Sunday, September 07, 2008

Navy SEAL PO1 Joshua Harris Killed in Action Afghanistan

Harris found his calling in the military
Family recalls soldier who died in combat
BY HEATHER J. SMITHThe Dispatch

Evelyn and Sam Harris had the courage to teach their children they could do anything they set their will to. The parents accepted that danger accompanied such hopes but planted that philosophy regardless.


Their son, Special Warfare Officer First Class (SEAL) Josh Harris, drowned Saturday. The Navy SEAL died while conducting a combat river crossing in Afghanistan. His body was found downstream later.


Sam and Evelyn and their other children, Ranchor and Kiki, sat recalling Josh at the family's home Wednesday afternoon. Their grief was plain, but memory sparked smiles and the occasional laughter. Though they lost a loved one, they take consolation that he found his passion and reason once among soldiers who shared his dedication.

Evelyn said where their other children took passing interest in their rural home, Josh reveled in it. His boyhood was steeped in afternoons spent traversing grassy fields surrounding the house, tending horses or timidly befriending the family cows. His desire to explore his world was unhindered. Sam and Evelyn remarked they never remember a time Josh was not a bottomless well of physical energy.
"He was very athletic from the beginning. During field days at school, he'd win every race," Evelyn said. "And not because he didn't face competition, because he did. He just wanted to win, so he did it."
His enthusiasm for academics was not as strong, and though far from a bad student, Evelyn said he doodled in his notebook to escape the classroom. Errant doodling during class became a skill, as did his abilities on the football field. If Josh was interested in it, he challenged himself to become fluent.
It paid off. After graduating from Lexington Senior High School in 1990, he was offered a football scholarship to Davidson College.
"That was so amazing because he did not like school at all. Then again, he was brilliant. He could do anything he set his mind to, if he'd just decide to," she said.
Once college recruiters secured Josh for Davidson's team, they asked about possible majors. After a little thought, Evelyn said Josh asked to see their art building.
"These people were thinking, wait a minute, you're here to play football, and you want to see the art building?" Evelyn said. "I imagine they found that a bit unexpected."
A shoulder injury eventually ended his football career but doubled his dedication to academics.
"That's when he really learned how to study - or learned how to learn," his mother said.
His graduation in 1994 with a studio art degree didn't transition him into a job that truly gave him the purpose he wanted. Unsuited for the grind of a desk job, he did contract work in Davidson County, then moved to New York City.
His twin sister, Kiki, preceded him there to develop her acting career. Josh hoped the same for his art. They shared a tiny, overpriced apartment, hardly big enough for one person.
"You could stand in the kitchen, spread your arms and touch parallel walls," Sam said.
Evelyn laughed, adding, "Oh, it was tiny. You couldn't open the refrigerator door while standing in the kitchen."
It was a single bedroom, Kiki recalls. She claimed the bed for six months while Josh was relegated to the couch pull-out. The proximity and a shared mission to forge a reputation in the big city generated more than hundreds of inside jokes and frustration with the world. At 27, when Josh explained his plan to join the SEALs, Kiki knew better than to dismiss it.
"He just put his mind to it, and I knew nothing would stop him," Kiki said. "Nothing would stop him. Nothing was going to stand between him and this goal."
The rest of Josh's family put aside their worries when they saw that same dedication.
"He told me he'd been thinking about it a long time," Sam said. "I don't think he could have ever been content with a regular 9-to-5 job, and I think he knew that, too. At first, I wasn't sure if that's what he really wanted to do, but after talking about it, I knew it was, and I supported him 100 percent."
Cut-off age to join the SEALs is 29. Josh's first attempt at acceptance into the training program was unsuccessful, Evelyn said. He came close to the passing the program's rigorous screening. To even be eligible, applicants must swim 500 yards, do 42 push-ups, 50 sit-ups, six pull-ups and run a mile and a half in heavy boots in under two hours.
Instead of giving up, Josh moved back to North Carolina and trained under the guidance of a local Navy recruiter. Despite edging close to the age limit, he secured a waiver and, in 2000, joined the U.S. Navy and began some of the world's most rigorous military training.
Many recruits don't make it past BUD/S training. Two weeks of preparation precedes intensive conditioning, affectionately referred to as "hell week." Recruits work out continuously on four hours of sleep. They do tactical drills, run in the mud, carry boats through wet sand, swim until exhaustion and are expected to do more. Little wonder SEALs training has a 67 percent dropout rate.
Parachutist, reconnaissance scout, special warfare sniper, diving training and a long line of other training sessions followed, but Josh excelled at each. Instead of faltering under the demands, he shined. Ranchor said it was the first time his brother felt requirements matched his level of dedication.
"He blossomed. I always knew he was a smart guy, but I never knew he had the mind to grasp the technical and strategic aspects of everything he did," Ranchor said.
Josh more than blossomed. Serving with SEAL Team 10, he earned a Bronze Star during Operation Iraqi Freedom. He joined the Naval Special Warfare Development Group and was assigned to the tactical development and evaluation squadron. Though he never told his family, he was highly decorated. Ranchor said when anyone mentioned a new medal Josh earned, he was quick to mention his whole platoon deserved accolades.
"Josh was a patriot," Ranchor said. "He was not in this for him. He did this for the guys, it was for mom and dad, it was for Lexington, it was for the United States."
And though he found direction, he never wandered too far from his family.
"Whether it was an anniversary or birthday, even if he were in the blackest place in the earth, you'd open the door, and there'd be flowers," Sam said.

The pall of grief surrounds the house, and Sam, Evelyn, Ranchor and Kiki lean on the stream of family and friends offering support. But the greatest comfort they lean on, Sam summed up, was something Josh would say each time he was sent into combat.
"Each time he was shipped out, he'd tell me, 'Dad, I'm in a business that's dangerous. If something happens to me, remember, I'm doing what I was always meant to do.'"

Heather J. Smith can be reached at 249-3981, ext. 228 or at hetherj.smith@the-dispatch.com.

12 comments:

Steve said...

Condolences to the family. God Bless you Josh, and thank you for your service and patriotism. Rest in Peace.

paulcouturier1ea said...

Rest in Peace my Brother, and Thank You for your Service!

Sherri said...

Sometimes, there just aren't words to convey what we feel. This is one of them.

Rest in Peace Josh.

Anonymous said...

I was the loadmaster on the C-17mission that flew your son Joshua from Bagram, Afghanistan to Ramstein, Germany last week. In just 8 hours, I watched and learned how much of a HERO your son is, and how much every member of his unit cared for him. I prayed for your family this past week, that God is giving you comfort and the best memories. I have flown numerous missions in the AOR, and this mission has hit me the most. God's blessings and peace to your family.

G.R.

Jeff said...

I would like to send my condolences to the family of Joshua Harris. This hits close to home for me. My son is a friend of Joshua. God bless Joshua and his family.

Anonymous said...

Hero, I will follow his path

Anonymous said...

I miss you buddy.....

Anonymous said...

condolences to all he left behind

penny said...

I am Josh's Aunt and want to say I still miss you every day and love you so much. I miss your strength, your brilliance and your humor. We are all so very proud of you for who you are in serving our country and who you have always been. Love you Josh.

penny said...

I am Josh's Aunt and want to say I still miss you every day and love you so much. I miss your strength, your brilliance and your humor. We are all so very proud of you for who you are in serving our country and who you have always been. Love you Josh.

penny said...

I am Josh's Aunt and want to say I still miss you every day and love you so much. I miss your strength, your brilliance and your humor. We are all so very proud of you for who you are in serving our country and who you have always been. Love you Josh.

penny said...

I am Josh's Aunt and want to say I still miss you every day and love you so much. I miss your strength, your brilliance and your humor. We are all so very proud of you for who you are in serving our country and who you have always been. Love you Josh.