Anchors Aweigh

August 2019 View more

By Alvin Plexico

A 2008 Bartlett High School graduate is serving in the U.S. Navy aboard its newest aircraft carrier, the USS Gerald R. Ford. Petty Officer 1st Class Kiara Harris (above) is an aviation boatswain’s mate aboard the carrier homeported in Norfolk, Virginia. 

“I grew up in a neighborhood with a lot of diversity and different cultures,” said Harris. “This really helped me in the navy, where there are a lot of people with different backgrounds.” 

Commissioned in 2017, Ford, or “Warship 78” as she is known by the crew, is 1,106 feet long—longer than three football fields. A true floating city, the ship weighs more than 100,000 tons and has a flight deck that is 256 feet wide. Powerful catapults slingshot the aircraft off the bow of the ship. The planes land aboard the carrier by snagging a steel cable with an arresting hook that protrudes from the rear of the aircraft.

Harris is responsible for directing the planes to land and moving them where they need to be on the flight deck and hangar bay, and she credits her success in the navy to many of the lessons learned growing up in the western suburbs. 

The USS Gerald R. Ford is a $12.9 billion aircraft carrier, the largest warship ever constructed.

The ship is named after the 38th president of the United States, Gerald Rudolph Ford Jr., who was a navy veteran. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Ford enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve, serving from 1942 to 1946. While serving at Navy Preflight School in 1942 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, he taught seamanship, ordnance, gunnery, first aid, and military drill. At sea, Ford served aboard the light aircraft carrier, USS Monterey, which saw action in the Pacific throughout World War II. 

Though there are many ways for sailors to earn distinction in their command, community and career, Harris is proudest of earning Junior Sailor of the Year in 2016 at her previous command.

“I was humbled to be recognized for the dedication and hard work within the command,” says Harris. “It’s nice to be recognized for going above and beyond the call of duty.”

Serving in the navy is a continuing tradition of military service for
Harris, who has military ties with family members who have previously served. Harris is honored to carry on the family tradition.

“I have two uncles who served in the navy,” says Harris. “Their names are Timothy Harris and Mark Harris. I talked to Uncle Tim, who worked on the flight deck, and he told me about his experiences. It sounded really interesting. He was definitely excited when I decided to join.” 

Harris and other Ford sailors know they are part of a legacy that will last beyond their lifetimes. 

“This is a higher calling,” adds Harris. “Serving something higher than myself offers a great opportunity to travel around the world and learn about other cultures. As a first-class petty officer, I have a responsibility to train and mentor sailors. It’s an opportunity to give back to others.”

Photo by Bill Tiernan/The Virginian-Pilot/AP