Staff Sgt. Kurtis Harrison, 96th Communications Squadron Command, Control, Communications and Computer Systems Project Manager, was recognized as one of the Air Force’s 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year, one of the top-level honors an Airman can receive.
“This recognition is so humbling,” said Harrison. “I haven’t been able to sit down and grasp the significance, but it’s an honor to be recognized.”
For Harrison’s leadership, the news comes as no surprise.
“Kurtis embodies all we look for on our Airmen,” said Lt. Col. Robert Kelly, 96th Mission Support Group deputy commander and former 96th CS commander. “He sees every challenge as an opportunity to excel, he leads by example and he always remembers people are our number one priority.”
Harrison is credited with many mission enhancements, including revamping the way Airmen perform flight line maintenance by installing local area network drops making their technical orders accessible electronically right at their maintenance station. Prior to this, maintainers would have to lug stacks of papers to their site to be able to run checklists manually, making the process trying and time consuming.
“It’s about us finding ways to innovate, work together and continue to grow as a force,” said the 26-year-old. “Though I didn’t maintain that fleet with my own hands, I was able to give those Airmen tools to help them get the mission done more efficiently.”
In his current role as a C4 project manager, Harrison caught a design flaw in a range tower blueprint where all communications functions were missing, which are vital to sending and receiving feedback during testing and training. His catch saved more than $35,000 in construction costs.
Harrison’s achievements range from restoring communications access in support of crucial missions to assisting in the transfer of communications functions for entire units from one location to another, unhampering mission operations. According to Kelly, the Airman’s countless achievements are a facet of what really makes him stand out – his character.
“Kurtis’s passion and energy are infectious, raising the performance of not only himself, but those around him,” he said. “He never stops learning about our Air Force and mission and is always looking for ways to do this better in a fiscally constrained environment. I think his can-do attitude is what we need in today’s Air Force.”
Being a hard worker is nothing new to Harrison. He held his first out of many jobs at the age of 13, helping to support his single mother and two brothers. By the time he reached high school, he attended six elementary schools and five middle schools, as his family moved often for better work opportunities, he said.
A jack of all trades, there was no job he hadn’t done, but according to Harrison, that wasn’t enough for him to stay put.
“I knew I wanted to do something more with my life – I just didn’t know what,” he said. “One day, my boss at the time said to me, ‘Kurtis, just do something,’ and it clicked for me. Joining the Air Force was one of the best decisions I’ve made.”
The Irondale, Ala., native recalled how he prepared for basic training, increasing his exercise routine and running daily. By the time he made it to the June 2008 training, he felt confident in his physical abilities until he got a glimpse of what was expected of him.
“I looked over the exercise schedule and thought, ‘there’s no way I can do all that,'” he said. “I asked one of the guys from a higher flight if it got easier, and he said, “no, but you get better.’ I’ve held on to that perspective throughout my career.”
His mindset propelled him through basic and into his vigorous career as a cable/antenna systems Airman, a behind-the-scenes career field vital to the mission’s success.
It was Harrison’s aspirations that made him an ideal candidate to be an Airman Leadership School instructor – an opportunity he said he could not pass up. He is scheduled to train this fall to fully take on the role as a mentor.
“I want to strive to be the leader others want to be – to lead by example,” said Harrison, who plans to make the Air Force a career. “I’m not perfect, but I wake up every day, count my blessings and realize I’m given another opportunity to make an impact on someone else’s life, or even my own, and I want to take advantage of that. It’s not about being perfect – it’s about striving to be better.”
Harrison’s selection as one of the Air Force’s OAY will work hand-in-hand with his soon-to-be position. For the next year, he will serve as an ambassador for the Air Force, traveling across the country to speak to fellow Airmen about growth and leadership.
“I’m looking forward to the opportunity to travel and work as team with the other 11 honorees and see what impact we can have on our Air Force this year,” said the NCO.
For now, the award-winning Airman has a window of time to soak it all in, including preparing for and welcoming his second child in mid-August. He credits his family, his leadership and his fellow Airmen as those who have had and continue to have an impact on his success.
“Success is not an accident – it takes planning and having the right circle of influence around you to push you up,” said Harrison, who hopes to reach the rank of chief or possibly join the officer ranks. “This isn’t about me. If anything, this award is a testament to the people around me.”
Harrison attests anyone can achieve success with a strong support system of great people with positive attitudes and enthusiasm.
“When you toss a single rock into a pond, there’s a small ripple effect that quickly fades,” he said. “When you toss a bunch of rocks continually over time, the ripples get bigger and overlap, continuing to affect the water around it. This means if we use our experiences to invest in others, the ripple of success will continue throughout the pond.”
Article by Jasmine Porterfield
Team Eglin Public Affairs
Photo (top): Staff Sgt. Kurtis Harrison, 96th Communications Squadron, was named one of the Air Force’s 2015 outstanding Airmen of the year. (Official Photo)