KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – The road to becoming a leader could be considered a long one. While some Soldiers march along, others charge up the road.
Army Spc. Keith Harris of the Indiana National Guard’s 1413th Engineer Company has been earning leadership positions since he attended basic training.
Harris is in charge of his unit’s woodshop here. He leads several Soldiers, each with varying amounts of woodworking knowledge. It’s his job to form this group into a team and ensure their tasks are accomplished to the highest possible standard.
Harris credits the influence of his friend and mentor Darrell Harvey, because Harvey never gave up on him. Harris explained that he wants to be the same kind of person as he grows older.
“Growing up, I wasn’t the best kid. I was sent to military schools and boarding schools,” said Harris, who hails from Cicero, Indiana. “For some reason, [Harvey] knew I was doing wrong, but he would just keep pushing me to be a better person. I’d keep saying I would change but never did. It wasn’t until the last military school that I decided Darrell was right and that’s why I joined the military, because I needed something in my life.”
Harris added: “It’s like everything he ever said to me suddenly made sense. Ever since then we’ve been closer than we were when I was growing up.”
Harris said the National Guard has given him a place to grow and build his leadership skills. He believes a good leader commands with respect, instead of simply commanding respect. Army 1st Sgt. Michael Dunn of the 1413th Engineer Company, he said, has been one of his biggest influences in that regard.
“I feel we fall from the same tree,” Harris said of Dunn’s leadership style. “I like the way he’s able to lead; he doesn’t have to yell and scream at people. People just follow him. He walks into a room and people just listen, and that’s what I want to be.”
Harris’ Soldiers describe his leadership style as adhering to the core value of selfless service. He puts the needs of his men above his own, taking extra time learning the various jobs and techniques used in the woodshop so that he can effectively train and impart knowledge to his Soldiers.
Army Spc. Bevante Carlisle, a carpenter in the 1413th Engineer Company, from Franklin, Indiana, helps teach Harris some of the ropes.
“He’s pretty good at getting things done, but if he doesn’t know something he’ll come to me and instead of telling me to do it, he’ll ask me to teach him,” Carlisle said of Harris.
The journey to effective leadership is not without trial. To get there, Harris said, he has some personal challenges to overcome.
Harris said one of his biggest challenges is self-control and he understands that a leader must keep a level head in the face of adversity. A big mentor for that has been Army 1st. Lt. Chad Harris of the 1413th.
“I call him ’Senior,’ he calls me ‘Junior.’ He’s the one who is really teaching me self-control,” Harris said of the lieutenant’s guidance. I believe in order to be a good leader you have got to be able to control yourself before you can control somebody else.”
Learning self-control has been invaluable when leading people from different backgrounds and with personalities, Harris explained. Practicing self-control, he said, keeps him from becoming a catalyst in frustrating situations, ensuring his Soldiers keep cool under stress.
Another leadership trait Harris said he’s learning is to recognize when he and his Soldiers need to slow down. While having the desire to get a project done as fast as possible is an often sought-after quality, he said it sometimes can lead to sloppy work. He understands as he grows that sometimes you have to take a little more time to ensure the job gets done right.
Specialist Harris “is a pretty good leader and tries to do as much as he can for everyone,” said Army Spc. Robert Norman from Lake Station, Indiana, who serves with the 1413th as a member of Harris’ crew. “As a specialist he’s done a pretty good job.”
Harris’ team produces unit crests, support structures for equipment and other items for anyone in need of a carpenter. They’ve also been called upon to help dismantle some of the airfield’s non-permanent structures.
Sometimes building things is more than a simple physical matter of constructing something structurally sound, but also a matter of duty, honor and service. A leader must demonstrate all of the Army values and Harris is doing his best to be the leader his Soldiers need.