Lubbock's Southern Brigadier General
Five-year-old Gary Harber was noted publicly for boldness when he backed up traffic, as he rode his tricycle down Columbia Avenue in Centerville, Tennessee, to his parent's grocery store. As he grew, he earned respect as the youngest professional photographer in Tennessee. Gary was hired by the local funeral home to take pictures of the deceased. By age 12 he established his credentials as the photographer for the Tennessean and Banner newspapers. His "press pass" allowed him to capture images for the reporter who transported him in her car.
In 1955 after graduating from Hickman County High School in Centerville, Gary joined the Tennessee Army National Guard. General Harber served as an infantry officer at the LT level and was transferred by the U.S. Army to the Combat Engineer Branch in the Army Corp of Engineers in 1959. He achieved Army Master Aviator status and has more than 15,000 in military and civilian fixed and rotary-wing aircraft. General Harber oversaw operations in America, Europe, and Central America. In Europe, he served as the NATO Northern Regional Wartime Construction Manager and Commander of the 194th Engineer Brigade (Theatre Army). In Central America he commanded the nation-building efforts primarily focused on Panama, Honduras, and Costa Rica, building roads through the jungle and constructing schools, clinics, and support facilities. He was assigned to the Pentagon on numerous occasions including as Chief, Construction Branch, and Army Installations Division. He also served on the Chief of Engineers General Officer’s Executive Council under Lieutenant General Henry “Hank” Hatch which advised on matters relative to Engineer Unit Requirements and Wartime missions. The Council, comprised of five General Officer Commanders, was heavily involved in Desert Shield/Desert Storm. He served his beloved America for 42 years, retiring as a Brigadier General in 1997.
General Harber never lets the injuries he suffered in a helicopter crash in the '60s affect the stalwart support he demonstrates to current and past soldiers and their families. One of the ways he chooses to stay “relevant” is by being active in volunteering with veterans who are on hospice care. Welby Smith, another Vet-to-Vet hospice volunteer says, “The general is a wonderful Christian man who serves God and others, a true American hero. He still loves and serves veteran hospice patients, and it is an honor to visit [them] with him.” Gary is also a member of the Daedalians (Military Pilot Organization) and is a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) civilian flight training instructor.
General Harber wants every reader to know that the Bible is applicable to the struggles we face today. He saw himself as a "marginal Christian” until he actually read the little Bible in his flight suit pocket, while flying with another pilot years ago. He realized God was personally guiding him. The trajectory of his life changed, and he began to focus more on others.
Recently, General Bernhard Mittemeyer initiated the concept of VA Super Clinic in Lubbock. Generals Walt Huffman, Edgar Murphy, and Harber combined efforts to ensure its realization. General Harber states that one of his motivations for assisting with the new Super Clinic was to "provide for those who have served this country and helped to make it the great and free nation that it is.” General Huffman stated, “General Harber’s expertise in developing federal projects has proved indispensable.” General Mittemeyer remembers, “Brigadier General Gary Harber immediately impressed me, not only as a great man, but one who is firmly committed to the veteran population. All of the generals have lived up to exceeding the highest expectations.”
Years after retirement, Gary recalls an incident that changed his life. Gary saw a film entitled “We Were Soldiers”. The war film depicted how many soldiers' lives were lost. The fighting scenes triggered his personal memories of war, and as hot tears rolled down his face, he remembered the passionate, patriotic soldiers who had served with him. He felt he should have been there with them. He exited the theater with a very heavy heart. Then he vividly remembers God flooding his heart, reassuring him that their deaths were “not your fault.” A large weight lifted a yoke he did not realize he had been tied to for countless years. General Harber wants to pass that message along to other soldiers and military leaders that may not realize the emotional baggage they still carry. He knows the Lord has released him, finally, of the burden of not being with his friends who were lost in combat. Gary's prayer for current soldiers and leaders is for them to know that it’s not their fault that they survived and a friend did not.
Lauren, his second-born daughter says, “He has always been a great spiritual role model." She also shares, "He instilled in me a love of language which has been passed on to my eldest son, who speaks German, Pashto, and French, and is currently serving in Army Special Operations."
There's another side to Gary Harber — an artistic one. He performed guitar with his brother at the Junior Grand Ole Opry in his youth, as well as absorbed the wit of his kindergarten teacher, Sarah Colley (aka Minnie Pearl).
His daughter, Cathleen, loves the memory of her delighted classmates as they rushed out to see her dad’s UH-1 “Huey” helicopter. He was requested by the school to land on the school grounds when she was in second grade. In 2002 she introduced her dad to her next-door neighbor, Carol. After getting to know the southern gentleman whom Carol describes as a "teddy bear", the couple married 11 years ago.
Cathleen sums up the heart of her dad and all of his accomplishments with, "He has the strength of a warrior and the talent of an artist. That is a rare combination."