Double victory: Airman finds new outlook through faith

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. --

Showing off his freshly-pinned gold bars that reflected a smile of quiet pride, 2nd Lt. D ’Anthony Harris stood before family, friends and co-workers on this very special day.  Fighting to hold back the tidal wave of emotions rushing his psyche, he paused to acknowledge the long, storied journey that led him to this defining moment.

“My life has been a series of divine interventions,” Harris said.  “When things appeared that they weren’t going my way, something always happened — people intervened.”

Harris was born in the city of Perry, Georgia, a small community just south of Warner Robins.  His family relocated to Warner Robins before he started school. 

“I grew up in the projects,” said Harris.  “My dad wasn’t really in my life, and I never really bonded with my mom.  She had her own issues going on.”

Playing football became an outlet for Harris. And, after four years of high school as a wide receiver, he hoped earning a scholarship would help him start fresh and get a new outlook on life.   

“I was actually approached by a few schools,” he explained. “But I received my Scholastic Aptitude Test or SAT scores too late to make the cut.  It was really disappointing, because my scores were exactly what I needed to make it.”          

With a college football scholarship off the table, Harris didn’t want to be left behind when all his peers headed to college. He enrolled into Savannah State University, but he wasn’t adjusting to college life well, and his grades reflected it. During that time, Harris also enlisted in the Georgia National Guard. 

“I enlisted in 2005, and they didn’t send me to basic training until 2007,” he said with an ounce of contempt in his voice. “When I got back, everyone else was going to technical school, and they told me to go home because they didn’t have a slot for me.”        

His poor grades at school, coupled with the uncertainty of his military career, led Harris to a crossroad of despair. He went home during Christmas break and reached out to his older sister, Khammica, for guidance.

“I used to make fun of her for going to church like three times a week,” Harris admitted. “She asked me to meet with her pastor, Carlton Stephens, which I did.” 

Harris unpacked his restrained issues with his newfound mentor and pastor. He felt so relieved; he even decided to take things a step further. 

“I was baptized over Christmas break, and I felt I had a new purpose,” he said. 

It wasn’t long after Harris returned to school that he realized he wasn’t in the right place. He wanted to move home and be near his new-found family. In 2009, he packed up his belongings and came home to Warner Robins.  Due to the fact he had yet to be sent to technical school, his Guard unit agreed to release him to the Air Force Reserve.

Harris interviewed and was hired as a security forces Airman at Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Georgia, and went to technical school immediately. After completing his training, he returned home and went to work for Non-Appropriated Funds at Robins Air Force Base.

“I worked as a janitor, cut grass, worked banquets at the Museum of Aviation … you name it,” he said. 

He did that for three years until he completed his bachelor’s degree at Macon State College, with a degree in Business and Information Technology. 

“I’m the first in my family to get any kind of degree,” said Harris with a proud humility. 

As Harris’s bond fortified with his pastor, he knew that he was being called to help others in the way he had been helped.  He cautiously began referring to his mentor as “Dad,” not knowing a better way to articulate the love and admiration he felt for the man who had become such a stalwart in his life. 

“Growing up, I had no frame of reference, no standard for what I wanted it all to look like,” Harris said. “Dad, always made me feel like it was all within reach. He kept me focused on accomplishing my goals.”   

Pastor Stephens was a Mercer graduate and began to encourage Harris to consider Mercer University for his graduate degree in Clinical Mental Health.

“It seemed completely out of reach for me … I didn’t think I was smart enough to go to Mercer,” said Harris. 

His poor performance at Savannah State University had resurfaced as an impediment to admissions. However, due to his perseverance in taking the entrance exam multiple times to achieve an acceptable score, and according to Harris, “wearing a nice suit that day,” he was given a conditional admission to Mercer University. 

While pursuing his graduate degree, he wanted to explore a military job more aligned with his passion for helping people and counseling. 

“I went and talked to a recruiter, and he told me there were no opportunities. It seemed like a dead end,” he said. 

Just as he was departing the recruiter’s office, someone overheard the conversation and mentioned that they had an opening for a mental health technician in their unit, the 413th Aeromedical Staging Squadron. 

The following year, Harris graduated from Mercer University with a graduate degree in Clinical Mental Health and a 3.9 grade point average.  He began working man-days at Headquarters Air Force Reserve Command in the Yellow Ribbon program, an event-driven program designed to help service members and their families prepare for, see-through and reintegrate after deployments.  He enjoyed what he was doing. 

For the first time, Harris considered the possibility of becoming an officer in the Air Force.  He worked to put a package together for commissioning and submitted it.  His confidence was quickly dashed when the package came back disapproved.

“They said my undergraduate grades didn’t meet the standard, and that my recommendations were not good enough,” said Harris. 

His new commander didn’t like the answer they were given and pushed Harris to resubmit a second package, which he did. 

“I was told that if you get disapproved twice, that’s it! They won’t consider you again,” said Harris.   

It wasn’t long after resubmission that a colonel from the Surgeon General’s office came to his desk with some discouraging news. 

“She told me I needed to take back my package, because they are never going to approve me,” he said. 

According to Harris, she instructed him to go back to school again to obtain a master’s degree in a business concentration so his undergraduate grades wouldn’t be a factor.

“It really knocked the wind out of me,” Harris said.  “The chaplain was near me when this conversation took place; he put his hand on my shoulder and just comforted me in silence.” 

Harris didn’t pull back his package; he waited patiently for the outcome, although pessimistic about the results.  During that time, he went on to be named NCO of the quarter, and subsequently, NCO of the year for A1 - Manpower and Personnel at the Air Force Reserve Command Headquarters – a reflection of his stellar work in the Yellow Ribbon program.  Little did Harris know, there were more favorable interventions going on in the background.

Months later, after completing a fitness test, Harris was summoned to his commander’s office.  There he was read a memorandum from the Surgeon General’s office that the decision was reversed, and he had been granted permission to be commissioned as a Medical Service Corps officer. 

“It was a Sunday, and I was in shock,” he said. “I took the letter and went straight to my church. Dad was practicing his sermon to deliver later that morning. I ran in, switched on all the lights and ran to him with the letter. We both sat there crying while I read it to him.”  

Now three months later, the 29-year-old is standing before family and friends at the Heritage Club on Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, where he was administered the oath of office, and is now, officially, a commissioned officer in the U.S. Air Force Reserve.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today, without the constant intervention of others,” said Harris.  “I hope I can use my leadership position to pay-it-forward and continue to help others in the future.”