Challenges for new Ohio National Guard head

COLUMBUS (AP) — The two-star general now in charge of the Ohio National Guard poked himself in the chest as he spoke about the tough new physical-fitness standards being implemented across the Army, to emphasize that it’s all about being a warrior.

“I’m 55 years old, and I expect to be one of the first soldiers out there to take the test,” said Maj. Gen. John C. Harris Jr., whom Gov. Mike DeWine appointed as Ohio’s adjutant general in January. “I’m not saying it will be easy, but it’s necessary. ... Tactical athletes, that’s what our service members have to be. We need to get focused on the war fight again.”

For nearly two decades, U.S. forces have concentrated on counter-insurgency efforts and defeating ISIS. But with China and Russia emerging as global military competitors, Harris said, the Ohio National Guard must refocus.

“The physical demands of land combat are rigorous,” he said. “Retraining our forces to fight in an austere environment — living from your tank, from your rucksack — and readying our combat commanders is so important.”

Harris’ goals are giving the Ohio Guard’s 16,300 troops (11,300 on the Army side and 5,000 in the Air National Guard) the support they require and responsibly overseeing an annual budget of $676.6 million in federal funds and $8.5 million from the state.

The married father of three grown children acknowledges that his route toward a military career was a bit circuitous: As a saxophone player and multi-sport athlete at his high school near Cleveland, he asked the head majorette to teach him to twirl a baton so he could try out for drum major with the Ohio State University marching band. He entered college as a music-education major, and he did perform as assistant drum major in 1984 and 1985.

Being from a military family, he joined the Ohio Army National Guard to help with tuition and has worn his country’s uniform for the past 38 years because, he said, he quickly fell in love with being a part of what he calls America’s most critical team.

He eventually went to flight school, graduated from Officer Candidate School, earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology and deployed to Kosovo.

“I don’t tell the Army guys that I twirled in high school,” he said with a laugh.

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