“That’s him,” James Harris says with a smile as he points to a photo of his nephew who was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General in the Virgin Islands Army National Guard in June.
“He is the baby of five children,” Harris said about Shawn A. Harris. “My brother, Charles, was killed in an automobile accident when this young man was about 26 months old so he never got to know his dad.”
Harris said that another brother stepped in to serve as a “second father” to the children. “They all five have turned out to be very productive citizens.”
The Harris family tree is filled with military members, Harris, said showing a photo from the new general’s promotion ceremony that includes Col. Keith R. Harris; Capt. John Charles Vaugns and his wife Capt. Nancy Vaugns, both medical doctors; Capt. Shawn Dre Harris, the general’s son; and Maj. Christopher Vaugns, also a medical doctor.
With a military and civil service career that spans 43 years, Harris reflects on his life that began in Blakely, Ga. “I think the kind of experience that you get in the military is second to none,” Harris said. “It causes you to grow up in a hurry.
“As you go up the ranks, you get greater and greater responsibility,” he added. “I just think it is a great opportunity to grow professionally and personally.”
Harris said his own inspiration to join the military came from a soldier named Raymond Caesar who returned to Blakely, Ga., from World War II. “I saw him and I thought that was something that I wanted to do,” Harris recalled.
Harris and his wife of more than six decades, Frances, graduated from Washington High School in Blakely, Ga., in May 1955. He enlisted in the United States Army and she went on to Albany State College in Albany, Ga., graduating in the spring of 1959 with a degree in elementary education.
Harris did basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C., and went to train as an armor crewman at Fort Knox, Ky.
When the couple married Dec. 22, 1958, he was stationed at Fort Benning, Ga., and she was a senior at Albany State.
Their first child, Sharlayne Angela, was born at Fort Hood, Texas, and lived just one day. The couple subsequently became the parents of James Woodrow Jr., Ramona Lynne, Rhonda Kaye and Brian Christopher.
As a tank crewman, loader, driver, gunner, tank commander and ultimately, a tank platoon sergeant, Harris completed two tours in Germany, two tours in Korea and other stateside assignments to include Fort Sill, Okla.; Fort Benning, Ga.; the Tuskegee Institute; and Fort Rucker.
After becoming a tank platoon sergeant, Harris was assigned to G-3 in the 3rd Armored Division Headquarters in Frankfurt, Germany, where he served in the training division.
Harris was next assigned to the U.S. Army Armor Training Center at Fort Knox, Ky., where he served as first sergeant, battalion operations sergeant in an Advanced Individual Training battalion, senior noncommissioned officer of the marksmanship training division, basic combat training committee group, as operations sergeant major and ultimately, chief instructor for the committee group.
After serving a stint as an instructor at Tuskegee Institute, Harris was next assigned as command servant major of the 1st Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division at Camp Casey, Korea.
Twice Harris was given orders to Vietnam. On both occasions the orders were revoked due to impending promotions in rank to master sergeant in 1967 and sergeant major in 1969.
At the Home of Army Aviation, Harris was assigned as command sergeant major to the 46th Engineer Battalion and then as sergeant major of the 1st Aviation Brigade. Harris retired from active duty in 1978 at the rank of Command Sergeant Major
After serving as a JROTC instructor in Dothan, Harris transitioned into a second career as a civil servant in the Equal Employment Opportunity office at Fort Rucker.
After completing an internship in 1982, Harris was promoted to GS-11 as an EEO Specialist. He was promoted to the Equal Employment Opportunity Officer GS-13 in 1991 and retired from that position on May 31, 2000.
His awards include numerous Commanders Awards, Performance Awards and Sustained Superior Performance Awards. For “exceptionally meritorious service,” Harris received the Superior Civilian Service Award at his retirement ceremony.
Harris’s wife retired in 2000 after teaching 32 years in Blakely, Ga.; Killeen, Texas; Fort Knox, Ky; and Ozark. Both remain active in the Ozark community where they chose to retire.
Baptized together at Bethany Seventh Day Adventist Church in Montgomery in 1973, the husband and wife now serve their church in Ozark, the Shiloh Seventh Day Adventist Church. He is the First Elder and she has served as the church treasurer for more than 40 years.
Currently Harris serves as a facilitator for a nondenominational men’s community Bible study in Ozark that meets at 6:30 a.m. each Tuesday.
Harris most recently served 10 years on the Ozark City School Board where he received the highest award that can be bestowed by the Alabama Association of School Boards in 2017. “I give God all the glory and honor for that,” he said. “And I credit the people that I served with because in order for you to receive that recognition, the local school board has to pass a resolution in support of the nomination.
“We should seek to wear out and not rust out,” Harris said, quoting Dr. Charles Dudley, a past president of the South Central Conference of Seventh Day Adventists. “My wife and I are both committed to ‘wearing out’ in the service of God and humanity.”
Harris said one of his favorite Bible verses is in the Book of Proverbs, Chapter 3, verses 6 and 7. “In all thy ways acknowledge Him and and He shall direct thy path. Be not wise in thine own eyes, fear the Lord and depart from evil,” he said. “I think that has stood me in good stead.”