1. Could you talk about your job at the Academy? What’s it that you do and how did your time as a cadet help you to prepare for that career?
I am currently assigned as the Delta Company Officer within the Commandant of Cadets Division at the Coast Guard Academy. This role charges me with overseeing the professional development of cadets on a day to day basis, with a strong emphasis on the basic skills of officership and professionalism. There are 120 cadets in Delta Company from all four class years, and I play an important role in evaluating, providing feedback, counseling, and providing resources to those cadets as they navigate the challenges of Academy life. The most important aspect of my job is helping the cadets to make positive strides towards attaining their goal of becoming junior officers that will succeed in the Coast Guard upon graduation. I must stress to you that those interventions with cadets might not always be what a cadets wants to hear at the moment, but we have to push our cadets to the limits of their capability to grow. I am not doing my job well if a cadet spends four years here but was never challenged to step outside of his or her comfort zone. I can help facilitate that through one-on-one and group discussions with cadets, special project assignments, probationary measures, cadet collateral duty assignments, or assignment to leadership roles within the Cadet Chain of Command.
My cadet career was certainly a factor in preparing me for the role as a company officer because it provided a baseline of knowledge and experiences that help me make decisions on a day to day basis. 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.
2. Would you be able to return a resume, either in full or just highlighting of, what you feel, are your greatest achievements personally and/or professionally?
Lieutenant Jonathan Harris was born and raised in Fort Wayne, Indiana and attended Wayne High School. There he earned an Indiana Academic Honors Diploma in May 2001 before reporting to the United States Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut.
While at the Academy, Lieutenant Harris ran with the middle distance squad and was a team captain on the Track Team. He also served as the Alfa Company Commander during the first semester of his senior year. He graduated with high honors in May 2005 with a degree in Operations Research and Computer Analysis.
In June 2005, Lieutenant Harris reported to USCGC VALIANT (WMEC 621), homeported in Miami Beach, FL. There he fulfilled the primary duty as a Deck Watch Officer. He also served as the Weapons and Law Enforcement Officer and managed the unit's Alien Migrant Interdiction Operations Program in the Coast Guard Seventh District area of responsibility. Lieutenant Harris successfully coordinated and managed the safe interdiction, care, and transfer of 1700 migrants that illegally attempted to enter the United States.
Lieutenant Harris reported for duty as Commanding Officer, USCGC PIKE (WPB 87365) in July 2007. Located in San Francisco, CA, the PIKE and crew conducted maritime law enforcement, search and rescue, and homeland security missions in the Eleventh Coast Guard District area of responsibility. In addition to the operational responsibilities of the command, Lieutenant Harris was also actively engaged with the admissions and nomination process for all five military service academies.
In June 2009, Lieutenant Harris began his studies in the Coast Guard Academy Company Officer Leadership Studies advanced education program. He completed a Masters of Arts in Social Organizational Psychology at the Teachers' College of Columbia University in May 2010. He is currently assigned as the Delta Company Officer at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, where he supervises the professional development of 120 cadets.
His personal awards include the Coast Guard Commendation Medal with "O" device, the Coast Guard Achievement Medal with "O" device, the Commandant's Letter of Commendation Ribbon with "O" device, and numerous unit and service awards. Lieutenant Harris is the son of Joe and Ida Harris of Fort Wayne, Indiana, and he currently resides in New London, CT. Lieutenant Harris is currently slated to transfer to Honolulu, HI this summer to take on his new role as Executive Officer, USCGC KUKUI (WLB 203).
3. Were there any obstacles that you had to overcome at the Academy that some other individuals may not have had to endure?
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. This was before I ever started running track. Fortunately, there was a strong group of African-American upperclass cadets around that were looking out for the welfare of the underclass cadets. Not long after my several weeks of restriction ended, 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. One of my proudest achievements was taking over as an Assistant Coach of the middle-distance runners from LT Eric Brooks back in 2010.
4. Given the hard work and effort any sport requires, how satisfying was it to you for the 4x400 relay team you were a part of to earn All-New England recognition three years in a row?
The four by four hundred meter relay, in my opinion, is the premier event on the oval. It is at the crossroads of maximizing individual physical achievement while combining the individual efforts of a group of athletes. The team with the best relay time is not always the team that has the fastest man or woman in the event. Winning the relay is truly about the level of devotion four individuals have to put the team before themselves and to give their all to win. When I started running track during my 3/c year, I naturally gravitated to the relay and felt a great sense of camaraderie with my teammates. We were all 200 or 400 runners that worked hard in practice and in the weight room for our individual goals. Together we set a goal of running well against the other Military Academy's at the Penn Relays, breaking the indoor school record and earning a berth to nationals. We fell short of those goals, but placed well at Division 3 New England and ECAC Championships year after year. Success in sports takes leadership, and when it comes to the relay, its peer leadership at its finest. My teammates and I all had an important influence on each other as we battled past injuries, dropped batons, and the everyday rigors of cadet life. Our success was a natural by-product of our commitment to excellence and pushing each other to our highest potentials.
5. What are some of the highlights of your military career? How rewarding is it for you to be able to give back to your country after all that the United States and the Academy afforded you?
The highlights for me are when people that I worked with find success. Serving as an officer in the Coast Guard means that you are a leader, but you cannot accomplish anything without the hard work and support of the people that you work with everyday. Two proud moments for me were from relationships formed when I was the First Lieutenant aboard CGC VALIANT. One of the non-rates onboard was Seaman Kevin Reed. I will never forget the day that he told me he was accepted to Harvard University, and that the Coast Guard gave him the opportunities that he needed to head down that path. Another was the commissioning of then-Petty Officer Jerome Brown. He was a member of the Electronics Division, and probably the most competent yet humble members of the crew. I helped him complete his application to Officer Candidate School, and he is now a Lieutenant serving in the Prevention Department at Sector Jacksonville. These are two highly capable African-Americans that I worked with over the years, but there are also many Coast Guard men and women from a variety of backgrounds that make me so very proud to hear about their achievements over the years.
6. It’s a struggle for some to return to the Academy, what went into your decision to return to it?
Lots of people talk about the queasy feeling that they get when they catch a glimpse of the academy as they descend the Gold Star Bridge, but I would say that I never really get that feeling. I knew as a cadet that I hoped to return to the Academy to contribute to developing our future leaders, but at the time I thought it would be as a math instructor. When I was applying for new assignment opportunities following my second tour, I spoke to many mentors, particularly my company officer and track coach from my Senior year, LCDR Pride Sanders. LCDR Sanders was very open about the importance of setting our future junior officers up for success as well as the value he gained from his experience working with cadets in the barracks and on the sports fields. My discussions with LCDR Sanders reminded me of the tremendous impact of seeing an African-American lieutenant that was an outstanding performer every day in Chase Hall had on my own personal growth. My biggest hope was that I could have as profound an impact on the leadership development of the cadets I encountered as he had for me. His advice led me to place the Academy Company Officer Leadership Studies graduate program at the top of my list in 2008. At the end of the day, I consider myself very fortunate because I was chosen to come back to Chase Hall to work with today's cadets.
7. What leadership skills that you learned or developed at the Academy do you consider the most critical and instrumental in shaping you into the man that you have become today?
There are four major categories of Coast Guard Leadership Competencies: Leading Self, Leading Others, Leading Performance and Change, and Leading the Coast Guard. The cadet program at the Coast Guard Academy provides countless opportunities for cadets to develop proficiency in those first two categories: Leading Self and Leading 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. When I was a young teenager at home taking care of my younger brothers and sister, I did not really understand that type of influence that even the most minor action has on others. 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. Therefore, it is important to seek feedback early and often, and provide feedback to others. When you build an environment with a level of trust where people can bring forward their thoughts, ideas, and concerns in a constructive manner, your team's achievements will go through the roof.
8. What is the significance of Black History Month to you? Does it hold any special meaning to you personally that others may not feel?
Black History Month is 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. Today's generation has an opportunity to magnify the legacy of those that have come before us if when we choose to make the most of our opportunities. If one door closes, we must remember to open another, and show the path to those coming along after us.
9. What are your career ambitions? Either within the Coast Guard or potentially following your military career and into civilian life.
The Coast Guard has provided me with countless incredible experiences, such as the trans-Atlantic voyage on Barque EAGLE where we crossed the Arctic Circle following our port call in Reykjavik, Iceland and experiencing the ferocious power of the outer bands of Katrina at sea aboard Cutter VALIANT as she crossed the Florida Straits as a strengthening Category 1 hurricane, to name only a few. The most memorable aspect of these experiences is sharing them with your shipmates, and I hope to gather more sea-stories to share with my friends and family as I continue my service in the Coast Guard's afloat community. This summer I'll be heading to a new challenge as the Executive Officer of the KUKUI, which will give me the opportunity to work with outstanding Coast Guard men and women in a part of the world that most would consider paradise. I consider myself very fortunate to get that assignment. My primary goal is to continue having a positive impact on the people I interact with and the missions we focus on every day. Beyond the next few years, I hope for opportunities for exposure to the strategic direction of our service. There are many ways that could happen, nonetheless, I am confident that our organization will continue do a good job of putting us where our talents are best utilized.
10. Which Civil Rights Era leader(s), that played a prominent role to facilitate change and allow for Civil Rights Legislation to transpire, do you most admire and give your reasoning as to why?
I was in elementary school when the first African-American Supreme Court Justice passed away, and I remember learning more about his life and the impact that he had on mine as a young boy. The Honorable Thurgood Marshall was not just a trailblazer in that he created a path for others to follow behind, but he also had a tremendous impact on social change, particularly in his role as Chief Counsel for the NAACP. Well before he was a Supreme Court judge, Justice Marshall argued the famous Brown vs. Board of Education case before the Supreme Court. That decision is one of the most influential changes in the way we educate our youth in this nation over the past several generations. I received a strong STEM foundation in elementary school at the John S. Irwin Math Science and Technology Magnet School in Fort Wayne, Indiana. I can attribute my opportunity to attend that school directly back to the efforts of many civil rights leaders, and Justice Marshall is one of many that helped emphasize the importance of our public education system in providing youth with the tools to succeed.