Maj. Gen. Marcelite J. Harris retired from the U.S. Air Force leaving behind a trail of firsts: first woman aircraft maintenance officer, first woman deputy commander for maintenance, first woman director of maintenance for the entire airplane fleet, first African American woman to be promoted to brigadier general and major general, and one of the first two women commanders at the U.S. Air Force Academy. As director of maintenance, Harris managed the Air Force's largest career field, comprising 120,000 airmen; she controlled equipment, facilities, and a weapon system inventory worth $260 billion. She also worked closely with the chief executives of major aerospace companies to ensure the efficiency, quality, and cost effectiveness of weapon system maintenance.
After retiring from the military in 1997, Harris applied her leadership and management expertise to the space industry. In 1999, she joined United Space Alliance (USA), which NASA contracts to run the manned space program, and served there until 2002. As USA's chief executive, she conducted business and community relations with senior executive officers of large aerospace companies. She also acted as liaison between USA and the Florida governor's senior cabinet members on space industry issues, maintaining funding through networking with key members of the Florida legislature and the U.S. Congress.
Among many other awards, Harris has received the Department of Defense Meritorious Service Award, the Bronze Star, four Legion of Merit awards, the Black Woman of Courage Award, and the University of Maryland University College (UMUC) 2001 Outstanding Graduate Award. She serves on numerous civic and corporate boards, including the Florida Space Roundtable and the Retired Officers Association.
In 1964, Harris earned a BA from Spelman College, and in 1988 she earned a BS from UMUC, where she is now a member of the Leadership Circle, a group whose charge is to raise funds for the university's new military scholarship campaign. Spelman College awarded Harris an honorary doctorate in 1999.
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