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Gail Harris  

Highest Ranking African American Woman in the US Navy

In 1973, Captain Gail Harris of the United States Navy (Retired) broke a 200-year-old tradition, becoming the first woman in Naval History to serve as an Intelligence Officer in a Navy combat job 20 years before federal laws changed making it a common occurrence.

Harris was the first female or first African American for every job assignment and was frequently hand selected for challenging jobs based on her outstanding performance. In August 1988, she was pulled from her Hawaiian assignment 18 months early and sent to South Korea to head up the Defense Department intelligence support for the 1988 Olympics; a task that involved extensive coordination with U.S. and South Korean military, intelligence and civil agencies. She was also hand selected by the Director of Naval Intelligence and Commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command to till an interim position as Acting Naval Attaché, Egypt, thereby becoming the first female to serve as a military attaché in a Middle Eastern Country.

From April 1996 – August 1999, Harris was assigned to United States Strategic Command where she was handpicked to fill a new position of Deputy Joint Intelligence Center Commander (military equivalent of a news organization publishing books, magazine and newspaper articles and developing televised news spots). Of note, she was again requested by name to assist United States Central Command’s Desert Fox Operation. Her organization provided support for 415 air launched cruise missile strikes versus 100 Iraqi targets. In support of U.S. European Command’s Allied Force operations, her organization provided support for 300+ targets. These efforts were much praised by European Command and called “masterful” by the Joint Staff.

For her last assignment, she was chosen to be the Department of Defense (DoD) lead for developing and designing the role the Intelligence Community would play in Cyber Operations.

At Harris's retirement in December 2001, she was the highest ranking African American female in the Navy. Her 28-year career in intelligence included hands-on leadership during every major conflict from the Cold War to El Salvador to Desert Storm to Kosovo and at the forefront of one of the Department of Defense’s newest challenges, Cyber Warfare. Since her retirement she has worked in the Defense Industry as an Intelligence Subject Matter Expert, written blogs for the Foreign Policy Association and Lima Charlie News, hosted a weekly R&B radio show on KDUR, is writing a Broadway musical, and is an in-demand speaker. Her book "A Woman’s War" was chosen as an Editor’s Pick for 2010 by the Foreign Policy Association.

She was a Senior Fellow at the George Washington Center For Cyber and Homeland Security (2015 – 2017 Class). Since September 2019, she has been studying music at Julliard through their Extension Division. In the summer of 2023, she was selected to write two new compositions that were performed at a two weeklong concert event in Narnia, Italy.

Commenting on her career, Captain Harris stated: "I am honored that my ceiling became the next generation’s floor."

Speech Topics

Bloom Where You're Planted

Have you ever found yourself in a dead end job? Have you ever thought your career was over? Numerous times I was given what was considered an "insignificant" job. I share with the audience techniques I used to turn a desert experience into an oasis and develop win-win solutions for both my organization and my career.

How to Stop Shooting Yourself in the Foot in the Workplace

Did it ever occur to you that perhaps the reason you were passed over for a promotion, fired, or constantly in the dog house at work is because of personal flaws? During this talk I cover how I learned to stop shooting myself in the foot and master job techniques that allowed me to finally succeed in the workplace.

Is the U.S. in for a Cyber Pearl Harbor?

Could a well orchestrated cyber attack bring America down to its knees? Are our power grids, telecommunications, and banking and transportation infrastructures at risk? Cyber warfare is already being used throughout the world. In April and May of 2007 the nation of Estonia suffered a cyber attack that bought the nation's government, banks, media and other institutions to a standstill. The Russian attack against the Republic of Georgia last year was preceded by a cyber attack that took several key government web sites down. Our own government is defending against thousands of cyber attacks each year. Knowledge is power. What we need to know to prevent a cyber nightmare.

Why Change Can't Wait

Central Premise: Diversity is not just an ethnic minority vs. white or male vs. female issue. White males now make up 36% of the population and are rightly concerned about achieving their goals in a rapidly changing environment. Within the next 50 years, Hispanics will make up 24% of population, African Americans 15%, and Asians 9%. Currently 1 of every 2 job seekers is a woman. Diversity is really about leveling the playing field so everyone has an equal opportunity to achieve their life and work place goals.

Take Command and Win

Her success tools are in demand everywhere. Intelligence, leadership skills, and work ethic — they all stand out in a non-stop series of career "firsts." She was the first woman, and often the first African-American, in every major military post she held. Recently retired, Captain Gail Harris, USN (ret.), was the highest ranking African-American female in the U.S. Navy.

Pursuit of excellence in performance — through hard work fired by courage and persistence — sets the stage for a gripping presentation. Harris earned her stripes in the pressure-cooker of the intelligence community. Her wealth of leadership skills, tested in the rough waters of the real world, will equip any professional audience for their best effort: Here's how get the most from yourself and from those around you, against all odds.


Gail Harris makes history | Fox News Video
First female captain of US Navy reflects on her groundbreaking career. ... ROTTEN TOMATOES: Can 'Ender's Game' win top box office spot?

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