Army vet works for, gives back to Holloman Airmen

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Siuta B. Ika
  • 49th Wing Public Affairs
When Dwight Harp, currently the 49th Force Support Squadron Marketing office commercial sponsorship coordinator, retired from his second career as an instructor at the Small Business Development Center in Alamogordo, N.M., the U.S. Army veteran was faced with a question many retirees encounter: what to do next.

For Harp, the decision was easy.

"I may have only been at marketing for the last 18 months, but I've been living in the Tularosa Basin since August 1989, so this is home," he said. "When you're in town watching Holloman live, breathe and do the things it does, you get an appreciation for what Team Holloman does and that's special. After a number of years, it doesn't become less special just because you've seen it happen time and again, it becomes more important, because you know that they rely on what you do and they rely on Team Holloman being on the pointy edge of the spear. So I wanted to prove to myself that I still had something to give, and the Air Force is the ultimate place to give it."

Giving is what Harp does best, said Amanda Gallagher, 49th FSS Marketing director.

"We call him Dee-Money because he's the breadwinner for our shop," she said. "Dwight has doubled our advertising budget since he's been here, and he offsets our [nonappropriated funds] expenses by partnering with commercial businesses downtown. Those businesses get advertising to their customers, and we can re-invest the money saved into our Airmen. He puts us in a win-win situation."

Because of his past career experience at the SBDC, Harp said his transition to Holloman AFB was seamless.

"The Air Force was not a new thing to me when I got this job," he said. "Remember now, I've been here for the last 23 years, and as a businessman, if you're going to be successful in any community, you have got to figure out what is the engine, what is the driver to that community. It's pretty obvious if you're in the Tularosa Basin, the thing that makes the Tularosa Basin go is the Air Force, so I had to learn to speak to and be as close to the Air Force pretty quickly."

Harp's journey to the Tularosa Basin began in Farmington, N.M., where he was born and raised before attending New Mexico State University's Reserve Officers' Training Corps program, where he received his commission from the Army in 1970.

"My first [permanent change of station] was to Fort Benjamin, Indiana, where I was the officer in charge of the radio section at the Defense Information School for two years," Harp said. "Before I even went to DINFOS, I was in broadcasting. I started as a disc jockey on the weekends and after school in 1964, and I got a degree in broadcast journalism from NMSU."

After leaving DINFOS and separating honorably from the Army in 1972, Harp went back to Farmington where he thought he could slide back into his old position behind the microphone.

"I came back during a big change in their broadcasting operations and my boss threw me the yellow pages, which had all of the big names in town crossed out, and he said 'You're going to sell radio advertising for me,' so all of a sudden, I was a radio salesman," Harp said. "After awhile, my boss figured out I could sell something, and he told me he was looking to buy a radio station and I would run it for him. He finally found one in Delta, Colorado, and in 76' I moved to Delta to run this radio station. It's a town of 3,500 and was licensed for 1,000 watts during the day time and 250 watts at night, which meant that at night, our signal would not reach the city limits."

It turns out, Harp said, that this venture would be even more difficult than he originally thought.

"I had contacted 400 people that lived there, and the other workers did as well, and out of all the people we contacted, only two people knew of the existence of the radio station; so we weren't buying much, we were simply buying the rights to do business in that town," Harp said. "We cleaned and tuned up the place pretty nicely. I was in Delta for five years, and when I first arrived, the station was making $71.60 a month. Four-and-a-half years later, in November of 81', we did better than $20,000. That's not bad considering we're in a town of 3,500, and we're running this with five people."

Even though he enjoyed success in Delta, Harp returned to Farmington in 1982.

"I got a phone call from my dad, and he says, 'Son I'm not playing enough golf. I want you to come back and work for me at the store,'" Harp said. "My dad started an automotive parts warehouse before I was born, so I made the decision to move back. The deal was I was supposed to end up with the business after a period of time, but that took a very unfortunate turn when my father died very quickly from a mysterious disease. He didn't have a will or an employment contract, but it ended up that there should have been one."

What transpired next, Harp said would end up ruining his father's business.

"My mother died when I was in high school, so my step mother cut me completely out of the deal and brought her son in to run the family business," Harp said. "He was a really nice guy and educated too - he had a master's degree - but he didn't know the difference between a carburetor and a spark plug, and couldn't sell ice water to people in that hot place. It only took him eight months to bankrupt the business. While this was happening, I was bouncing around and doing part time jobs until I got a phone call from a friend in Delta."

The phone call, Harp said, turned out be a job offer.

"He said, 'How about you come back to Delta and be an instructor in a business assistance venture run out of the Delta area,'" Harp said. "So I went back up to Delta in 83' and worked with what eventually would turn into the Small Business Development Center. I learned to teach business through this operation, but I had the opportunity to move down to Alamogordo and start the SBDC here, so I drove into town here in August of 89'."

After retiring from the SBDC in Alamogordo, Harp thought he would be retired for good, but that all changed when his position at the Marketing office opened up.

"I was playing a lot of golf after I retired, and I saw this commercial sponsorship coordinator position open up, and I thought this would be perfect for me," Harp said. "This job is DNA matched for who I am, and I'm having so much fun. I'm smiling because I love to come to work. I am a part-time employee, but I come to work full time, because I love what I do."

Harp loves what he does, because of the people it affects, he said.

"I sleep good at night because I know you're awake," Harp said. "The fact that I have the opportunity to give something back to an operation that I respect, that I love - that's the guys here in uniform. Without the uniform of freedom, all these years we wouldn't have what we have, we wouldn't be where we are. It's important what you guys do, and I have the opportunity to work for and give back to the folks that keep me safe at night. I'm proud to have the opportunity to give back to you all and what you do."

Harp's enthusiasm also rubs off on his entire office, Gallagher said.

"Dwight is a pretty funny guy; he's never failed to do anything we've asked of him to include jumping fully clothed into a swimming pool for a photo shoot," she said. "He's also who I'd call as my lifeline on Millionaire as he's a walking library of random facts. I hope when I'm 63, I'm as much fun as he is with half as much energy."

In the end, Harp just wants to make a difference in the lives of Holloman AFB's Airmen.

"I plan on working here until they kick me out," he said. "Holloman is special because when the president picks up that red phone, it could be the 49th Wing commander on the other side saying 'Yes sir, where do you need us and when?' That's very important to me and my wife, because it lets us sleep at night. The least I can do is give back to you all in any way I can."