Capt. Jennifer J. Harris

The Early Years

She was a member of the Student Council and was elected Class Secretary all four years for the Class of 1996. She was in the high school band as a flute player in her freshman year and, she was selected to be a Drum Major in her senior year. She was an Honors graduate who was also involved in the Political Action Club, Spanish Club and Students for Action.

Her high school yearbook quote reflects her core values of hard work, excellence, compassion and service to others:

“You cannot hope to build a better world without improving individuals.
To that end each of us must work for his own improvement, and at the
same time share a general responsibility for humanity, our particular
duty being to aid those to whom we think we can be most useful.” -Marie Curie

Her compassion for others led to her passion for helping others. Jen worked at the Swampscott Town Library, was a candy striper at Salem Hospital, and participated in the walk for MS. She volunteered at the Swampscott Senior Citizen’s Dance, volunteered at My Brother’s Table and for the American Heart Association and Toys for Tots. As a member of St. John the Evangelist Church, her hometown parish, she was also a religious education instructor.
As a senior in high school, she learned about the military academies. They intrigued her as she wanted a different college experience, different from the four-year traditional model. After visiting the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD and the United States Military Academy at West Point, NY and receiving appointments to both, she selected the Naval Academy. Her multifarious interests, her passion for serving others and her love of sailing combined to draw her to Annapolis.

The Naval Academy Years

During her senior year at Swampscott High School, Jennifer volunteered at Congressman Peter Torkildsen’s office and developed a love of politics. She went on to become a Political Science major at The United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD.

The United States Naval Academy (USNA) is an undergraduate college that educates and commissions officers of the United States Navy and Marine Corps. The mission at USNA is “to develop Midshipmen morally, mentally and physically and to imbue them with the highest ideals of duty, honor and loyalty in order to graduate leaders who are dedicated to a career of naval service and have potential for future development in mind and character to assume the highest responsibilities of command, citizenship and government.”

On July 2, 1996, Induction Day (I-Day), Jen began her new life at the United States Naval Academy with a rigorous day of medical examinations, uniform fittings, equipment issue, completing paperwork, getting her first Plebe haircut, and being assigned to a Brigade of Midshipmen military unit – Echo Company – for Plebe Summer. Jen took her Oath of Office to become a U.S. Navy Midshipman during the evening Oath of Office Ceremony in the court yard of Bancroft Hall, thus officially becoming a Midshipman and beginning her Plebe Summer Training. Jen’s USNA Class of 2000 comprised 1,212 Midshipmen 4th Class (Freshmen), 16.5% or 200 of which were women.
During Jen’s Plebe year her Company, 9th Company, was selected to be the Color Company based on its accomplishments. As a member of the Color Company she was present at the December 1997 Army-Navy Game for President Bill Clinton’s review and she participated in his inauguration in January 1998.

Jen’s Marine Years

During her years at the Academy, Jen’s upper-class Midshipmen and role models, who were going to become Marines, impressed her. They are the reason she chose to become a United States Marine Corps Officer and pilot. Like the Marines who consider themselves “The Best of the Best,” Jen always set high standards and goals for herself and worked hard to accomplish them.
Following graduation from USNA and her commission as a Second Lieutenant in the Marine Corps, Jen went to The Basic School (TBS) in Quantico, Virginia. At TBS, she spent 6 months training and developing the professional knowledge and skills necessary to effectively lead Marines under her command. Courses at TBS included leadership, marksmanship, land navigation, communications, infantry tactics, weapons, drill, military law, logistics, personnel administration, and Marine Corps history.

After graduating from TBS, Jen reported to Naval Air Station Pensacola, FL for Aviation Preflight Indoctrination. While there, she completed physical training and courses in engineering, air navigation, aviation physiology and water survival. After completing her training, Jen reported for primary flight training at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, TX where she was trained to fly the T-34 turbo propeller, fixed-wing aircraft.

Upon completing primary flight training, Jen was selected to fly helicopters, which brought her to Naval Air Station Whiting Field in Milton, FL. As a member of Helicopter Training Squadron Eight (HT-8) Jen completed a rigorous program and earned her coveted Wings of Gold on September 13, 2002.

Next Jen was assigned to a training squadron, HMMT-164 in Camp Pendleton, CA, where she learned to fly the CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter, also affectionately known as the Battle Phrog.

Upon completing her CH-46 training, Jen was assigned to Marine Helicopter Squadron HMM-364, Purple Foxes, and immediately deployed for Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). HMM-364 is a legendary squadron. In Vietnam, they became famous for repeatedly going into harm’s way, under any conditions, in order to evacuate the wounded. That dedication continued in OIF.

During her time with HMM-364, Jen was chosen to attend The Weapons and Tactics Instructor’s Course (WTI), the Marine equivalent to Top Gun training. Jen was the first deployed female pilot in the Purple Foxes Squadron and served three tours of duty in Iraq. While she was with the Purple Foxes, she was promoted twice; first to the rank of First Lieutenant, and then to the rank of Captain.

During Jen’s first OIF tour with the Purple Foxes at the Ali Al Salem Air Base in Kuwait in 2003, her enlisted Marines affectionately dubbed her “The Dove”. While on her daily exercise runs she would hear some of the enlisted say, “There goes the dove.” She learned that they were referring to her as she ran by and was told that this was because they considered her “the prettiest and calmest thing in a war zone.”
Substantiating this image was a fellow Marine Corps pilot’s wife who said, “Jen was grace under pressure. She was gentle and peaceful, beautiful and elegant. At the same time she was strong, confidant, motivated and humbly commanded the utmost respect of all those around her. She was courageous.”
As a casualty evacuation pilot, Jen saved countless lives. According to her Commanding Officer, “Jennifer brought out the best in those around her because she was so demanding of herself, yet understanding of others. She believed in her mission as a helicopter pilot and dedicated fourteen and fifteen hour days while deployed in Iraq to ensure that every mission was well coordinated and executed as safely as possible. She watched out for the young pilots in the squadron and took them under her wing. She used to kid that she was their mother hen. She was equally protective of her peers and those senior to her. She was after all, a Purple Fox. She was always professional but managed to make things pleasant with her endearing personality.”

On February 7, 2007, on the very last flight of her third deployment, only days before coming home, and after completing a successful casualty evacuation mission, Captain Jennifer J. Harris was killed in action when the helicopter she was piloting was shot down by insurgents. That day and many days before it, the Dove flew so others could live.

We Will Never Forget Capt. Jennifer J. Harris