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Faces of New Paltz

Gary Harris - Business

Past Faces of New Paltz
Sociology/Theatre Arts
Brian Spina
Secondary Education in Mathematics

Major: Business
Minor: Computer Science
Hometown: Monroe, NY
Veteran of: U.S. Air Force

  • American Marketing Association
  • Kappa Delta Phi fraternity
  • 299 CrossFit

How do you see yourself blending your business major and your computer science minor?
I was the first person in my family to have a computer at age 12, when I bought a used computer off of eBay. Ever since then, I've always had a niche for computers and kind of fell into it. I'm doing business for the management aspect of it, because I want to go back into the military as an officer. That's my plan. I love the military. I want to go back.

What did you love about it?
I've been around the whole world. I joined at 17. They sent me to Texas first. I did basic training at Lackland Air Force Base. From there, I went with the Army for six months at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. That's where I went through chemical warfare school. I was there for six months.

My first base was at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska. I was in Anchorage for three-and-a-half years. I spent two-and-a-half years training Air Force personnel on survival skills. We had a huge deployment base, so my job – because the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were still going on like crazy – was to make sure everyone who had to deploy knew the skills they needed to know. How to look for bombs and land mines, how to clear weapons, how to clear rooms, how to wear your protective equipment.

We ran the gas chambers, too. You would come into the room with a gas mask on, and I would check to make sure you knew how to wear your gas mask right. People would come in there freaking out because they're nervous, so I brought a karaoke machine to try and calm the mood. You have to tell them to take their mask off and breathe the tear gas in so they know what it feels like. And so I'd hand them the microphone, Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" playing, and start singing. Sometimes you'd get a chuckle, but sometimes it would just freak them out more.

The last year I was in Alaska I trained with the Army for a whole year on a nuclear biological chemical recon vehicle. Then they sent me to McChord Air Force Base in Tacoma, Washington. From there, I went everywhere, from base to base, training people. I went to Kadena Air Force Base in Japan, Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii. I went all over the place. I also earned an associate's degree in emergency management.

What was it like going from the military to college?
At first it was really awkward. I'm not going to say you age faster, but you definitely grow up a little quicker in the military than in college. When I first came back, I ended up just moving in with my parents because I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I got accepted into NYU, RPI, Stevens – a bunch of really good schools. But I really liked New Paltz. It was the best fit for me. After a year, I met a couple of guys in Kappa Delta Phi, and I ended up pledging with them and I've never looked back since. Greek life was the best thing I ever did at New Paltz. It's a family away from home, and it's a feeling I haven't had since the military.

What made you choose New Paltz over those other schools?
The city wasn’t going to work for me. Neither was Hoboken. I have a dog and two cars – so I need space. And then I looked at RPI, and I just didn’t like it. Coming to New Paltz was such a breath of fresh air. There’s always something going on in this town.

Would you recommend New Paltz to other veterans or older students who are thinking about going back to school?
I’ve already brought two veterans to New Paltz. One is a Navy friend of mine who was in a combat engineer unit. He came home from his deployment in Afghanistan and spent his first two weeks on leave here in New Paltz, and he said to me, “I don’t know what it takes, but make it happen. Help me go to school here.” I showed him the ropes, and now he’s a political science major. Another friend of mine who’s a Marine also came here after I did. If somebody asks me where to go to school, I’ll tell them New Paltz.

You’ve been kicking around the idea of grad school. Any chance of doing that at New Paltz?
I don’t want to go to school anywhere else. I’ve already seen the whole world. It’s all the same everywhere. I like it here. If I’m going to go to grad school, I’m going to do it here.

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