New AAFB SARC brings a legacy of service

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Kari Degraffenreed
  • 97th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

A smile comes across Leah Harris’ face as she answers her constantly ringing cell phone, only to put it down and pick up her office phone. Then, a knock on the door from an unexpected but welcome guest interrupts her meeting - all in the span of one half-hour.

Harris is brand new to her role as the sexual assault response coordinator, or SARC for Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma. She has only been in the seat since March 2023 but she’s adapting to her job quickly while building a team of victim advocates around her.

Her role as the SARC is to oversee the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program. That includes recruiting victim advocates and ensuring the SAPR team feels confident in their abilities to advocate and provide resources to a victim in need.

Despite her short time as the SARC, Harris already has plans to make resources more available to Airmen and families on Altus Air Force Base.

“The goal is to eventually have four victim advocates and the SARC” said Harris. “Those four advocates will then be assigned to different groups on base, so then each group will know who their victim advocate is and where they can get help if they need it.”

While Harris has some big ideas, she also comes with an extensive resume chock-full of experience in caring for others. She received her master’s degree in human services from Walden University and then made a career of placing others' needs before her own.

“I've had a really unique opportunity to work in this field across the country,” Harris said. “I have worked in victim advocacy with domestic violence victims and I’ve led support groups for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.”

While her family was stationed in California, Harris started working with people who have intellectual and developmental abilities and went from a case manager to an area director with a local organization that helped disabled adults and children - a program Harris said “really had my heart for about five or six years.”

In September 2021, Harris and her husband, Senior Master Sgt. Raymond Harris, 97th Communications Squadron senior enlisted leader, made the move to Altus, Oklahoma, and she wasted no time getting back to her passion of caring for others. She started a job with a local Autism foundation and later became one of AAFB’s victim advocates.

When the SARC position became available, she jumped at the chance to lead a team of victim advocates to not only help those who have been assaulted, but also come up with new ways to prevent sexual assault.

While planning for Sexual Assault Prevention Month, Harris and her team planned several events to get people talking about consent, prevention, and respect. That includes “Teal Tuesdays” where base employees are encouraged to wear a teal pin on their lapel every Tuesday in April to represent their commitment to sexual assault prevention.

The team also held a “Lunch and Learn” on the topic of consent in the Military and Family Readiness Center April 7, 2023 and will have a “Drive Out Sexual Assault” event at the base driving range April 26, 2023.

During the range event, Harris and the rest of the SAPR team will have attendees sign a pledge to aid in the prevention of sexual assault through respect and care.

While SARC is the latest position for Harris in her storied career, she said her heart will always remain with meeting the needs of others.

“Helping others is definitely my passion in life,” said Harris. “I find it unbelievably rewarding knowing I’m there to help people and people trust me. It’s a huge honor.”