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RAF officer departs Air Force Academy
Col. Thomas Drohan presents Royal Air Force Squadron Leader Martin Harris with a Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal during a RAF officers send-off in the Air Force Academy Cadet Battle Lab April 20, 2012. The medal was instituted Feb. 6, 2012, to commemorate 60 years of Queen Elizabeth II's reign. Harris is the outgoing RAF exchange officer to the Academy. Drohan is the head of the Academy's Military and Strategic Studies Department. (U.S. Air Force photo/Don Branum)
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RAF exchange officer departs Air Force Academy

Posted 4/24/2012   Updated 5/3/2012 Email story   Print story


by Don Branum
Air Force Academy Public Affairs

4/24/2012 - U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- The British are leaving. Only no one is happy to see them go.

Royal Air Force Squadron Leader Martin Harris, the RAF exchange officer to the Air Force Academy, will depart in May for RAF Coningsby, England, and the No. 17 Squadron.

He is the last RAF officer that cadets will see in uniform, as his departure marks the end of a 55-year exchange program between the Academy and its counterpart, the Officer and Aircrew Cadet Training Unit at RAF Cranwell, England. The Military and Strategic Studies Department here held a farewell ceremony in Harris' honour April 20.

The exchange partnership began shortly after the Academy itself did: In 1957, at Lowry Air Force Base, Colo. RAF Wing Commander Ian MacDougall, who commanded two Spitfire squadrons in World War II, was the first exchange officer. RAF Air Chief Marshall Sir Robert Freer was the second, followed by RAF Squadron Leader J.A.G. Slessor, the son of Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir John Cotesworth Slessor.

"Slessor wrote a very interesting and in-depth end-of-tour report", Harris said during the ceremony. "He was concerned about the lack of cadet flying. He thought cadets should get to fly at least one hour per week for at least three of their four years, which in his words, 'could hardly be considered an inroad into the dean's time'. He closes his report, 'I count my two years' association with the U.S. Air Force Academy, and all those connected with it, as one of the greatest experiences of my service career.'"

By 1963, exchange officers from four other countries joined the program, including one from France and two from West Germany. England sent as many as four exchange officers to the Academy in the late '60s and early '70s, but gradually lowered the number back to one by the time Harris arrived in 2008.

"It's sad for me to bring this opportunity to an end after 55 years", he said. "The U.S. Air Force reduced the number of exchange officer positions from 48 to 36, and my embassy had to make the difficult choice of which 12 to cut."

Harris said teaching undergraduates was an "immensely rewarding and challenging job" and that it helps to foster the strategic relationship between the U.S. and England. Harris cited British Prime Minister Winston Churchill's "Iron Curtain" speech, delivered just after World War II at Westminster College in Fulton, Mo., to reinforce the importance of that strategic relationship.

"The point of an exchange is influence and relationship development", Harris said. "The U.S. Air Force Academy offers that in abundance."

Col. Thomas Drohan, the Military and Strategic Studies Department head, said human relationships foster strategic ones, and that relationships on both levels are based on the "common values of freedom, justice and human dignity".

"No doubt it (the exchange program) will come back in the future at some time", Drohan said. "I'm not an eternal optimist; I just know it."

Drohan praised Harris for his role as an instructor and mentor and revealed that Harris received the department's outstanding academic educator award for the 2012 academic year.

"To our knowledge, Harris is the first exchange officer in Military Studies to win our top award", he said. "He's provided so much to all of us, faculty and cadets alike."

Harris also earned a somewhat more dubious honour. Lt. Col. Eric Moody, an instructor with the department, presented the RAF officer, who was active in intramural football, with a ball jokingly commemorating his achievement as "the oldest man to score a hat trick at the Air Force Academy".

Harris presented Drohan with a portrait called "The Straggler", by Frank Wootton, which depicts a damaged B-17 Flying Fortress returning from a daylight bombing raid over Germany. The portrait is signed by German fighter ace Adolf Galland and RAF ace James Edgar Johnson. The two became friends after the war, Harris said.

The RAF officer said he will fondly remember his time at the Academy.

"I will look back in years to come and remember the great friendships and opportunities I was afforded", he said. "I thank you all for being a part of that."

Editor's Note: This article is written using the writer's best approximation of British rules for grammar and spelling.

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