Joe Harmon is the senior naval science instructor at Tuloso-Midway High School. He is also a retired Navy lieutenant commander who went through primary flight training at NAS Corpus Christi in 1984 and earned his “Wings of Gold” at NAS Whiting Field, Florida, in 1985.
The Aiken, South Carolina native, spent 27 years on active duty and with the Navy Reserves as a helicopter pilot. His flight school class with VT-27 was one of the first to fly the T-34 Turbomentor, which has since been retired from Navy flight training.
“When I was in college I was an engineering major and really didn’t have a direction on what I wanted to do after graduation,” Harmon said. “I talked to the Air Force and they could not guarantee me a flight school slot, however the Navy could, so that’s the direction I went in.”
Harmon says it was at a college job fair where he became inspired to fly.
“I was at the job fair and saw that no one was talking to the Navy recruiter. I walked over to him and on the wall was a poster of an F-14 cockpit,” Harmon adds. “At the top of the picture it said ‘This could be your office.’ I knew right then that’s what I wanted to do.”
As the son of a police officer, Harmon says he grew up with a structured lifestyle.
“My father became a federal treasury agent so we ended up moving around quite a bit. I grew up in Miami attending high school there and then it was off to college at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte.”
The Navy would take him all over, as well, and well beyond the continental United States.
Harmon spent time with several squadrons as far away as Diego Garcia taking part in multi-faceted missions from standard air patrol to troop movement of the Navy’s elite forces.
Throughout his journey in uniform, he says his wife Ginger was the rock that supported him and his family along the way.
“I married her after reporting to flight school. Our first road trip after our wedding was from North Carolina to NASCC for flight school and 34 years later, we’re still going strong.”
Harmon added that it is the military spouse who keeps the home together during all of the deployments and long hours a service member works, and he compliments his wife for everything she did throughout his career. They have three children, now grown and out of the house.
“After I retired in 2010, I flew emergency services helicopters for about five months,” Harmon explained. “I didn’t find that as exciting as I thought it would be with being on-call most of the time and many days where no calls came in.”
Then he came upon the opportunity to become an NJROTC instructor.
“I called a friend who was in the NJROTC program to get more information and found an opening in Florence, South Carolina.”
Harmon said he worked in Florence for five years, before transferring to the position he holds now at Tuloso-Midway.
“I love Corpus Christi,” Harmon said. “I was the air operations officer aboard NASCC and spent a tour on USS Inchon (MCS 12) at Naval Station Ingleside. So every chance I have had to come back to Corpus Christi, I took it.”
Harmon also has a love and passion for teaching and mentoring his young cadets.
“Each summer we take the cadets to (Marine Corps Recruit Depot) Parris Island, South Carolina,” Harmon said. “It’s a long trip, 20 hours on a bus one-way, but what the kids (students) get out of it is immeasurable.
“It opens their eyes and changes their lives,” he added. “It’s three and a half days of training during which the cadets belong to the Marine Corps drill instructors.”
He also said that while it is a challenge for the cadets being away from their family, unplugged from their cell phones and computers, once they get on the bus to go home they want to know when they will be coming back.
Harmon explained that NJROTC faculty are not recruiters in any way, but are here to develop young people to become great members of society.
“We are a citizenship development program,” Harmon adds. “We are here to give these young adults a bridge between high school and real life. If they want to join the military, of course we will talk to them about that and help them find a recruiter.
“We spend a lot of time on discipline of just what it takes to be a respectable young person. We want the students to speak to adults and each other with respect and courtesy,” he said.
Harmon does not accomplish all of this on his own. His right-hand man is Gunnery Sgt. (Retired) Kosta Maravelias, who happened to retire from Marine Aviation Training Support Group-22 aboard NASCC in 2001. He brought 10 years’ worth of JROTC instructor experience with him to TMHS four years ago.
“Maravelias keeps a lot of this mission going. We have physical training with the cadets. We teach them to march and to lead formations. He keeps them all moving along quite well.”
He also says the other JROTC programs in the region rely on one another to share experiences and how they accomplish their various tasks, training, and development of young adult students.
Although the NJROTC program is not the military, the leadership necessary to mentor the cadets is key, according to Harmon.
“You have to realize that not every student is going to make it through the program no matter how hard you try and it does feel personal, as if you failed them,” he said. “The young man or woman has to want to be in this program in order to succeed. More often than not though, I feel like we develop great young productive people to enter into society.”
Harmon said he does not see himself doing anything different than what he is doing right now. He says the cadets inspire him every day to walk into this northwest Corpus Christi high school and give them every effort he can.
According to Harmon, the faculty and staff at the school are excellent. He says they provide the greatest support going above and beyond to graduate the brightest and most well-rounded individuals.