Story by Petty Officer 1st Class Sean Stafford, Navy Recruiting Command


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (NNS) Many people find ways to give back to their community from the smallest acts of kindness to dedicating years of work as a volunteer. For one Jacksonville native, making public service a career wasn’t enough, so he dedicated his passions to serving the nation.

After graduating from Terry Parker High School in Jacksonville, Karl Harris had an itch to enlist and serve his country in the military, which led him to an Army recruiting office.

“It was in the Army’s Delayed Entry Program (DEP) that I learned about their band program,” said Harris. “I was able to enlist at a high pay grade in the Army Band program because I am proficient in multiple instruments.”

Harris said service has been an important part of his adulthood, whether as an Army Band member, a Jacksonville sheriff or a Navy recruiter

Harris shipped off to Army basic training in Fort Dix, New Jersey, subsequently attending training in Little Creek, Virginia, earning the military occupational specialty code 0C2 for baritone. He then received orders to Fort Knox, Kentucky, where he was stationed from 1990 to 1993.

“I think fondly about my time in the Army Band, traveling around the country, being able to play music in parades and military ceremonies,” Harris said. “One of the coolest things was we were able to play the Kentucky Derby three years in a row, which I will never forget.”

Harris felt the need for a change once his enlistment was up, and he knew some friends who left the Army and started new careers in law enforcement. He started researching different departments around his hometown of Jacksonville and decided to pursue a job at the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office (JSO), only to find that he needed a two-year degree.

Harris decided to attend school at Florida State College in Jacksonville, completing his associate’s degree while serving in the Florida National Guard. He then started at Jacksonville’s police academy in 1996, and was hired by the JSO the following year.

Harris held many roles with the JSO including patrol officer, detective and school resource officer, the last of which Harris developed a deep passion for.

“The mentoring aspect as a school resource officer is something that will stick with me forever” Harris said. “There are quite a few officers I know now, who were kids when I was at their school that I’ve kept in contact with, who are part of JSO or the Fish and Wild Life Conservation Commission. It’s been really cool to have watched them from being sophomores in school to where they are now.”

For Harris looking back at that part of his life, it was gratifying for him to see the kids and other people from his past following in his footsteps.

“I actually remember coaching for or against many of them when they were playing t-ball,” Harris said. “That is how far back it goes. I actually ran into one of them the other day. I had worked in JSO with his grandfather and volunteered with his mom at the baseball park, and now he’s a deputy in St. Johns County.”

After retiring from the JSO in 2017, he took time to travel and started flight training as a hobby until he got a similar itch that led him to serve in the Army. While forming relationships volunteering in the Jacksonville community, he made a few friends who were officers in the Navy Reserve. They told him of various officer and Navy Reserve programs, which piqued his interest. Now retired and with three degrees under his belt, he started applying for Navy Reserve officer programs, which led him to a Navy recruiter, who thought that because of his background that he might be interested in becoming a recruiter, recommending Navy’s Direct Procurement Enlistment Program (DPEP).

DPEP provides for the enlistment of applicants with civilian acquired post-secondary vocational technical training or significant work experience. DPEP requirements apply to both active and Reserve component applicants.

Open to non-prior service, personnel currently under a Navy Selective Reserve contract are ineligible. Skills obtained through previous military training and experience are considered. Personnel who have served in any branch of service whose MOS/AFSC/NEC directly convert to a Navy rating are not eligible for enlistment under the provision of the DPEP Program in the same rating unless they have been discharged for more than two years.

“I got talking to my recruiter about what she was doing on the recruiting side of things,” Harris said. “I had been applying to different Reserve officer selection boards for a while, but I wasn’t getting picked up (selected). She, knowing my background, suggested the DPEP program to me to see if I would be interested in starting my Reserve time back up.”

In December 2017, he and his recruiter submitted a DPEP package for him and he was picked up. After a huge break in service, he was now in the Navy Reserves as a Master-at-Arms 1st Class (MA1). His first assignment was briefly with the Navy Security Force in Mayport, Florida, and with Navy Security Forces Kings Bay, Georgia, before ultimately getting orders to start recruiting duty in Jacksonville in 2018.

Harris is currently assigned to Navy Talent Acquisition Group (NTAG) Jacksonville supervising a team of recruiters and running quality control checks on Navy applicants before they’re submitted for selection to join the Navy.

“The recruiters go out and recruit applicants, and I’m in charge of the team that makes sure all the paper work is complete and accurate,” Harris said. “On a daily basis, I’m overseeing the team that ensures everything is submitted on time and correctly. Once someone is selected, we get them commissioned and off to Officer Candidate School or as a Reservist affiliated with a Reserve unit.”

Using his skills as a JSO detective helped him transition to his new role. He had more than 20 years of experience paying attention to detail and managing a team of people, making it easy for him to excel as a recruiter.

“When I was a detective, paperwork was scrutinized heavily because it could end up in a trial, and a case could get compromised if things were not done correctly.” Harris said. “It kind of comes into play here on recruiting duty along with managing a team of people, coordinating everything, compiling all the information and making sure everything is done the right way.

Harris has enjoyed his last two and half years, believing that NTAG Jacksonville is one of the best teams he has had the pleasure of working with. He said he’s looking forward to continuing his time as a recruiter because he enjoys it so much. He also had a word of advice for anyone with a law enforcement background looking to continue there through the DPEP program as he did.

“If you have prior service in the military like I did in the Army and have a degree, it’s worth taking a shot to continue to serve in the Navy like I have through the DPEP program,” said Harris. “Depending upon your education level or how long you’ve been on the job in law enforcement, you have the opportunity to do something great like I have. I really think more people should look into it.”



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Updated November 20, 2020 (kbh)