Pensacola, Florida
Tuesday August 14th 2018

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A visit with Pensacola’s Admiral Harry B. Harris, Jr.

By Christian Wagley

Admiral Harry B. Harris, Jr. was raised in Pensacola and currently oversees all U.S. military forces in the Pacific region as commander of the U.S. Pacific Command. Born in Japan of a Japanese mother and American father, prior to moving to Pensacola he spent his early years on his family’s subsistence farm in East Tennessee after his father retired from the U.S. Navy as chief petty officer.

He is a 1978 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and is the Navy’s “gray owl”, an award given to the naval flight officer on continuous active duty who has held that designation the longest. Inweekly sat down with Admiral Harris at his office inside the Nimitz-MacArthur Building on Camp H.M. Smith, 600 feet high on a hill above Pearl Harbor.

INWEEKLY: I know that you spent your teenage years growing up in the East Hill neighborhood. What are your boyhood memories of Pensacola?
ADMIRAL HARRIS: I went to A.V. Clubbs Middle School on 12th Avenue. Then I went to high school at Booker T. Washington. I think I was in the second class after segregation ended, and so the facilities at the school were not good, but the teachers were fabulous. I remember the quality of the teachers I had both at Clubbs, and especially at Washington.

I liked walking downtown, because we lived in East Hill, and I would walk down Ninth Avenue and go across Gregory or Wright Street and go downtown to some of the bookstores. And just hang out as a kid in Pensacola. Great weather, beaches…I loved the beaches.

INWEEKLY: Is there anything in particular that led you to choose to become an officer in the United States Navy?
ADMIRAL HARRIS:  Well, my dad was a big influence, but he was not an influence on me becoming an officer. I was in Junior ROTC in high school, and it was my ROTC instructors who introduced me to the concept of going to college on the Navy’s dime.

I knew I wanted to go into the Navy because of my dad’s service. His was the generation that everybody served and they expected their children to serve for some amount of time…And then growing up in Pensacola with the Blue Angels, it’s hard not to fall in love with the Navy and naval aviation.

INWEEKLY: As a career Naval officer, you’ve obviously had a number of different duty stations (including Pensacola) and commands. Are there any particular ones that are especially memorable for being enjoyable, challenging or formative for you?
ADMIRAL HARRIS:  Your first ship, your first squadron, your first platoon, battalion–whatever it is–the first one matters. It sets the course that you’re going to be on for the rest of your career. I started out in Brunswick, Maine, flying P-3s, at the height of the Cold War. I loved it.  We deployed to the Western Pacific, the Indian Ocean, and then we deployed to the Atlantic and Mediterranean… I loved every bit of it. It really helped form who I am.

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