• 64°

First Escambia County soldier returns home safely to celebrate Mother's Day

By By Robert Blankenship
Special to The Advance
A local family's prayers have been answered.
After months of watching the war against Iraq develop and then weeks of praying for the safe return of their son, Allen and Kathy Morris can now rest easy knowing that their son, Michael, is safe.
Michael Morris, is the first county soldier to return home after serving in the Iraq war. Before making landfall in San Diego earlier in the week, Michael had been at sea for 10 months – the final four without any port stops.
On Thursday, at about 4 p.m., Allen and Kathy saw their son for the first time since the war began when they picked him up at the airport.
"This is the best Mother's Day present I could have hoped for," Kathy said. "To have your children home safe is the ultimate feeling for any mother."
Allen heard about his son's return on television when the admiral of the Lincoln reported that they were coming home.
"I heard the admiral on TV right before I went to bed that night and he said they were coming home. I couldn't sleep at all. It was the best news I had heard in a long time," he said.
Michael, who was promoted to an E-4 on Thursday, served as an aviation ordinanceman on the Lincoln. He has been in the military for over two years.
"Basically, I loaded bombs and missiles onto aircraft," Michael said. "I work with weapons systems or aviatics."
He is stationed in California where he is part of the S-3 Viking Squadron, or the VS-35 Blue Wolves. In fact, one of his jets was used to fly President George Bush onto the Lincoln prior to his televised speech from the carrier's deck. He said being in such close contact with the president, especially under the circumstances, was an honor he will never forget.
"I had to be there for the landing because it was one of our aircraft. I got to shake his hand and heard his speech. I was overwhelmed. It was awesome. It made the hairs on my neck stand up. To have the commander-in-chief come to see us was a great honor," he said.
Michael was assigned to the Lincoln in July 2002. The original assignment called for them to stay at sea for about six months. In mid-January, the Lincoln was making its way back toward the U.S. when it turned around and made port in Australia.
After the brief stop, Michael and the U.S.S. Lincoln made their way to the Persian Gulf where they remained until the war was over. Michael said he and his fellow soldiers knew war was coming and that it became very obvious when it finally got underway.
"We were never told when the war would start, but we knew it was going to happen," he said. "The pace began to pick up and it served as a preparation of things to come.
"When the war did start we were working flight operations 20 hours a day and that lasted all the way through the war. We were working launch and recovery all day long."
From aboard the Lincoln, Michael was able to keep up with what was happening within Iraq in the same way that his parents and most other Americans did – by watching television.
"We had a satellite and we knew what was going on," he said. "After the jets took off we could see the strikes on television."
He also watched as tomahawk missiles were fired from other naval vessels in the Persian Gulf.
"They were really quick and it was like having a little fireworks show," he said.
Michael said morale remained high among the soldiers throughout the conflict.
"Everybody was watching each other's back and we were performing our jobs to the best of our ability," he said. "We had a few minor mishaps, but those were things that just happen from time to time."
As flight operations began to decrease, Michael said it was apparent that the war was coming to an end. While they continued to patrol the gulf, they learned in early April that they would be coming home. For those on board who had not set foot on land for four months, the news was welcomed.
"Everyone was really excited. During the first six months we had a lot of stops. But in the final four we had no ports. We spent 10 months on the water and we knew that we were going home," he said.
The morning after Bush's speech, which took place about 80 miles from San Diego, Michael woke up to see land right in front of him. He knew this time the ship would dock and he would get to go home.
He said that the president's speech confirmed for him the end of the war and the success of the American military.
"When he said 'mission accomplished' it made everybody feel good. Everybody was pleased knowing that our commander-in-chief felt it was a job well done," he said.
Coincidentally, his mother had similar feelings as she watched the speech on television.
"When he said 'mission accomplished' I knew it was over. Those were the best words I had ever heard," Kathy said.
For Michael's parents and his 12-year-old sister Michelle, the days of trying to catch a glimpse of their son on CNN were over.
"For 2 and a half weeks it was the same: come home from work and straight to the TV. We just hoped for a quick glimpse and to make sure he was OK," he said.
Michael's uncle, David Morris, said the entire family kept watch to try and confirm Michael's situation.
"As long as you could see what was going on on the television, you felt like there was hope and security. It really felt like there was a connection."
Michael is not only the cousin of his uncle's three children – Sierra, 7; Cameron, 6; and Colby, 2 – but, he is also their godfather.
"They cried and cried over Michael and it broke my heart. They would get to asking what was going on and I would try to explain it the best that I could. But, it is hard to explain these things to children," David said.
On Friday morning, Michael, along with his parents and uncle, arrived at his grandparent's house for breakfast. Pansy and Edgar Morris also live in Wallace and morning breakfasts at their house is a tradition in the family. Michael said homecooked meals – especially his "granny's dumplings" – was among the things he missed the most.
"When I heard he was coming home a peace filled me," Pansy said. "It was wonderful. I had cried a little and prayed a lot. I am still praying because there are other young people still over there and they have mothers and grandmothers too."
The entire family credits the power of prayer for the safe return of Michael and the success of the American military. They said the entire community rallied with them during the war and that it offered them comfort and strength.
"We want to thank everybody for their support and prayers – not just for our son and the troops, but for our family," Kathy said. "It has been unbelievable how the community has pulled together and shown its support for us."
Even as part of the military and the knowledge that his vessel alone accounted for 1.4 million pounds of the bombs that landed on Iraq, Michael said victory would not have come without prayer.
"I am very thankful for everybody's prayers and support," he said. "There were a lot of people praying for us and that is what made our mission a success. There is no other way we could have done what we did."
Michael will return to California after a 20-day leave expires.
A reception is planned in his honor today at 1 p.m. at the Wallace Volunteer Fire Department. The entire Morris family serve as volunteers with the department.