March 17, 2021

Chairman Takano Interviews Command Master Chief (Ret.) Octavia Harris for the Veterans History Project

“The Lincoln motto belongs to us too,” says retired Command Master Chief Harris

Press Contact

Jenni Geurink (202-819-4684)

WASHINGTON, D.C. – House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Mark Takano (D-Calif.) interviewed Navy Command Master Chief (Ret.) Octavia Harris, outgoing Chair of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs Advisory Committee on Women Veterans, as part of the Veterans History Project (VHP) at the Library of Congress. The Veterans History Project documents the personal stories of America’s veterans to ensure future generations can learn from those who served and better understand the realities of war. As part of Chairman Takano’s commitment to building equity for veterans and supporting women veterans, he is leading an effort to memorialize the stories of veterans like Command Master Chief (Ret.) Octavia Harris. See the full conversation here


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Watch the full conversation here.


“I was honored to interview Command Master Chief (Ret.) Octavia Harris, the outgoing Chair of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs Advisory Committee on Women Veterans, for the Veterans History Project. As Chair since 2018, her top priorities have been women’s healthcare, including expanding gynecological and mental health services. She has also served as Texas’ Ambassador to the Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation. A 30-year Navy veteran, Harris retired in 2012 as a Command Master Chief. She completed seven deployments in Desert Shield/Desert Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation Enduring Freedom and was one of the first women to serve on a combatant ship. In spite of all the barriers she faced, she rose to the highest enlisted rank in the Navy. I’m honored to help document Octavia’s powerful story-- it is a top priority for me to make VA a welcoming place for all veterans and that starts by sharing the stories of all who’ve served,” said Chairman Mark Takano. “I want to thank Octavia for her continued service on behalf of women veterans and all veterans. 

“At every unit I was with early in my career, if I wasn’t the only woman, I certainly was the only woman of color. But it was a challenge to me. I was not going to let any of the discouragement or the bigotry deter me. I knew that no matter what I did, I always had to do it better-- even if it was an impossible task that my male counterparts would not have been given. I had three strikes against me. I was a woman. I was a Black woman. And I spent 30 years in the closet,” said Command Master Chief (Ret.) Octavia Harris. “As a woman, when you go into a VA, you don’t feel welcome. You still have to prove you’re not there for your husband or your dad. Old guys are standing around, looking you up and down, and in some cases, catcalling. When I was transitioning out of the military, there was no plan for transitioning from active duty to the VA system, especially for women. The Lincoln motto belongs to us too. However, that has not been encompassed in the VA culture completely yet.”


“Chairman Takano has been a great champion of the Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress,” said Librarian of Congress Dr. Carla Hayden. “I appreciate the Chairman taking a personal interest in ensuring that veterans’ firsthand remembrances can be preserved and made accessible for future generations to learn from and be inspired by.  Each new story adds to the diversity of perspectives that can broaden and deepen our collective understanding of our shared history as Americans and gives us a more complete picture of who we are as a nation.”