SALEM, Ohio – After a 26-year Navy career and living around the world, Tim and Laura Harrington were preparing to make the transition to civilian life with their two high-school-aged children.
Capt. Tim Harrington’s final port was in Oahu, Hawaii. The couple had leased their home in Pennsylvania and their goal in 2014 was to return to the Keystone State where they had maintained friendships with other military families.
The Columbiana County natives had agreed early on that the last place they wanted to return was northeastern Ohio, especially since Tim’s family had moved to Chicago and Laura’s mother and brother had relocated to North Carolina.
But God had a different plan, the couple says, and an unexpected call from a childhood friend put the future on hold. Todd Olson, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate, had taken over his father’s business, BOC Water Hydraulics Inc. Olson offered his recently retired friend a job in the couple’s hometown of Salem. Today Tim Harrington is vice president of BOC Walter Hydraulics.
“Todd and I grew up a block away from each other,” he says. “Our families have known each other 50-plus years. Our fathers worked at Hunt Valve together. He [Todd] asked me to come back here and it was the best decision I ever made,” Harrington said.
It isn’t the first time he was headed in one direction and a chance intervention altered his path. After graduating from Youngstown State University with a degree in finance, he was on a job interview when the man sitting across the desk abruptly asked, “What do you really want to do, Tim?”
Without hesitation, he expressed his desire to be a Naval officer. The man said, “Well, I’m a retired Navy captain and you know, I can help you out,” Harrington recalls. “A week later I was at Glenview Naval Air Station taking an officer candidate test and six or seven weeks after that I was in officer candidate school.”
He says he wanted to serve the country, but in 1989 online search engines hardly existed and enlistment procedures were more laborious. He simply focused on getting a degree in finance and then spent most of his Navy career working on aircraft carriers. By his 26th year, he was overseeing billions of dollars for the Pacific Fleet, ordnance and fuel movement deployments, ship movements and deployments.
Today he speaks to area high school students about joining the military as a viable career choice.
Harrington is not against students going to college; but most 18-year-old graduates don’t know what they want to do so 80% of them enroll in college but only 30% graduate, he says.
“Where does that leave other ones? Usually they are in debt, have no skill, feel they didn’t accomplish anything and end up in entry-level jobs,” he says. “I tell them to take the stairs and join the military where you will get four years of experience and get paid, earn two to four documented technical skills and are eligible for the GI Bill, which will send you through four years of college for free. Why would you not do that?”
The Navy serves in numerous humanitarian efforts that receive a lot of news coverage, and he says it is a rewarding experience and makes him grateful. He works with the Mahoning County Career and Technical Center and Mahoning County Business Council.
After having such a transient lifestyle – living in different locations, each about two years, retirement has been an adjustment, Laura Harrington says.
While military service is structured, she says military families require nimble decision skills, flexibility and the ability to deal with surprise when it comes to assignments and deployments.
There’s also learning to cope with uncertainty, she says, explaining Tim received a call and had five minutes to decide if they were moving to Japan. “Tim would usually be deployed for six months at a time. In Japan, he was gone 300 days out of the year,” she says.
Their son, Tyler, was born when they were living in Iceland and daughter, MacKenzie, was born in Washington State while Tim was deployed. “She was almost two months old before he got to meet her,” she says. “Being a military spouse is different because you’re not surrounded by immediate family. But what’s unique is your military friends become your family.”
Being back in Salem, Laura Harrington is surprised and heartened by the changes in the area, especially downtown Youngstown and Youngstown State University. The couple enjoy spending time at Mill Creek Park, something she never took advantage of when she was growing up in Salem.
Last year Tyler graduated from Grove City College and MacKenzie is studying there as well.
“I’ve truly grown to love this area; I think it’s a gem. I will tell you, relative to what’s going on in the world, that right now I am proud to live here. I’m proud to watch how this area has reacted. Proud of Mayor Tito Brown and his leadership and what he has done for the city. Youngstown State’s moving in the right direction.”
Pictured: Laura and Tim Harrington never thought they would return to northeastern Ohio but they are thrilled to be home.