remains up to the individual cadets to fully develop these abilities, especially Leading Self and Others.

“Starting from the first day of swab summer and continuing every single day since, whether I was in or out of uniform, I have had to make decisions with consequences that impact more than just myself … The Academy forces you to become much more self aware. If you do not quickly figure out what other people know about you that you do not already know about yourself, you will be well behind the eight ball in this system.”

Following his commencement, he reported to USCCG VALIANT (WMEC 621), homeported in Miami Beach, FL, fulfilling the primary duty as a Deck Watch Officer, while also fulfilling numerous other duties. One of those other duties was the successful coordination and managing the safe interdiction, care, and transfer of 1,700 migrants that illegally attempted to enter the United States.

Upon conclusion of his service with VALIANT, LT Harris also served as Commanding Officer of USCGC PIKE (WPB 87365), out of San Francisco, CA. His roles there included maritime law enforcement, search and rescue, and homeland security missions in the Eleventh Coast Guard District. In addition to all of this, he also remained actively engaged with the admissions and nomination process for all five military service academies.

While proud of all of his personal and professional accomplishments, LT Harris counts taking over the role as an assistant coach for the middle-distance runners in 2010 from former coach and mentor, LT Eric Brooks, among his proudest.

He experienced many facets of cadet life. LT Harris was a member of the Track and Field teams all four years that he was enrolled and served as a team captain as a senior, winning all-New England honors six times across his sophomore, junior, and senior seasons, both as an individual in the 400 meter and as a member of the 4x400 relay team. In addition to the rigors of standard cadet life and his involvement with both the Indoor and Outdoor Track & Field teams, LT Harris also served as the Alfa Company Commander during the first semester of his senior year.

Despite all of his success, it’s not as though the journey for LT Harris hasn’t come without obstacles:

“My most significant obstacle as a cadet occurred when I was a sophomore; I veered off the worn path and was given some well deserved punishment for violating the cadet regulations… Fortunately, there was a strong group of African-American upperclass cadets around that were looking out for the welfare of the underclass cadets.”

The success and accomplishment of LT Harris’ track career almost failed to come to fruition, however, as he didn’t join the team until part-way through his sophomore year. Of this he says, “one of my cadre, then-Cadet Eric Brooks, saw me in the passageway one afternoon and asked me what I was doing for athletics. I told him that I was doing intercompany sports. He asked me about my PFE scores, then told me that the track team was looking for more middle-distance runners and that he would see me at practice the next day at 1600. I came to practice, and the rest is history.”

Ever the humble and honest leader, LT Harris has found that what has highlighted for him are when people with whom he’s worked have found success. Among the accomplishments that he highlighted were the successes of two African-Americans who served under him on board the CGC VALIANT. Seaman Kevin Reed was accepted to Harvard University, who credited the Coast Guard with giving him the opportunities needed to head down that path. Then-Petty Officer Jerome Brown was also accepted into Officer Candidate School due, in part, to the help afforded to him by LT Harris, and has now attained the rank of Lieutenant as well, serving in the Prevention Department at Sector Jacksonville.

Black History Month holds exceptional significance to LT Harris. He has called it “an important reminder to take a few moments to remember and be grateful for the sacrifices that past generations have made to allow us to have the society that we enjoy today,” and believes that those sacrifices have given today’s generation “an opportunity to magnify the legacy of those that have come before us.”

If you would like to read the interview with LT Jon Harris in full, please click the link below:

Complete Q&A with LT Jon Harris

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