Brotherhood: a feeling of fellowship and sympathy for other people; an organization of men who are united for a common purpose. How many of us are privileged enough to have that special connection with a man that allows us to call him “brother?” It is human nature for us to cling to a kindred spirit with whom we can bond and share the troubles that we often encounter throughout life. It comforts us; it provides a channel of relief. It was this ironclad relationship that brought 1st Lieutenant Stephen Morgan through some of his most challenging moments both overseas and on the home front.
1st Lieutenant Morgan was born and raised in Shreveport, the third largest city in Louisiana with half a million people and five major casinos. He made his transition to Jonesboro, Arkansas in January 2012 after he was recruited to teach at Arkansas State University (ASU) in Jonesboro and the officer candidate school in Little Rock. He worked with the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) and soon after got involved with the Arkansas Student Veterans Organization (ASVO) and Beck PRIDE. There, he is teaching and passing on what he has learned to the next generation.
With two grandfathers who served in World War II, one in Korea and the other in the Invasion of Normandy, joining the military seemed like a natural step to take. “When I was a child, I played ‘army’,” states 1st Lieutenant Morgan when asked his reason behind joining the military, “I’ve always been a soldier.” However, it was his cousin and career mentor, Lieutenant Colonel Andy Fields, whom he looked up to, who was the most influential in his decision. That coupled with the opportunity to go to college was enough for 1st Lieutenant Morgan to sign up for the Army National Guard on December 7, 1995. In fact, it was through his G. I. Bill benefits that he received his bachelors from Louisiana State University.
Unfortunately, there was hardship that lay ahead for 1st Lieutenant Morgan. On his first day of basic training, he received news that his aunt, mother of Lieutenant Colonel Andy Fields, had passed away. At that point, no one would have faulted him for wanting to return home to be with his family but he, instead, made the decision to stand by his commitment. “I remember having my drill sergeant take me into the chapel and ask me if I wanted to go home or start basic training and do this. I knew it was what my aunt would’ve wanted me to do.” It was her memory that drove him to succeed during basic training and pushed him to do his best from that point forward. “He told me, ‘Crying about it won’t bring her back. Love her as best you can, love her always, but your life goes on,’ and that stayed with me my entire career. With losing soldiers, or any other loss in life, life goes on. You must continue putting one foot in front of the other.”
He then continued on to his first deployment to Iraq in 2004 which would be followed by a second tour in 2009. With no biological brothers, it was here that he truly bonded with the men who would stand by his side in combat and he would soon come to call his “brothers,” the Fighting 69th. The 1st Battalion 69th Infantry became well known due to the fact that it was largely comprised of New York police officers and firefighters. They fought together and they prayed together. After sustaining 36 casualties, including the platoon leader, having someone there who understands becomes all the more profound. “When one had a kid, we all celebrated. We talked about everything and moved on together. They were there for me. A simple nod was all I needed to keep going because we understood how each other felt,” shares 1st Lieutenant Morgan. They decompressed together by cooking out, playing cards, watching television and movies, and talking about both heavy and light topics alike; conversations that often included discussions about a different life apart from their own. One of his dearest comrades is Mitch Champagne from New Orleans, Louisiana. “I know that I can call him at the drop of a hat and he will be there for me and vice versa,” he explains, “The bible says that there is no greater love than a man that is willing to lay down his life for another.”
1st Lieutenant Morgan mentions a quote at the beginning of the movie Jarhead that states, “A man fires a rifle for many years and he goes to war. And afterwards he comes home, and he sees that whatever else he may do with his life – build a house, love a woman, change his son’s diaper – he will always remain a jarhead. And all the jarheads killing and dying, they will always be me. We are still in the desert.” Much like this quote, the military has defined who he is. In closing, he has advice to offer to other veterans who might cross paths with his story:
“Don’t be afraid to stand up because you don’t stand alone. Don’t be silent with your experiences. There are men and women who have seen and done more than I can understand. Those people are quiet. Sometimes being quiet isn’t always a good thing. If you’re suffering from anything, don’t be afraid to speak up. It’s not considered weak to admit you’re scared when you have courage to continue on. That’s what makes us great as soldiers and as the U. S. military, to say, ‘yes I am scared but I will fight on’.”