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Harris part of medical teams helping tsunami victims

by: Associated Press Photo - Lt. Shawn Harris carries an Indonesian boy off the USS Shoup to medical facilities at the Banda Aceh airport in Indonesia.


   While watching CNN news coverage of tsunami rescue efforts in Indonesia, Madras resident Connie Harris-Adams-Sperling couldn't believe it when a picture of her son, Lt. Shawn Harris, flashed across the screen.
   That same moment, Harris' wife in San Diego, Calif., had the same reaction. "I was watching the news that day and saw him and it was really weird," said Claudia Harris, especially she said, since he's not allowed to give specifics on where he's going half the time.
   "His work is highly classified and we don't always know where he's going to, or where he's going out of," his mother said.
   Lt. Harris, 31, is a Navy critical care nurse assigned to Team 5 of the Navy's Fleet Surgical Team. He grew up in Bend, lived in Madras for three years, and graduated from Issaquah High School in Washington.
   His mother worked 18 years as an ICU nurse in Seattle before retiring, and she and her husband Frank Sperling now live in Madras.
   Harris attended Bellevue College for two years, earned a master's degree in nursing from the University of Washington, and joined the Navy after his third year in the nursing program.
   He has been in the Navy for nine years, during which time he served in Iraq, Hong Kong, Spain, and Italy. In December, 2003, he returned to his homeport in Bremmerton, Wash., before moving with Claudia and their daughter Brandee, 11, to San Diego, Calif., then shipped out again last June aboard a destroyer, the USS Shoup.
   His mother received an e-mail from Harris, which said his team was participating in humanitarian relief efforts in the Philippines.
   "I'm not sure if any of you were following the news in the Philippines, but they were hit pretty hard by three typhoons back to back and about 1,000 people ended up either dead or missing, with many more people displaced," his e-mail said.
   Lt. Harris said they were transporting food, water and medical supplies and evacuating as many people as they could by helicopter.
   "Since you guys keep asking me for pictures, I thought some of you might like to see where your tax dollars go," he said, attaching several photos to the e-mail.
   "The last time we talked to him by phone he said it would be his last communication for a while, other than e-mail," his mother said.
   Since every two or three months Team 5 is transferred to a different ship, they weren't sure where he'd gone until his picture appeared on CNN, and an Associated Press photo in the San Diego newspaper showed him carrying an Indonesian boy to a medical facility in Banda Aceh, Indonesia.
   Contacted last week by phone, his wife told The Pioneer, "The team was in Southeast Asia when they diverted his ship to help in Indonesia after the tsunami."
   In Banda Aceh, team members are working in a medical tent on land and go back and forth to the USS Shoup ship by helicopter.
   "That helicopter that crashed (last week) -- he was in the helicopter in front of that one. I e-mailed him when I saw him on the news and found out he was OK," Claudia said.
   She said her husband's team has been providing medical services and doing a little bit of everything to help survivors in Banda Aceh.
   "He said it was raining and they were working seven days a week, nonstop with doctors from Spain and all over the world," Claudia said, adding, "He said the Spanish and Aussies and everyone have been really helpful. That this experience has been great, because they get to see how the world unites."