Jennifer J. Harris

Marine Capt. Jennifer J. Harris — September 2013 Shipment Honoree

Died February 7, 2007 Serving During Operation Iraqi Freedom


The Early Years

Capt. Jennifer J. Harris
Capt. Jennifer J. Harris
November 6, 1978 ~ February 7, 2007

Jennifer Jean Harris was born on November 6, 1978, to Rosalie and Ray Harris of Swampscott, Massachusetts. As a young child she developed a determination to overcome obstacles in achieving her goals and a compassion for others. She was serious yet full of enthusiasm, and as she grew, so did her enthusiasm for life. That enthusiasm and her beautiful smile were contagious to those around her.

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

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

Capt. Jennifer J. Harris
Capt. Jennifer J. Harris

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.

For the remainder of her years at USNA, Jen was in 18th Company. Her activities at the Naval Academy included membership on two athletic teams — the USNA Power Lifting Team, and the USNA Intercollegiate (IC) Sailing Team, where she raced Lasers. She also continued her commitment to others through the community service activities of being a Religious Education instructor at The USNA Chapel and by participating in Toys for Tots, a program she started replicating the one of her hometown in Swampscott, MA.

In the Summer of 1998, as a Midshipmen 2nd Class (Junior), she was a member of a cadre of First and Second Class Midshipmen, known as Detailers, providing leadership and training for the incoming 4th Class Midshipmen, the Class of 2002. In this role she was a Squad Leader assigned to 10 Plebes for Plebe Summer making sure they were trained in the Naval Academy tradition and ensuring they were physically and mentally fit.

Jen’s leadership skills continued to develop and as a “Firstie” (Midshipmen 1st Class, a Senior), she was chosen to be a “Brigade Striper”, a much-respected position of leadership and responsibility within the Brigade of Midshipmen. The Brigade consists of 30 companies and the Midshipman Command Structure is made up of First Class Midshipmen selected for their outstanding leadership performance.

During the Class of 2000 Commissioning Week, she received a Political Science Department Award for her accomplishments and enjoyed with her family many of the Commissioning Week activities leading up to Graduation and Commissioning Ceremonies. On May 24, 2000, at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, MD, Jen graduated with her Class following which she was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps.

Marine Years

Marine Capt. Jennifer J. Harris
Marine Capt. Jennifer J. Harris

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. 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.

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.

The Symbol of the Purple Butterfly

The butterfly has long symbolized new life. Aztec beliefs include a belief in an afterlife where the spirit of the dead returns as butterflies. In the Aztec tradition, two addition beliefs related to Monarch Butterflies are known- they are believed to be the incarnation of fallen warriors wearing their colors of battle; they carry the soul of the fallen warrior.

While visiting Jen’s resting place on the 7th month anniversary of her passing (7 September 2007), a monarch butterfly arose from behind her headstone and encircled her loved ones, Linda and Laura, again and again, as if she were giving them hugs. Shortly after that, at a memorial service for four Service Academy women killed that year in service to their country, a maquette called “Woman Soar: Porcelain on Steel” was presented to each family with Linda accepting the Harris/Macone Maquette. The artist who created the Maquettes worked with the Aztec beliefs stated above. Her inspiration came from watching the emergence of a monarch from its jeweled jade chrysalis while she was painting a mirror at the Long Beach Veterans hospital.

The purple butterfly symbolizes Jen’s life by blending the Aztec beliefs and the family’s experiences with Jen’s squadron, HMM-364, the Purple Foxes. This symbol, the purple butterfly, has, therefore, special meaning for Jen’s family and friends.

Written by Linda Macone and Laura M. Ventimiglia

The Dove Story

Captain Jennifer J. Harris has become widely known as “The Dove”. It seems that people created their own explanations for how and where this nickname originated. According to Jen, as she told her Aunt Linda and her other family members, at the time she became aware of people referring to her as “The Dove” she was stationed at the Ali Al Salem Air Base in Kuwait in 2003. On her daily exercise runs she would hear some of the enlisted say, “There goes the dove.” She had been told that they said this because they considered her “The prettiest and calmest thing in a war zone.” Corroborating this explanation are several people who either served with Jen or had relatives served with Jen during her first deployment to Kuwait for Operation Iraqi Freedom I.

Source: Seven Stars Foundation


Marine killed in Iraq

The Associated Press

SWAMPSCOTT, Mass. — Marine Capt. Jennifer Harris, a Swampscott woman and Naval Academy graduate, died when the helicopter she was piloting crashed Feb. 7 in a field northwest of Baghdad, killing all seven people on board.

Harris, 28, a graduate of Swampscott High School, was on her third tour and was scheduled to be home next week, said Jim Schultz, the town veterans’ agent.

“She was a great kid,” he said.

Harris was the second Swampscott resident to die in Iraq in the last six months and is believed to be the first woman from Massachusetts to die in the war. Army Spc. Jared Raymond, 20, of Swampscott, died when the tank he was driving was hit by a roadside bomb Sept. 19 in Taji, Iraq.

“Jennifer Harris exemplified the best of what this country has to offer,” a statement released by family spokesman Anthony Macone said. “She had a passion for life and was a compassionate human being.”

Macone declined to comment further when contacted by The Associated Press.

Harris graduated from the Naval Academy in 2000, after choosing the difficult path of training as a Marine officer, Schultz said.

“She liked to take on the challenges,” Schultz said.

The crash that killed Harris remains under investigation, with conflicting reports of what caused the transport helicopter to go down. A U.S. military statement gave no reason for the crash of the CH-46 Sea Knight, which went down near Fallujah in Anbar province, about 20 miles from Baghdad. Marine Corps officials at the Pentagon said the aircraft was in flames when it went down, but there was no sign that it involved hostile fire.

An Iraqi air force officer, however, said the helicopter was downed by an anti-aircraft missile. An al-Qaida-linked group, the Islamic State in Iraq, claimed on its Web site that it shot down the helicopter.


Marine pilot killed in Iraq buried in Swampscott

The Associated Press

SWAMPSCOTT, Mass. — The first servicewoman from Massachusetts to be killed in the Iraq war was buried with full military honors Monday, less than two weeks after the helicopter she was piloting in Iraq was shot down.

Marine Capt. Jennifer Harris, 28, was taken by horse-drawn hearse to a funeral service at St. John the Evangelist Church. Bagpipes played as Marines in full uniform carried her casket inside.

The eulogy was delivered by Lt. Rose Gascinski, who roomed with Harris at the Naval Academy before Harris, of Swampscott, graduated in 2000. Harris then choose the difficult path of training as a Marine officer.

Speaking before the service, Gascinski said Harris earned the nickname “Dove” at the Naval Academy for her calm demeanor in the face of adversity. Gascinski said those qualities would have served Harris well when the Marine CH-46 troop transport she was piloting went down northwest of Baghdad on Feb. 7.

“I was thinking that if I wanted anybody to be my pilot in that moment, I would want it to be her,” Gascinski said.

All seven people on board the helicopter were killed. An al-Qaida-linked Sunni group claimed responsibility for shooting down the helicopter, and aired a video.

Harris’ body arrived home Thursday, accompanied by a Marine escort, Maj. Christopher Aaby, her fiance.

Harris, a graduate of Swampscott High School, had been on her third tour in Iraq. She was scheduled to return home the week after she was killed.

Harris was the second Swampscott resident to be killed in Iraq in the last six months. Army Spc. Jared Raymond, 20, of Swampscott, was killed when the tank he was driving was hit by a roadside bomb on Sept. 19 in Taji, Iraq.

Source: Military Times: HONOR THE FALLEN