HomeNewsArticle Display

Female AF pioneer laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery

Friends and family of retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Marcelite Harris attend her full honors military funeral at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va., Feb. 7, 2019. Harris’s accomplishments include being the first woman aircraft maintenance officer, one of the first two women air officers commanding at the U.S. Air Force Academy and the first woman deputy commander for maintenance. She also served as a White House social aide during the Carter administration. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Rusty Frank)

Friends and family of retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Marcelite Harris attend her full honors military funeral at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va., Feb. 7, 2019. Harris’s accomplishments include being the first woman aircraft maintenance officer, one of the first two women air officers commanding at the U.S. Air Force Academy and the first woman deputy commander for maintenance. She also served as a White House social aide during the Carter administration. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Rusty Frank)

The U.S. Air Force Honor Guard performs full military honors during the funeral of retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Marcelite Harris at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va., Feb. 7, 2019. In 1991, Harris became the first African-American women to earn the rank of brigadier general in the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Rusty Frank)

The U.S. Air Force Honor Guard performs full military honors during the funeral of retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Marcelite Harris at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va., Feb. 7, 2019. In 1991, Harris became the first African-American women to earn the rank of brigadier general in the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Rusty Frank)

U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Lenny Richoux, the commander of U.S. Transportation Command’s Joint Enabling Capabilities Command, presents the American Flag to retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Mareclite Harris’s daughter, Tenecia Harris, during a full honors funeral at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va., Feb. 7, 2019. Gen. Harris’s accomplishments include being the first woman aircraft maintenance officer, one of the first two women air officers commanding at the U.S. Air Force Academy and the first woman deputy commander for maintenance. She also served as a White House social aide during the Carter administration. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Rusty Frank)

U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Lenny Richoux, the commander of U.S. Transportation Command’s Joint Enabling Capabilities Command, presents the American Flag to retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Mareclite Harris’s daughter, Tenecia Harris, during a full honors funeral at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va., Feb. 7, 2019. Gen. Harris’s accomplishments include being the first woman aircraft maintenance officer, one of the first two women air officers commanding at the U.S. Air Force Academy and the first woman deputy commander for maintenance. She also served as a White House social aide during the Carter administration. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Rusty Frank)

Friends and family of retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Marcelite Harris attend her full honors military funeral at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va., Feb. 7, 2019. Harris’s accomplishments include being the first woman aircraft maintenance officer, one of the first two women air officers commanding at the U.S. Air Force Academy and the first woman deputy commander for maintenance. She also served as a White House social aide during the Carter administration. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Rusty Frank)

Friends and family of retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Marcelite Harris attend her full honors military funeral at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va., Feb. 7, 2019. Harris’s accomplishments include being the first woman aircraft maintenance officer, one of the first two women air officers commanding at the U.S. Air Force Academy and the first woman deputy commander for maintenance. She also served as a White House social aide during the Carter administration. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Rusty Frank)

Friends and family of retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Marcelite Harris attend her full honors military funeral at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va., Feb. 7, 2019. Harris’s accomplishments include being the first woman aircraft maintenance officer, one of the first two women air officers commanding at the U.S. Air Force Academy and the first woman deputy commander for maintenance. She also served as a White House social aide during the Carter administration. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Rusty Frank)

Friends and family of retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Marcelite Harris attend her full honors military funeral at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va., Feb. 7, 2019. Harris’s accomplishments include being the first woman aircraft maintenance officer, one of the first two women air officers commanding at the U.S. Air Force Academy and the first woman deputy commander for maintenance. She also served as a White House social aide during the Carter administration. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Rusty Frank)

The U.S. Air Force Honor Guard performs full military honors during the funeral of retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Marcelite Harris at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va., Feb. 7, 2019. In 1991, Harris became the first African-American women to earn the rank of brigadier general in the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Rusty Frank)

The U.S. Air Force Honor Guard performs full military honors during the funeral of retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Marcelite Harris at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va., Feb. 7, 2019. In 1991, Harris became the first African-American women to earn the rank of brigadier general in the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Rusty Frank)

A caisson delivers the remains of retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Marcelite Harris during her full honors funeral at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va., Feb. 7, 2019. In 1991, Harris became the first African-American women to earn the rank of brigadier general in the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Rusty Frank)

A caisson delivers the remains of retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Marcelite Harris during her full honors funeral at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va., Feb. 7, 2019. In 1991, Harris became the first African-American women to earn the rank of brigadier general in the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Rusty Frank)

WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- Retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Marcelite Jordan Harris was laid to rest Feb. 7, 2019, at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, with full military funeral honors.

During Harris’s life and Air Force career, she accomplished multiple crowning achievements. After receiving her commission through Officer Training School at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, in 1965, she ventured into her first assignment as the assistant director for administration for the 60th Airlift Wing at Travis AFB, California. She then completed a tour in West Germany in 1971 before enrolling in the Aircraft Maintenance Officer Course at Chanute AFB, Illinois. After graduating, she was named aircraft maintenance officer — the first woman to ever hold the title.

“Being a leader, being a mentor is not about how much you can fill your own cup, it’s about how much you pour into others and with Major General Harris, our cups run over,” said Lt. Gen. Stayce Harris, Inspector General of the Air Force. “She poured so much of herself, personally and professional, into all of us and influenced so many — those she knew and those who knew her from afar.”

Through hard work and dedication, Harris continued to pave the way for females and women of color in the military. While she served at assignments in Thailand, California, Washington, D.C., Colorado, Kansas, Japan, Mississippi and Oklahoma, she continued to rise through the ranks. During those assignments, she was appointed as a White House aide during the presidential administrations of Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter in 1975, and she was the second female in history to serve as a commanding officer for an Air Force cadet squadron in 1978. In 1988, she became the first female wing commander.

Harris continued to break barriers – on May 1, 1991, she was promoted to brigadier general – making her the first African-American female general in the U.S. Air Force. A mere four years later, on May 25, 1995, she was promoted to major general, and was the first woman to hold this rank in the service.

“Harris was the personification of enduring power…she had the ability to withstand challenges and changes that came with being the first…the first woman, the first forerunner, the pioneer for females in male dominated career fields,” said Lt. Col. Ruth Segres, chaplain. “In the midst of opposition and obstacles she exhibited a power, a mental steadfast strength and a fierce fortitude to keep her composure — a credit to her character.”

After 32 years of service, Harris retired in 1997 as the highest ranking female in the U.S. Air Force and highest ranking African-American female in the Department of Defense. She continued her legacy of service by aiding as the treasurer of the Atlanta branch of the NAACP and a director on the board of Peachtree Hope Charter School. In 2010, she was given the chance to once again serve with her Air Force family when President Barack Obama appointed her to work as a member of the Board of Visitors for the U.S. Air Force Academy.

“My sister was a fighter,” said Elizabeth Johnson, Harris’s younger sister during the memorial service. “She was forever striving to serve others, and even in retirement she never missed an opportunity to contribute.”

Harris passed away Sept. 7, 2018, at Jackson Memorial Hospital, Miami, on a Caribbean vacation with her companion, retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. David Branch. Though her death was sudden and unexpected, she was surrounded by loved ones.

Engage

Facebook Twitter
.@179AW #Airmen know the hardest part isn't the jump, it's the preparation for the heavy drop beforehand. https://t.co/WMV2fBXN2x
.@HQUSAFEPA #Airmen combined their capabilities to provide disaster relief to those affected by #CycloneIdai, deliv… https://t.co/kzkdQA8TOS
The results are in as #USAF announces findings from a year-long review on electronic warfare. Read on for more on t… https://t.co/wAEDCRjj5L
Congratulations to the Lance P. Sijan Leadership Award recipients! Named in honor of the first @AF_Academy graduate… https://t.co/fiOTVLfrpD
RT @SecAFOfficial: Our military must have the ability to see what is going on around the world, quickly and without interruption...and this…
#USAF #Airmen and firefighters from five #CentralAmerican countries develop bonds with team-building training durin… https://t.co/An5wJIt0B6
#Brrrt! Check out this video of our hawgs training in the Philippines. #Warthog #Pilsung https://t.co/cL8E1oE5Ob
RT @SecAFOfficial: Today, the family & friends of Lt. Col. Richard "Dick" Cole celebrated his legendary life. Dick and the rest of the Dool…
On the 77th anniversary of the #DoolitlleRaid, #USAF leaders, #Airmen, and the family and friends of Lt. Col. Richa… https://t.co/RE4wWGQe4t
.@GenDaveGoldfein to the family of Lt. Col. Richard "Dick" Cole: Your father and grandfather was larger than life. https://t.co/5QnT5IufeN
.@SecAFOfficial pays tribute to the #DoolittleRaiders during the Celebration of Life Ceremony for Lt. Col. Richard… https://t.co/4jlAYfqdCa
The first to take-off from the U.S.S. Hornet on April 18, 1942, is the last to land. We celebrate the memory of… https://t.co/WbkKxHSIY1
RT @PDShinkman: .@GenDaveGoldfein @SecAFOfficial greeting family and friends of Lt. Col. Dick Cole, the last Doolittle Raider who passed aw…
RT @GenDaveGoldfein: Join me today as "big blue" gathers with family & friends to celebrate one of the rare giants of the #GreatestGenerati
.@GenDaveGoldfein and 11 air chiefs plunge into deep discussion on the changing nature of #space.… https://t.co/T8aKZI8rHj
RT @AFmuseum: #OTD 1942: U.S. Army Air Forces, led by Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle, carried the Battle of the Pacific to the heart of the Japan…
RT @SecAFOfficial: A touching moment memorialized. Condolences to the family. https://t.co/1TyRMPZiwA
If only the Wright Brothers could see how far we've come... If only they knew the number of reasons why our pilots… https://t.co/AeQ3I1u8lm
.@NATO's largest medical exercise, Vigorous Warrior 19, ensures readiness, strong partnerships for #USAF medics &… https://t.co/RqHoq37nfF
.@SecAFOfficial unveiled a new and ambitious Science & Technology Strategy designed to better identify, develop and… https://t.co/HHWiK7vNNq