Growing up in a Military Town
I grew up in Fayetteville, North Carolina – home to the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division. My Dad was an enlisted paratrooper assigned to Fort Bragg for over 18 years. Some of his deployment assignments included Germany, Korea, and Vietnam.
My Dad and I had a weekend ritual of coffee and breakfast at the local Waffle House, and on one occasion when I was in my late teenage years, he said “Son, get out of this town, and DO NOT join the Army. Go do something great and different than what I did.”
When I graduated high school, I actually had no intention of joining any branch of the military, until one day, my best friend informed me that he had enlisted with the US Navy. Like any good friend, I followed him. So off to the Navy recruiter I went!
Joining the US Navy
I joined the US Navy for a guaranteed rating of Cryptologic Technician Collection (CTR) and arrived on April 19th, 1992, for basic training at the Navy’s Great Lakes training facility in Illinois. Once I completed the initial 9 weeks of training, in August, I was sent to Fort Devens, Massachusetts for Morse code training. Fortunately, I was very good at keyboarding, which turned out to be a huge advantage, as I finished the course about 2 months ahead of schedule.
From Fort Devens, I was sent to Corry Station in Pensacola, Florida for advanced signals analysis, with a follow-on C school of advanced Morse code (9169) school. I graduated in the top three of my class with follow-on orders to the Direct Support Group in Misawa Japan.
Stationed in Misawa Japan
I arrived in Misawa in May 1993 as a new CTRSA (E2-Seaman Apprentice). My primary specialty was the former Soviet Union Naval order of battle. Direct Support was a unique assignment, as we were not ordinary Morse code collectors sitting at a position day in and day out, but rather we were deployed to any ship that operated in the Pacific Area of Responsibility (AOR) which required all CTs to provide real-time Indications and Warning (I&W) to the command.
While in Japan, I quickly completed the basic operator’s course, which meant I was qualified do my job. That wasn’t enough for me though, as I was eager to learn everything the seasoned “riders” were doing, so I began the journey of becoming “Senior Operator” qualified. Soon after, I became one of the few sailors who had earn that qualification within the first 6 months of assignment.
My first afloat tour was aboard the USS BLUE RIDGE (LCC-19), an amphibious command ship, for a 56-day cruise to Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines and Perth, Australia. During this cruise I had the pleasure of participating in the time-honored Navy tradition, the SHELLBACK ceremony. This was an unforgettable day, and I still have fond memories and nightmares all at the same time. For those of you who do not know, this ceremony is the crossing the line ceremony or the Order of King Neptune, where a sailor who crosses the “equator” transforms from a Slimy Pollywog of no experience to a trusty shellback — who is now a son or daughter of King Neptune.
Shortly after my return to Misawa, I was slated for a WESTPAC deployment on the USS COWPENS (CG 63). We were slated for the Middle East, but those plans were cancelled due to North Korea resisting denuclearization. We subsequently spent all our time patrolling in the Sea of Japan for the duration of the six-month deployment.
No Rest for the Weary
Upon returning from that six-month deployment, I only had about 30 days back in Misawa, before the USS BLUE RIDGE (LCC-19) once again needed CT support for another deployment. So off I go again! We do another 50-day cruise visiting ports in Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore. During the return home to Yokosuka, a message came in notifying me that I would NOT be returning to Misawa but rather meeting the USS FIFE (DD-991) in Okinawa for a “cross-deck”. A sailor “cross-decking” is one who goes directly from one ship to another without shore time. When we arrived in Okinawa, I was transported via a whaler from the USS BLUE RIDGE to the USS FIFE for yet another a 50-day cruise.
I returned to Misawa from the FIFE for only 10 days, when the USS DUBUQUE requested CT support for their WESTPAC. I will never forget the conversation between the Division Chief, myself, and another sailor. “Harris, since you are senior operations qualified, we are going to send you on this one. “If you add it up, this literally had me out to sea for over an entire year! I guess my tenacity for learning and getting qualified paid off.
Rainbow after the Storm
I had completed two WESTPACs on the COWPENS and the DUBUQUE and I had accumulated 13 months of sea time, while stationed in Misawa. During this time, I was fortunate to visit several countries and cities in the Western Pacific to include Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, Indonesia, Bali, Malaysia, Philippines, and Australia.
I was recognized as one of the top sailors by the division and fleet by receiving several letters of commendation and letters of appreciation, along with the Navy Achievement Medal, while also being meritoriously promoted to Second Class Petty Officer (E5).
That aside, without question, my greatest accomplishment was meeting Celeste (my wife of 22 years – the rainbow) who was also stationed there in Misawa.
Go to Isolation
I met Celeste in the latter part of my tour, but I knew that we were meant for each other. At the time, we were not quite ready for marriage, but we knew we wanted to be together. Now we needed to figure out a plan to make that work.
I was up for orders, and she had already received her follow-on orders to Monterey, California for Advanced Russian Language School, with DC as her ultimate duty station. I was in negotiation for orders, so we decided that I would take a hardship duty tour in which I could get my choice of orders afterwards. Hardship duty is normally an isolated/remote tour that sailors are reluctantly assigned to, often separating them from loved ones.
I accepted one-year orders to Diego Garcia as a Narrowband High Frequency Direction Finding Operator (HFDF). Diego Garcia counted as a hardship duty, with the guarantee of my choice orders afterwards, so I bit the bullet. This was the plan, for us to be together after my one-year tour.
During my tour in Diego Garcia, we kept in touch with letters and care packages during my one year away. It wasn’t easy, but we made it work. Just a reminder, this was the time before the internet was available for public use, and phone calls on the commercial line cost about $6.00 per minute.
In July 1997 I arrived at the Naval Information Warfare Activity located at the Naval Research Lab in DC. Celeste arrived shortly thereafter in November 1997, after successful completion of her Advanced Russian Language School. We were both stationed in the National Capital Region (NCR), and together we bought a house and were subsequently married in 1999. One interesting note – I was very proud to win the first annual fishing contest in 1997 and water activities were a weekly adventure for us.
Joining and Separating
I separated from the Navy in May 2000 and joined the civilian sector with my new career in telecommunications with a company named Winstar, as a provision coordinator (That’s a fancy way of saying I would help troubleshoot issues when a circuit would not activate after install). Winstar specialized in installing high-speed internet and voice services in corporate buildings in major metropolitan cities, using wireless technologies.
Unfortunately, my career was short lived at Winstar when they declared bankruptcy in June 2001. I was subsequently laid off but was given a two-month severance package. I decided to take a one-month sabbatical and planned to find another job in September. Fate had other plans for me, and 9-11 happened. Following the events of that fateful day, all jobs in which I had experience in, now required 15 years of experience, a TS/SCI clearance, and a college degree. None of which I possessed at that time.
Do the Hard Work
During my unemployment, I began my professional training and development. I attended college classes for an associate degree, then on to a BS in CIS. I certified in A+ Net+, and Security+ and MCSE. This was the ticket I needed. In March 2003, I started with a company named Getronics that needed my expertise to support the DIA on a SIPRNet helpdesk. Now I’m cleared!
I continued my education and professional development by obtaining my CCNA and CCNP security certificates. I also enrolled at George Mason University to complete my MS in Telecommunications, with a master’s certificate in Computer Forensics.
Getronics was eventually sold to BAE Systems, and my contract came to an end. I changed companies and supported DIA’s Enhanced Network Operations Center (ENOC) in 2005. The NOC specialized in providing real-time data to warfighters in remote locations all over the world. I was the Team Leader and responsible for the 12-person crew that maintained the network 24/7.
Fate makes another appearance! In September 2010, as my contract was ending, I was introduced to Jim Kelly!
Jim Kelly was the CEO of Centauri Solutions. Centauri had just won a contract to support the Stone Ghost program at DIA and needed a program manager. This was an interesting interview, because at the time I was not looking for a job, so I was not exactly prepared for any interview, both physically and mentally. The physical part was I had let my daughter dye my hair cobalt blue just a week prior to the interview. She had been experimenting with beauty products and needed a willing victim and Dad was naturally volunteered. Not looking for a job and having obliged her, I gallantly strode into the Centauri offices with my blue hair. Great first impression!
Jim, who is an understanding person and values people on what they can do and not what they look like, did not hold that against me. Despite the blue hair, the interview went well, and I began my journey with Centauri Solutions. I have been working for Mr. Kelly for over 11 years now, with Centauri, CSC, and now Invictus. The Spartan family is where I belong because of the values they hold, and the respect that is given to everyone, no matter how large the company grows. This a place where people can truly Remain Unconquered!