Like Airman, like son: the Harper family legacy
SOUTHWEST ASIA – Chief Master Sgt. Michael E. Harper (left) and his son, Capt. Michael J. Harper, are deployed for the third time together with the 746th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron. This is the chief’s final deployment, as he will retire in August after 36 years. Both Airmen are Reservists deployed from the 908th Airlift Wing at Maxwell Air Force Base Ala. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Joel Mease)
by Senior Airman Joel Mease
379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
3/8/2013 - SOUTHWEST ASIA -- Father and son, Chief Master Sgt. Michael E. Harper and Capt. Michael J. Harper, are serving their third deployment together, or fourth depending on a person's definition of deploying together.
In 2004, when Captain Harper was a staff sergeant deployed to Transit Center at Manas, Kyrgyzstan, his deployment was cut short because he was selected for undergraduate pilot training and needed to return the United States to begin officer training school.
"As my C-130 was taking off from Manas, my dad was within radio range on an inbound rotator as he was arriving to start a deployment at Manas," Captain Harper said. They were hoping to get a little ground time together but weren't able to; however, a fellow Airmen was able to relay a message to the chief from his son's C-130.
"As my plane was landing I heard on the rotator full of 400 people, 'Staff Sgt. Harper wanted to tell chief to be safe and your son is on the airplane leaving,'" the chief said. "It meant a lot for me to hear that."
When they are not deploying, they are Reservists deployed from the 908th Airlift Wing, at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala. While deployed together, the mission still comes first. As they are on opposite shifts, time spent together is still at a premium.
"Being deployed with the chief is bittersweet, because I know how much service to our great nation means to him," said Captain Harper. "This is his last opportunity to serve with the men and women he so proudly calls his friends."
For the chief, this marks his 36th year as an Airman, and his final deployment before he retires in August.
"Being a father and son (in the same unit) while on active duty happens fairly rarely, if any at all," the chief said. "You have the business of life while at home. While you're deployed, you have the opportunity to sit down and a lot of time its shop talk, but it's still that moment you can see your son across the table and you're proud as a dad. We always want our children to do better than we did, and, he's definitely done that in his career."
While Airmanship is family business for the father and son team, deploying still isn't easy for them.
"We almost deployed together in 2010 - he deployed and I didn't - I stayed behind to help out with the granddaughters," the chief said. "So this is my last time. We both deployed together knowing this was my last rodeo."
The chief, known as 'Grandy' to the captain's daughters, is known to really favor his grandchildren, said the captain.
"They are not enthused their 'Grandy' and their dad are deployed at the same time," the captain said. "They miss us both."
As the captain grew up in an Air Force household, enlisting and then commissioning, his father has taught him much about core values. It's something the younger Harper said he believes is so important about his dad, and a reason why he is proud to be with him on his final deployment.
"I have seen him pick himself up on numerous occasions after major setbacks, and I've also witnessed the influence he has on his Airmen," the captain said. "He provides Airmen an excellent example of the character a senior NCO should embody."
For the chief the honor is mutual, if not even more, to share these last few months of service with his son.
"To me as a chief and as a dad, it's an honor for your son to follow in your footsteps," the chief said. "He may choose a different career path, but he still wears a uniform like I do. It's an honor to know you've passed on down a legacy"