by Ellen Summey
Since he was just a kid growing up in Hutchinson, Kansas, Brig. Gen. Garrick Harmon was determined to join the Army—a goal he pursued with single-minded determination. “For as long as I can remember, that’s all I ever wanted to do,” he said. According to his parents, the fascination began with a family trip to the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum in nearby Abilene. Eisenhower, one of only eight U.S. Army officers to attain the rank of five-star general officer, General of the Army, seemed to make a lasting impression on then-5-year-old Harmon. “That one engagement 46 years ago set the path for what has become multiple decades of Army service.”
But if Eisenhower was the inspiration, Harmon’s high school teacher was the foundation of his success. “Here we are in Hutchinson, Kansas, a relatively small town. One of the best teachers in the high school was a man by the name of Gary Hughes.” Hughes taught honors courses, and it was widely accepted that “if you wanted to be the most prepared for college that you could be, you studied with Gary Hughes. Whatever classes Gary taught, those were the classes that you took.” In Harmon’s senior year, that class happened to be Russian history. “Whether I knew that to be the case or not at the time, studying with him, and that class in particular, is what set me on the course to, arguably, doing what I do now. It is an example of the powerful influence of a great educator.”
While still in high school, Harmon participated in a Pittsburg State University exchange program to the Soviet Union. “In March of 1988, I had my first trip to the Soviet Union. By the time I went to West Point, when it came time to pick a major, I knew what I wanted to do, which was Russian history and Russian language.” In the summer of 1991, as a U.S. Military Academy at West Point cadet, Harmon returned to the Soviet Union for another exchange program at Moscow State University. “This was just prior to the August coup of 1991, which preceded the fall of the Soviet Union about six months later, so a very unique period of time.”
He commissioned into the field artillery as a second lieutenant in 1992 and was stationed at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, and Fort Sill, Oklahoma. But after battery command, “I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do next,” he said. Harmon said several of his former classmates were facing similar circumstances at the time. “Some of them went Acquisition Corps, some went to law school. We all decided we wanted to continue to serve in our great Army, but we wanted to serve in ways that maybe were different from the standard operational track.” When presented with the opportunity to attend the Defense Language Institute for Russian, “I said absolutely.”
“My FAO [foreign area officer] career began in about October of 1998, and [I] have never looked back. It was just my background and then a series of opportunities that presented themselves at the right time and, here I am, 23 years later, kind of doing the same thing.” Indeed, he later completed an M.A. in Russia, Eastern Europe and Central Asia studies from Harvard University and an M.A. in strategic studies from the Army War College. “The professional opportunities, as well as the family opportunities to repeatedly live abroad, travel extensively, understand other cultures and languages, becoming a foreign policy and regional expert, while having a strategic impact as a relatively junior officer,” have been rewarding for Harmon. “The decision to become a FAO was the right one,” he said.
This sidebar was originally published with the article FINDING COMMON GROUND