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Diversity

Admiral Harry B. Harris Jr.

Navy leaders

Join us as we celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Sailors, past and present, and their important contributions to the defense of our nation.

Admiral Harry B. Harris Jr, Commander, U.S. Pacific Command

As I reflect on the AAPI heritage month, I believe that embracing diversity is vital to both our present and future. We cannot achieve healthy growth without it. One former CNO rightly said that as leaders, we must not be locked in time - we must anticipate and embrace the demographic changes of tomorrow to build a Navy-Marine Corps team that always reflects our country's make up.

Q: What influenced you to join the Navy?

A: My father, an American from Tennessee, served in the Navy throughout World War II and the Korean War, and retired with 20 years in 1958. Four of his brothers also served in WW2 - enlisted men in the Army and Navy in the Pacific and European theaters. In fact, my father was stationed on the aircraft carrier USS Lexington when Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941. Thankfully, the carriers had pulled out of Pearl Harbor just a few days before December 7th.

My mother's was a very different story. She's Nihonjin, from Kobe, Japan. She lost her home and many of her friends in air raids during the same war that her future husband was fighting. After surviving the devastation of wartime Japan, she met and married my dad when he was stationed in post-war, occupied Japan. When my father retired, we moved to his home in Eastern Tennessee when I was an infant. The transition to a new home and a new country wasn't easy for my mom, but she handled it with grace and a sense of adventure.

When I was 12, we moved to Pensacola, the "Cradle of Naval Aviation" and the home of the Blue Angels. I joined Navy Junior ROTC in high school. This led me to pursue and receive admission to the Naval Academy. I wanted to do nothing more at Annapolis than graduate and fly.

My parents and uncles are now gone, but their stories speak to me even now. Their experiences influenced me to choose the Navy path. But more importantly, they taught me the significance of duty and obligation and serving our great nation.

Q: Who are the role models and mentors that have influenced you?

A: In addition to my parents and uncles, my first role models were the Nisei warriors of World War II - the men of the 100th Infantry Battalion, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the Military Intelligence Service, the 1399th Engineer Construction Battalion, and the 300 Nisei women who joined the Women's Army Corps - American patriots who despite facing injustice at home, made significant contributions to defeat tyranny and achieve victory.

It's no exaggeration to say that I stand on the shoulders of giants. For me to be a Japanese-American 4-star admiral in command of all Joint Forces across the Indo-Asia-Pacific, well, that's because of those trail blazing Nisei warriors.

My fencing coaches at the U.S. Naval Academy, Andre DeLadrier and Steve Bujnovsky, taught me about teamwork, competitiveness, and tactics. I learned from them the advantages of choosing the time and place to attack, seizing the initiative from your opponent and sustaining it.

I've been influenced by all my bosses throughout my career, the good and the bad. Some couldn't lead lemmings off a cliff. Others I'd follow anywhere, anytime. During my first shore tour at U.S. Naval Forces Japan, I was the Flag Aide to Rear Adm. Jerry MacKay. For me, he epitomized what it means to be an extraordinary leader and he has been a major influence in my life.

I'm often inspired by people I don't even know all that well. I had the privilege of listening to Sheryl Sandberg during an All-Flag officer conference last year. I learned a lot from her about the barriers that women face every day.

Looking back over the years, I've been blessed to have many mentors like Eric Shinseki, former Army Chief of Staff and the first Asian-Pacific American 4-star general. This space isn't long enough to name everyone who has influenced me, but I've been fortunate that being in the Navy, being part of the greatest Joint Team on Earth, has afforded me the opportunity to meet some extraordinary leaders.
Photo collage of Adml. Harris.


Q: What does being an Asian-Pacific American leader in the Navy mean to you and how will you reflect on AAPI heritage month?

A: I'm proud to be part of the tremendous history of Asian-Pacific Americans who've served our Navy and our nation. Navy leaders and heroes like Gordon Chung-Hoon, Robert Kihune, Susan Ahn Cuddy, Ming Chang, Raquel 'Rocky' Bono, Bette Bolivar, Pete Gumataotao, Alma Grocki and Brian Losey.

I never thought I would be a flag officer, let alone the first 4-star Admiral of Asian-Pacific American descent. In our Navy today, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders make up 7.5 percent of our Navy and 5 percent of our flag ranks. While those numbers show we still have a long way to go, it also indicates how far we have come.

As I reflect on the AAPI heritage month, I believe that embracing diversity is vital to both our present and future. We cannot achieve healthy growth without it. One former CNO rightly said that as leaders, we must not be locked in time - we must anticipate and embrace the demographic changes of tomorrow to build a Navy-Marine Corps team that always reflects our country's make up.

We want to welcome every Sailor and Marine into a family they will proudly call their own for the rest of their lives - a family that exists like no other on land, at sea or in the air.

To be the strongest Joint Force we can be, we must draw from the widest talent pool we can. Not only does this ensure our military will better reflect the nation we are sworn to protect, but it also makes us a stronger and more capable warfighting force.

Those in our military come from cities, towns and farms, from every economic walk of life and every corner of our nation, and, indeed, the world - with different ethnicities, faiths, sexual orientation and backgrounds. And yet we all share a common goal - to serve our country, to protect American interests around the globe, to defend our very way of life.

I'm proud of my heritage. But more than that, I'm proud to be an American serving my country, leading an outstanding team of professional Sailors, Marines, Soldiers, Airmen, and Coastguardsmen in defending our nation's interests and promoting security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific.

Americans of Asian-Pacific descent hold no monopoly on dreams and aspirations. We simply want to be successful on our merits and not held back by our genetics. So as we remember the accomplishments of Asian-Pacific Americans this month, let's celebrate that our Joint Force is a team where men and women are judged by what they do, not what they are.