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Study, serve and stand firm like a sailor

A look into Michael Harbin’s time in the Navy

By Jed Barber | Contributor

Faith, family and learning: one man balanced it all in the midst of military service.

The chair of Taylor University’s Biblical Studies, Christian Ministries and Philosophy department and Professor of Biblical Studies has the bearing of a kindly grandfather. The bookshelves of his office cover an entire wall, and another wall holds his various academic diplomas and degrees.

Michael Harbin appears unmistakably as an academic. With this demeanor, one might assume him to be timid, but he holds a distinct resolve and grit common of many men who have served in the military.

Harbin has spent most of his professional career as a college professor, but his prior job experience extends far beyond the academic circle. In his early twenties, he worked as an engineer for the United States Navy for several years.

Pictured in his uniform, Harbin stands along the Suez Canal in Egypt where he was a part of the mine-clearance operation after the 1973 “October War.” The ship in the background was scuttled by the Egyptians to block the canal during the war. (Photograph provided by Michael Harbin)

Pictured in his uniform, Harbin stands along the Suez Canal in Egypt where he was a part of the mine-clearance operation after the 1973 “October War.” The ship in the background was scuttled by the Egyptians to block the canal during the war. (Photograph provided by Michael Harbin)

Harbin’s military career began with piloting helicopters, but he worked behind a desk for a majority of the time he served. He later began managing around 200 workers in the Aircraft Intermediate Maintenance Department where he assured Navy aircrafts were properly cared for and repaired. During this chapter of his life, Harbin was stationed in Spain, where his wife gave birth to their first daughter.

Not only did Harbin’s military service wear upon his family, it also placed a great deal of strain upon his own mind. He had to manage inordinate amounts of stress while working two jobs and participating in graduate school. However, he managed to cope with all the mental attacks he faced.

The Navy administration recognized Harbin’s aptitude for leadership, and he eventually felt the pull toward teaching. The Navy sponsored him in taking multiple leadership and management courses during the years he served. Here, he gained a variety of new skills that have better equipped him for his current positions.

Eventually, Harbin left active duty to begin pursuing his doctorate. While working his way through graduate school, he supported his family by working various jobs as a waiter. He feels his stint as a waiter gave him a unique window into people’s lives because he saw all manners of people form their best to their worst.

While working in restaurants and completing graduate school, Harbin continued to serve his country through the Navy reserve and traveled regularly to do various odd jobs for the Navy. However, by the grace of God, he prevailed through the busyness of that season.

Before becoming a professor, Michael Harbin served in the Navy as a engineer, pilot and aircraft maintenance manager. (Photograph provided by Michael Harbin)

Before becoming a professor, Michael Harbin served in the Navy as a engineer, pilot and aircraft maintenance manager. (Photograph provided by Michael Harbin)

Throughout Harbin’s professional career, he devoted an enormous amount of time to academic and professional pursuits. For many, this means obligations like family would take a backseat to other priorities.

“My job had an affect, but I tried to maintain a priority on the family,” Harbin said.

He could not give as much attention to his family as he wanted to, but he still maintained solid relationships with his wife and children.

To properly nurture his relationships with his family members, Harbin ensured that certain practices took place whenever possible.

“We would make sure to have holidays, bonding times, family meals and family devotions,” Harbin said. “I’d also try to promote my wife in front of the kids, especially when I was being sent all over the world.”

Despite the various challenges Harbin’s family faced during this chapter of his career, he and his wife have now been married for almost 47 years. He still has close relationships with each of his children. He remains in close contact with them, and he spends time with his oldest daughter regularly in Indianapolis.

Through all seasons of his life, Harbin found his comfort in the Lord’s provision. Early on during his time in the military, he developed the habit of having a quiet time with God and Scripture every day. His wife followed in this habit, and she observed that this practice significantly sustained him through seminary and his doctorate studies.

His sense of faith also influenced the way he applied himself to his work.

“I think the main thing is, my faith instilled in me a strong sense of integrity and character,” Harbin said.

He always made every effort to do his best work in any job he started.

Throughout his long career, Harbin always strove to honor his God and fellow man. In all of his adversity and triumph, he firmly believes that it is not his story, but the credit for his life belongs wholly to God.

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