Ken Harris, 47, has been named the new Sevier County Veterans Service Officer, replacing Jessie Horton, who recently left the position. Harris spent 20 years and three days in the army, starting as a cavalry scout and promoting to Special Forces weapons specialist.
Raised in Nash, Texas, Harris roots in Sevier County trace back to his great-grandparents and grandparents who resided here. He returned when his parents retired and moved here.
Harris was 21 when he enlisted, saying he always wanted to travel and do something else.
“It was everything and more,” he said about his decision to join and the subsequent career he enjoyed.
From October 1992 until 2012, Harris made the army his career. He spent two years as a drill sergeant before going to Special Forces Selection in 2002. In 2003 he was in the Special Forces Qualification Course and in September of that year, he joined the 1st Special Forces Group in Ft. Lewis, Washington.
One of his first experiences in the army was his participation in Operation Bright Star, a joint training mission with the Egyptian army. He then was part of two counter narcotic missions on the Mexican border in 1993 and 1994, and did a rotation in Bosnia under NATO command, the first time since WWII an active duty unit fell under an international command.
While most of his time in Bosnia was spent helping to re-settle Muslims back into their villages, he also provided security for teams that were digging up mass grave sites, cataloging the remains and performing DNA testing to identify the corpses.
In Special Forces, Harris was a weapons specialist.
“We were trained to be able too operate any kind of weapon system from a pistol to a rifle, machine gun, artillery and shoulder fired anti-aircraft systems, American and mostly Russian,” he said.
He was deployed to Iraq in 2007 and served in Al Kut during the “surge”, when President George W. Bush increased the U.S. military presence in the country.
“We were hunting the bad guys,” he said about his first combat deployment in special forces, where he spent seven months.
Harris spent another nine months involved in counter terrorism operations in Jolo, an island in the southern Philippines. He also worked with a marine battalion of Philippine soldiers, providing them with training and counter terrorism information. He also provided narcotic defense training for Philippine DEA, FBI, local police and some military members as well as performing the same duties for the Thai border patrol and military in Thailand.
“We would teach them small unit tactics, basics to advanced marksmanship, patrolling, trauma first aid and buddy aid,” he said, noting that during a firefight, soldiers are trained to patch their own bullet wounds and apply tourniquets to themselves as all were trained to “shoot first and medic later.”
While having never been shot himself, he said that he had lost two SWAT team members in Al Kut.
Harris ended his military career at Ft. Polk in Louisiana, where he served with a special operations training attachment for his last three years.
“We were doing the pre-mission certifications for special forces going to Iraq or Afghanistan,” he said.
He said that he enjoyed his time when on a special operations attachment.
“Brotherhood,” he said about what he enjoyed most. “Everyone you work with — you’re a really tight group. I just enjoyed serving and the people I met. I have a lot of good friends.”
He said the teams consisted of only about 12 men and they would usually spend up to four years on a team.
What he didn’t like was being away from his family. Harris married his wife, Marianne, in 1994 and they have two kids, a son in the Arkansas Air Guard and a daughter attending Horatio High School.
In the six years he’s been out he’s worked as a small contractor, doing scenario based training to get troops ready for conventional warfare, playing roles for special operations training. Of recent he was contracted for the Jade Helm military exercise in Texas in 2015.
He also has a small farm in Horatio where he bales hay and fulfills his wife’s “honey-do” list.
He was only recently appointed as Sevier Veterans Service Office and he said he’s learning as he goes, knowing he has big shoes to fill with Horton’s departure.
“It’s interesting,” he said about the job. “I’m getting my feet on the ground. The best part is the chance to give back to the older vets that paved the way for us younger vets.”
Harris’s new job is to help process or initiate claims for veterans and help with appeals when they’re denied benefits. He is in his office at the Sevier County Courthouse on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. On the other days of the week he is available to visit with homebound veterans. To reach Harris, call 870-642-6622.