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A four-star Navy admiral with Tennessee roots spoke to a gathering of students, faculty and business leaders last week about security challenges facing America and how universities support the response.

Admiral Harry Harris Jr., commander of the US Pacific Command.

Admiral Harry Harris Jr., commander of the US Pacific Command, spent much of his youth in nearby Crossville, Tennessee. He returned as guest speaker for an event at Club LeConte hosted by the Aerospace and Defense Business Institute in UT’s Haslam College of Business.

Harris, a US Naval Academy graduate, commands all US forces in the Pacific theater from his headquarters in Honolulu.

“Four hundred thousand military and civilian personnel who stand watch over half the earth—from Hollywood to Bollywood and penguins to polar bears,” he said.

(Photography by Shawn Millsaps)
Admiral Harry Harris Jr. with Andy White, director of UT’s Aerospace and Defense Business Institute in the Haslam College of Business. (Photography by Shawn Millsaps)

The audience included more than 100 guests, including members of UT’s Aerospace and Defense Advisory Board and students and faculty from the university’s Aerospace and Defense MBA program, among others.

Born in Japan while his father served in the Navy but raised in Tennessee, the admiral began his speech discussing the state’s strong contributions to national security. He cited work across UT, partnerships with Oak Ridge National Laboratory, research at Arnold Air Force Base, and “Gig City” technologies out of Chattanooga.

(Photography by Shawn Millsaps)
Admiral Harry Harris Jr. with Bruce Behn, associate dean for graduate and executive education in the Haslam College of Business. (Photography by Shawn Millsaps)

He also noted the number of America’s military leaders from the Volunteer State—Admiral David Glasgow Farragut, flag officer of the United States Navy during the Civil War; Admiral Frank Kelso, former chief of naval operations; and Vice Admiral Nora Tyson, the first woman to lead a carrier strike group.

He mentioned UT’s own Curt Watson, an All-SEC running back for the Vols who went on to become a Navy fighter pilot and member of the Blue Angels flight demonstration team.

(Photography by Shawn Millsaps)
Admiral Harry Harris Jr. with Amy Cathey, executive director in the Haslam College of Business. (Photography by Shawn Millsaps)

Harris also spoke about the importance of the Pacific region, noting that about $5.3 trillion of sea-based trade flows through the South China Sea each year, $1.2 trillion of which comes to the United States. The region’s rising importance has led US policymakers to shift more attention to the region, ensuring that the most advanced military technologies are in place to meet modern-day challenges such as “unresolved historical tensions, terrorism, national disasters, militarization of the Arctic and South China Sea, and space and cyber threats.”

Harris also explained how the Department of Defense is developing defense technologies decisive enough to deter aggression by America’s enemies. Previous successful deterrents have included nuclear weapons developed in the 1950s and guided munitions developed in the 1970s.

(Photography by Shawn Millsaps)
Admiral Harry Harris Jr. with Jim Wansley, department head of finance in the Haslam College of Business. (Photography by Shawn Millsaps)

This strategy means “making our warfighters better by partnering them with machines and computers,” said Harris. “The plan involves advancing intelligence, aerospace, and robotics so that no matter what our adversaries throw at us, they’ll fail.”

This calls for innovative teamwork between the US government, allied nations, industry and academia. Harris praised UT’s Haslam College of Business for prioritizing support of the defense community.

“And it’s not about throwing a whole bunch of money at something. It’s about using our budgets in a smarter way,” he said. “Government, industry, and academia have to move forward together to help the warfighter.

“Big Orange, Big Ideas is more than a slogan. Here, it’s a way of life that has significant impact on our national security.”

More than 300 of the aerospace and defense industry’s top leaders have graduated from UT’s Aerospace and Defense MBA program. Thousands more have participated in the college’s short courses tailored for the industry. Professors also deliver significant research and drive business innovations for the sector.

“The faculty supporting our Aerospace and Defense Business Institute are committed to making a difference for our students and this vital industry,” said Andy White, institute director. “That focus and the synergy of capabilities here set this university apart.”

The college’s Aerospace and Defense Advisory Board includes senior leaders from more than twenty of the industry’s top employers.

The MBA program’s class of 2016 includes thirty-eight students representing employers across the industry, including the Army, Navy, Air Force, National Guard, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and Moog.


Andy White (865-974-2027,

Tyra Haag (865-974-5460,