Life of a Marine is one of sacrifice and rewards, Lt. Col. Mike Harmon

February 21, 2012


mcp editor


Editor’s Note: This morning I had the privilege to photograph Lt. Col. Mike Harmon and his wife, Joy. Mike, 42, is a helicopter pilot in the Marine Corps who just completed a one year deployment to Afghanistan. Mike and Joy wanted some portraits of themselves so they stopped into Alway Photography. I couldn’t resist interviewing Mike and Joy about life in the Marines. Both Mike and Joy are truly American heroes, putting service to their country before everything else.


I’ve known Mike most of my life, pretty much since grade school. We graduated together at Mason County Central and grew up down the road from each other in northern Amber Township. After high school he attended Purdue University on a Reserve Officer Training Corp. (ROTC) scholarship to the Marines.


The Super Stallion

I’ve always been an aviation enthusiast, pretty much since grade school,” Mike said. “I’ve always loved the thought of flying and doing that as an occupation. As I grew up I started to explore military aviation. As I started developing my career paths in school aviation was a natural fit and the military was the way to go.


What I love the most about flying is the entire act of being away from the earth and doing a mission in a machine that can fly. You are above all else. I just love everything about it and it’s one of the few occupations that you don’t have to spend all day inside and you go places and see all kinds of stuff. A job in the military is one that’s constantly challenging.”


Next year will be Mike’s 20th year in the Marines. Since 1995 he has flown the CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter, the largest and heaviest helicopter in the U.S. military. Though he still flies a few times a month, many of his duties are now administrative.


Since returning from Afghanistan, Mike has been assigned to Marine Corps Air Station New River in Jacksonville, N.C. where he serves as the executive officer of his squadron. His squadron is responsible for testing new aircraft and making sure they meet the requirements of the Marine Corps.



Harmon poses in front of his helicopter

However, his duties in Afghanistan were different. From February 2011 until January of this year, he served as deputy to the commanding general in the Second Marine Aircraft Wing. There, he worked mainly in the office overseeing troops. “I got to fly once every two weeks or so, mainly on supply and personnel movement missions,” Mike said. “We would also do some tactical inserts once in awhile.”


The tour was Mike’s sixth overseas long-term deployment. He was deployed to Iraq twice, has served in the Arabian Gulf and has been on deployments to Africa.


Each of the six deployments has been a challenge for his family. Mike and Joy have three children, ages 12, 14 and 21.


The first couple of weeks to maybe the first month there is a shock of separation,” Mike said. “Then you get into a routine and it becomes the new normal. There is a lot of anticipation the months leading up to the end of the deployment.”


That is almost worse,” Joy said.


I think it’s harder on the families then it is on us,” Mike said. “When we are on deployment we are very busy doing our jobs. But, back home, the family is still doing it’s normal routine.


A military career is not the life for everyone, especially when you are married,” Mike said. “It really teaches you to enjoy the moments you have together and how to communicate on a higher level than many couples do.”


Communication is the key,” Joy said, “especially while he is away. The biggest challenge for most married couples in the military is communication. When you deploy all those little issues are suddenly magnified.


But, it’s been a good life. Because of him being on deployments, we have been apart six years of our 17 years of marriage. The kids are really adaptable and I have some really awesome friends who all face the same issues. Our husbands risk their lives everyday and we build some valuable friendships and support networks.


I think it’s good results when your kids think about doing what he does as a career instead of running the other way. It’s something they admire and respect,” Joy said.


It’s been very rewarding,” Mike said about his life in the Marines. “I feel very blessed and fortunate to have had a career like this. I’ve seen a great part of the world. I’ve been to Spain, Italy, Tunisia and Israel, among many other countries.


Aside from the travel I’ve had the opportunity to fly with some of the greatest men and women I’ve ever known. I’ve had a chance to actually be part of some pretty awesome things, both taking men out to the field to do their job and bring them home. I’ve rescued people from countries when their governments collapsed in the Congo and Sierra Leone. It’s been very rewarding.”


Mike has two more years on his current commission contract with the Marines. He said at that time he will need to decide if it is time to retire or continue his career. Ultimately, though, he said he would like to end up back in Michigan and possibly Mason County.





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