'Sandy' Harter: Back in the Game
By Casie Vinall
Special to American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 5, 2003 Harter family members have served in the armed forces during this nation's conflicts ever since the Revolutionary War. Earl W. (Sandy) Harter Jr. has continued this line of service to his country through both military and civilian service.
Far from his Texas roots, Harter's path has taken him to the nation's defense headquarters as defense fellow for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs. There, he's involved in the latest war to confront to the American homeland, the global war on terrorism.
Born in the small town of Kermit, Texas, Harter later moved to the even smaller town of Wink, Texas. "If you blink, you would miss Wink," Harter said, reciting a familiar saying. His family later moved to Louisiana.
His initial contact with the military began in 1966, when he enlisted in the Army for three years. His tour included a stint in Vietnam with 1st Logistics Command and 9th Infantry Division.
Leaving the service in 1969, Harter took an accounting job in New Orleans. In 1972, he began working for his father in the oil business, traveling to Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama.
"But something was missing from my life," he recalled. First on his list was a college degree.
"I told my dad that it was time to make a change, and he said, 'Why do you want to do that? You're making more money than you've ever made before in your life,'" Harter recalled.
Harter said he needed a challenge, and challenge he found. Working in construction to support himself, Harter went to Tulane University at night and finished in three years, graduating in 1977.
With degree in hand, he began working as an information systems analyst with the U.S. Department of Labor. Over the next few years, he moved up to become the deputy commissioner of the Longshoremen and Harborworkers Compensation program in New Orleans. However, Harter still felt as though he was missing something.
"During that period, I met a crusty old retired colonel who said, 'Sandy, what you're missing is uniformed service to the country.'"
Heeding his friend's advice, Harter joined the Army reserves. As a sergeant with the 55th Materiel Management Center at Fort Belvoir, Va., he applied and received a direct commission in 1980. In 1986, he returned to active duty as a major.
In the late 1980s, as a plans and operations officer at the 377th Theater Army Area Command in New Orleans, he worked extensively in Egypt and Somalia on logistics and operational issues as well as host-nation training and support.
Over the next several years, he served in several logistics and administration positions in and around Washington.
In 1997, Harter became logistics management officer and deputy director for the Center of Military History Task Force with the Army Materiel Command in Alexandria, Va. There, he helped develop an accountability system for tracking equipment and other items.
"The end results were, we ended up saving the Army millions of dollars in getting its accounting practices straight," he said.
His stint at the Army War College in Pennsylvania in the late 1990s gave Harter insight on fighting terrorism. "The war college really broadens your perspective on not only what we do as a joint community, but what we ought to be doing as a coalition community today in terms of combating terrorism," he said.
Retiring from active duty as a colonel in 2001, Harter became a business development analyst with Science and Engineering Associates, Inc. and then became president of Cinque-Foil LLC, consulting in logistics, security and business operations.
When terrorists attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, Harter distinctly remembers that he was in New Orleans at the Naval Reserve headquarters. He said he felt "shock" and "amazement that this could happen in America."
"I'd seen these types of events happen in the Mideast, in Paris, in Germany, but it really hit home," he said, "and I didn't think about myself. What I thought about was all these young people and what the effect was going to be on their lives in the future. How was this going to affect them, their freedoms?"
Harter also remembers thinking that he had "seen the incubation stages" of the attacks in 1988 when his Army position took him to Somalia.
The situation in Somalia was bleak, he recalled. "At that time, it was pretty obvious to me that the country was in shambles," he said, "and the people running the country, the different factions, were the fathers of what we now call al Qaeda. They were very, very, very bad people.
"Things had not changed, obviously in the last millennium," Harter said. "These people had been fighting over scarce resources. Bin Laden and other people had realized that this was an area that was ripe for exploitation and ripe for training grounds, because there was no accountability there."
Whenever areas of the world go "unpoliced and unwatched," Harter said, chances are there will be difficulties in the area that may be exported to other countries.
In the wake of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Harter said, he felt he needed to return to Washington to be in what he calls "the game." "And to be in the game," he said, "is to be at the Pentagon, helping the decision makers."
Harter received a political appointment as a deputy assistant for materiel and facilities in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs in February 2002. His office deals with equipment being procured or transferred from the active to the reserve components, looking at equipment readiness and checking for equipment compatibility with other services. His organization is also responsible for maintenance and ensuring the Defense Department has the sufficient number and right mix of facilities for the reserve component.
"One of the biggest thrusts that we're pushing right now is joint construction," he said. "It's the smart thing to do -- you're trying to get people to work together and to do things from an organizational perspective together. The other thing is it saves the taxpayers and the department millions of dollars. You don't want to build two maintenance shops if you can build one; you don't want to build two readiness centers if you can build one.
"But this is like pushing a noodle up hill," he noted. "One (reason) is the services are very parochial and tend to want to do things in a service orientation, and I can understand that, but there's a bigger picture here. The secretary has laid out a vision, and the only way we're going to attain that vision is through transformation, and the only way we're going to do that is get people to work together."
Transformation includes the collaboration from the force structure, resourcing, construction and training domains. "You have to pull those together," Harter said.
The Pentagon job is proving to be challenging, he noted, adding that it's "been a great experience working here at this particular time in our history. "
"I'm glad to be here. I'm glad to be working for what I consider the best team in the government, and that's the team that Secretary (Donald) Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary (Paul) Wolfowitz head," he said.
Harter quoted Army Gen. Tommy Franks, the former commander of U.S. Central Command who led coalition efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq. "He said, 'You know if this was easy, it would be called bowling. But it's not bowling; it's difficult, and it requires each one of us to do the very best we can.'"
Harter is not the last in his family's long line of service members. The tradition is being carried on by one of his three sons, William, an Army sergeant stationed in Afghanistan.
"This makes six generations of service in the armed forces," he said with pride.
(Casie Vinall is an intern working for DefendAmerica.mil in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs.)