While most of their still young lives have been spent away from South Florida, the Harmon brothers say visiting Seminole lands still feels like “coming home.”
Eli and Levi Harmon, 22-year-old twins, came “home” in July to take care of some business at Tribal Headquarters in Hollywood and to visit family in Brighton. Brighton Councilman Andrew J. Bowers Jr. is their great uncle. Gladys Jean Bratcher (Councilman Bowers’ sister) is their grandmother.
Gladys’ daughter, Donna Harmon, is their mother who accompanied her sons on the recent trip. She is married to Edward Harmon and the couple also has two daughters, Jessi, 18, and Anna, 16.
Edward is a first class petty officer in the U.S. Naval Reserve. He has most recently been stationed in Gulfport, Mississippi.
The Harmon family has called Flagstaff, Ariz., home for the past 23 years. Although there are family members in Brighton, Donna previously lived in Hollywood for about seven years and Gladys has been living in Nashville, Tennessee. Gladys, however, is in the process of moving back to Brighton to be near family.
Military service runs on both sides of the family, and the Harmon brothers are continuing the tradition. Councilman Bowers was a U.S. Marine, as was Donna’s father, who is now deceased.
The Harmon brothers attended St. John’s Military School in Salina, Kansas – a private boarding military school for males from grades 6 to 12.
The two were the highest ranking cadets at the four-year high school.
“Being in that position allowed us to get to know the president really well, and he’s still one of my closest friends,” Levi said. “I talk to him pretty regularly and he convinced me to go to VMI (Virginia Military Institute). It’s the only school I applied to.”
Andy England was a VMI graduate himself in 1990, and served as the school’s president while the Harmon brothers attended.
The Harmon brothers have now both graduated from their respective military academies.
Eli graduated in May after four years at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, earning a degree in physics.
His plans are to work for one year in the Academy’s admissions department as a recruiting officer. He is on active duty as a second lieutenant.
“It’s a special assignment I did an interview for. I’ll be a space operations officer after that. The Air Force does a lot of work with satellites and missile detection. A [space operations officer] oversees those,” Eli said.
He said he’s not sure where he’ll be stationed for the space operations officer assignment yet. Eli’s initial commitment to the Air Force is five years of active duty.
Levi also graduated in May, but far away from his brother at VMI in Lexington, Virginia.
One of Levi’s top-of-mind memories of his time at VMI took place during his freshman year.
“It’s called your ‘Rat’ year. It’s six or seven months and you can’t really do anything – there’s all sorts of rules involved. You can’t have your cell phone, can’t leave on the weekends, can’t go to sleep until 11:15 at night – you can’t even take a nap unless it’s under your desk. You have to walk in a specific line in the barracks, can’t talk outside, can’t do anything,” he said.
Levi is in a civilian status until January 2019 when he’ll attend Marine Corps Officer Candidates School in Quantico, Virginia. Once he completes OCS, he will also be a second lieutenant in the Marines. “Until then I’m going to watch over my sister (Anna) and get fit,” he said.
Meanwhile, his other sister, Jessi, is following her brother’s footsteps: she’ll be a freshman at VMI this fall.
Donna said she and Edward homeschooled the boys up until high school when they found St. John’s.
“We really liked it, it’s an excellent school, very good structure,” Donna said. “And the people there were really nice. It’s in the Midwest in Kansas, so it was a good environment for them. And there were no distractions.”
But Donna said she wasn’t really that worried about the boys being distracted from their schoolwork.
“They were really good kids. I’d be trying to teach and they’d be reading – they were avid readers and they still read a lot. We traveled a lot. We were fortunate enough with the Tribe that they could come down here for any sort of cultural programs that they had and we tried to get them involved in all sorts of things,” she said.
While there are many Natives who have attended and who have graduated from military academies across the country, the family believes it is likely the twins are the first from the Seminole Tribe of Florida.
Levi was also a “distinguished graduate,” a title reserved for those who achieved an overall (and within their major) grade point average (GPA) of 3.5 or above. Eli was a member of Sigma Pi Sigma at the Air Force Academy, an honors society for those majoring in physics.
The family also believes the two would be the first military officers from the Tribe as well. (Many Seminoles have served as enlisted members).[Councilman Bowers] is why I want to be a Marine,” Levi said.
Eli said he’d eventually like to own property in Brighton. “So I can come and see my family more,” he said. “We see them every so often, but I’d love to be able to come down and stay in my own house and see them all the time.”
The twins are both self-described outdoor types who enjoy fishing, and say Brighton is the perfect environment.
“Even though we’ve never lived here, it always feels like we’re kind of coming home,” Levi said. “It’s pretty cool.”