KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
Halfway through an interview, I find myself alone in an office laden with family photos, an overflowing coin display, plaques commemorating various rank achievements, and other Air Force-related trinkets that suggest whoever occupies this space has been around for a while. The occupant, Chief Master Sgt. Marshall O. Harris Jr., Quality Assurance superintendent for the 403rd Maintenance Group, stepped away to track down an Airman who came seeking advice over a family matter.
Harris did not hesitate to go after the Airman to help.
This action of immediate caring and selflessness embodies everything Harris said he values and will miss about being in the 403rd Wing.
After 34 years of service in the Air Force, 30 of those, aside from a six month stint at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, with the Air Force Reserve’s 403rd Wing, Harris recognizes that it is time to hang it up.
Starting out as a C-5 Galaxy aircraft mechanic at Travis Air Force Base in California, Harris has held a wide array of titles and positions throughout his career and has worked with C-5s, C-141s, C-130Es, C-130Hs and C-130Js Hercules. With the 403rd’s 815th Airlift Squadron, he experienced two deployments to Al-Udeid Air Base, Qatar, where he was a production supervisor.
Harris said of his first unit training assembly with the 403rd Wing nearly three decades ago that it was “hectic” and that he felt “out of place” because he did not know anybody, but his fellow wingmen quickly swooped in and helped him. He then felt more relaxed and before he knew it, he had the comfort of camaraderie during and after duty hours.
Amidst the hospitable wing members he found a mentor in his predecessor, former 403rd MXG QA superintendent Chief Master Sgt. Patrick Herrman. Harris said the initial relationship between himself and Herrman was one in which Harris declined multiple invitations to become a quality assurance inspector.
It took a few years, but Herrman was able to convince Harris to see the big picture of the Air Force and to take on the task of being a quality assurance inspector. Shortly after that Herrman influenced Harris to attend Senior Non-Commissioned Officer Academy which he said was difficult and rewarding.
Harris hopes he has been an influence to younger Airmen as Herrman and Col. Jay Johnson, 403rd MXG commander, have been to him. He said he has tried to guide Airmen on the right path while making them understand that they themselves are the only ones in their way on the path to success.
Harris gives the impression of being a hard-nosed leader who loves to work, but in addition to that undeniable work ethic, Col. Jay Johnson provided a lighter perspective detailing what he learned about Harris’ younger years when he was a marble shooting, Pontiac Trans Am driving, “roller king of Mobile” turned disc jockey.
“It has truly been an honor and a blessing to have him here,” said Johnson, “to have him be a part of team 403 and to really guide and develop us all. He will always be a part of this family.”
As far as support, Harris said he could not have made it this far without the understanding and unwavering presence of his wife as well as the companionship of his peers at the 403rd WG.
“I will miss the friendship and the companionship,” said Harris. “Basically these people are like my brothers and my sisters here. We are one big family. I could always depend on them if I needed something. I could call someone in the middle of the night, and they would say, ‘Okay, let me see what I can do.’”
After being asked what his proudest achievement has been, Harris responded, “Making it to the top. Since I was younger, I wanted to make it to the top; but even if I had not, I knew I did my job the best that I could and I would have been happy either way.”