Black History Month Feature: Mark Harris ('96)

To celebrate Black History Month we will catch up with some Coast Guard Academy graduates who excelled while at the Academy and continue to shine as officers in the United States Coast Guard. This article is the first which will highlight their success.

LCDR Mark Harris, a 1996 graduate of the Coast Guard Academy has enjoyed a successful career in the Coast Guard and he is currently completing a tour as the Senior Port Engineer for the Long Range Enforcer Product Line, providing PE support to all of the 378's and the Alex Haley. This summer, he will head back to Washington, DC as a member of Congressional Affairs where he will be a Senate Fellow.

His experiences in the Coast Guard have allowed him to see over 30 different countries and manage budgets of up to fifty million dollars, but he recalls one of his most memorable moments.

"My last patrol on CGC DALLAS ranks extremely high, when supporting the Navy during a five month overseas deployment to West Africa and the Black Sea, I had the opportunity to lead a diverse mix of seventy engineers, through three catastrophic propulsion equipment casualties, including a horrific gas turbine fire," said Harris. "With a refusal to fail, our engineers restored DALLAS' equipment enabling us to complete critical diplomatic commitments with twenty-two countries, including delivery of over 76,000 pounds of humanitarian assistance supplies to Batumi, Georgia following their conflict with Russia. Our efforts had significant global impact."

Mark's stellar career in the Coast Guard almost never happened because his mom was much more interested in the Coast Guard Academy than he initially was and the small numbers of African American cadets at the time was a major concern to him. His mother made a deal with him to take a trip up to New London during Eclipse weekend and the rest as they say is history.

"I went and really enjoyed my time getting to meet some of the cadets and the coaches, however the lack of African American cadets initially persuaded me to put the Academy on the bottom of my list. The service academy experience would be tough enough, the last thing I wanted to deal with were any race issues that might exist due to an unfamiliar environment," said Harris. "Yet, because I had a chance to meet and get to know some of the cadets and in particular the African American cadets, I was able to remember how well they worked together. They really helped one another out and they allowed their performance to speak for them rather than words. It motivated me to seriously consider joining the Corp of Cadets."

Harris asked himself "If not me then who would be willing to step up and do something not done by very many black students," that was the attitude that drove him to graduation day.

He recalls the early days of swab summer and learning early on what it took to be a leader. "Being a cadet during swab summer immediately showed all of us, just how much we did not know. If we were going to succeed then we had to work together," said Harris. "This is probably the most significant lesson taught during my time at the academy, building the best team was much more important that promoting yourself."

While at the Academy, Harris had outstanding success on the hardwood. He became the Bears' all-time leading scorer and rebounder. He finished his career with 1,402 points and 1,134 rebounds, the first player in Coast Guard Academy history to register over 1,000 in each category.

Harris is the still the Bears' all-time leading rebounder, is fourth on the all-time scoring list and is fourth all-time at the Academy with 103 blocked shots. He also holds the Coast Guard single-game record with 22 rebounds set vs. Norwich in January of 1996.

During his playing days, Harris led the Bears to a pair of Constitution Athletic Conference (CAC) Championships and back-to-back berths in the ECAC tournament in 1994 and 1995. During his four years the Bears had a record of 70-32 for an impressive .686 winning percentage. The men's basketball Class of '96 is the last class to have a winning record in each of its four seasons.

Basketball also taught Harris about being a leader by bringing 12 men together from vastly different backgrounds and giving them one common goal to execute.

"Along with the teamwork, basketball also taught me the importance of individuality. There is only one you and you will always be the best at it. If you spend all your time attempting to be someone else, you render yourself useless," added Harris. "By being myself I brought value to the team and now we could work together to be better. That is Leadership 101, encourage those that work for you to be themselves so that you might get the very best out of them."

Harris is a strong supporter of Black History Month, but he believes that it continues to have less and less significance to many because it is often deemed unnecessary.

"I will continue to support it because during my 17 years of active duty, going from the realm of cadet to recently being selected CDR, I've seen three black admirals, less than 20 black captains and now we are finally seeing a growing number of black O-5's" said Harris. "What I did not have as a cadet were numerous role models, those in senior leadership that looked like me. The Coast Guard has made a lot of progress but we still have improvements to make in the area of diversity. "
 

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