To be able to celebrate military heroes and trailblazers from years past, representing the Black community, leaves one feeling inspired and grateful, to say the least. So, to recognize one such trailblazer from our own generation makes us all the more proud. That is certainly how BTL’s CEO, Bill “Clark” Kent (Lt. Col, Ret), feels as he reflects on her life. “She was an inspiration to all, especially young African-American Air Force Officers … an awesome leader and role model who allowed you to elevate your dreams!”

From her commission through Officer Training School at Lackland AFB in 1965 until she retired as a major general in 1997, Major General Marcelite Jordan Harris’ 32-year career contained so many firsts. At retirement, she was the highest ranking female officer in the entire Air Force branch and the Nation’s highest ranking African-American woman in the Department of Defense.

As the director of maintenance, deputy chief of staff logistics, at the Air Force headquarters in the nation’s capital, Harris was responsible for an annual budget of over $20 billion. In that position, she oversaw a workforce of thousands of technicians and managers.

After retirement, this Spelman College and University of Maryland graduate, wife of a Lieutenant Colonel and mother of three had no intentions of slowing her life down. Harris then served as a White House social aide during the Carter Administration. She served NASA as the Florida Site Director and Logistics Process Owner for United Space Alliance, the company managing the nation’s shuttle program. Harris also was a Treasurer of the NAACP Atlanta Branch and a Director on the Board of Peachtree Hope Charter School.

Several other of her esteemed assignments included:

  • the Air Force’s first female Director of Maintenance
  • one of the first two female air officers commanding at the United States Air Force Academy
  • the U.S. Air Force’s first black female major general

Her service medals and decorations included:

  • Legion of Merit award
  • the Bronze Star award
  • Meritorious Service award
  • Air Force commendation award
  • the Presidential Unit Citation
  • the Vietnam Service Medal
  • many unit awards

Her civilian recognition is impressive as well. This represents only a snippet:

  • Woman of the Year by the National Organization of Tuskegee Airmen
  • Trailblazer Award by the Black Girls Rock foundation
  • Honorary Doctorate Degree from Spelman College
  • appointed by President Barack Obama to serve as a member of the Board of Visitors for the United States Air Force Academy

On September 7, 2018, Harris passed away unexpectedly at age 75, leaving an indelible mark on this earth. She was buried alongside her husband Lt. Col. Maurice Harris on February 7, 2019, at Arlington National Cemetery.

 

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SIDE NOTE: A very interesting fact I learned about the Arlington National Cemetery from writing this article is that families can wait up to six months for their loved one to be interred there. First, the veteran has to have died before Arlington is even contacted. Once the paperwork is submitted, the wait is at least two weeks before the person is approved for burial, then another five to six weeks or longer before you find out the date for the service.

 

Terri Liggins

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