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07-15-08, 08:35 AM #1
Local marine writes of his time at war
Local marine writes of his time at war
By James Thomas Jr.
Marine Corps reservist Col. Glen Morris left his wife and two young children and went looking for the war in Iraq.
He soon found himself in the middle of a hotbed investigation into the killings of 24 Iraqi civilians by U.S. Marines in 2005.
Morris' experiences became the substance of a near eight-month blog and now a book on the life and death decisions faced by young soldiers each day in a complex war zone.
Morris, formerly of San Diego and now living in Carrollton, wrote "The Babylon Blog: One Man's Journey to the War and Back" during an untypical deployment between January and August 2006.
The book is named for the region where Morris was assigned and posted his entries in what was once the ancient kingdom of Babylon.
Guilt drove Morris to volunteer for war duty, he said. His reserve unit was mobilized in 2005 and he was sent to work as a liaison officer at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi. His duties, which he called "numbingly routine," consisted of answering phones, e-mails, reports and getting "stuck behind a laptop."
Meantime, he couldn't ignore constant reports about young soldiers getting deployed to Iraq for "second tours, extended tours" and he'd never gone once. Ego, too, factored in since "Marines are conditioned to run toward gunfire," he said.
He discussed the situation with his wife, Irene, who agreed to support his decision, said Morris. He then contacted Marine Civil Affairs and soon after was on a cargo plane to Kuwait, followed by a "pitch dark" helicopter ride over Fallujah.
At Camp Fallujah, he was first assigned work at headquarters. He became a member of I Marine Expeditionary Force, with a mission to help rebuild the area and establish security. His duties, however, were still the same administrative "monotony of the same thing day after day," said Morris.
More than a month passed and then reports erupted worldwide about the 2005 Haditha war crimes incident. Morris was reassigned to a support role with naval investigators in the probe.
"I talked to the young grunts (infantry soldiers), 18, 19-year-olds, ones who fight the war at the tip of the spear," explained Morris. "I saw what they faced everyday. They're fired on and couldn't fire back. Yet they try to do their jobs as real professionals.
"Then I talked to the locals who had been affected by the tragedy. I talked to them right in their living rooms. And you can't help but to feel something for them. Most of them are just like us... struggling to get through another day but find themselves stuck in the middle of a war," he added.
Morris' new assignment was at Forward Operating Base, Sparta, India Company, in Haditha. He became part of a new civil military operation that replaced the group in place during the Haditha incident.
The new assignment - emotionally charged though it was - helped Morris "escape the craziness of headquarters," he said.
The overall mission was to restore calm and recruit Iraqis for a police force. He called it "very slow work," especially in light of allegations that Marines had killed two dozen unarmed civilians. Moreover, an "insurgent's murder and intimidation campaign against anyone who participated in an American-led police force" made the going tougher.
The opportunity, however, enabled him to go out on patrols with the young Marines, "to do stuff colonels don't often get to do." He blogged some of his observations about grunts in combat.
Tuesday, April 11, 2006 - "They're dirty and they stink from too many days of combat duty and not enough time for showers. None of them seem capable of doing the type of thing the magazines claim. I pray they aren't and I hope they didn't.
"I am surrounded by heroes... but I'm afraid no one has a monopoly on morality."
Morris' "The Babylon Blog" unveils some of the realities of life as a combat soldier in a war zone. He describes periods of calm shattered by gunfire, boredom turned into terror, laughter followed by sudden death.
People are the central focus of his blogs: Marines "so tired they can sleep anywhere;" the Iraqi military, "not up to standards of the U.S. Marine Corps...but in a firefight...fight bravely." And yet, "For most families," Morris writes, "life goes on as normally as they can make it. People go to work. Students go to school. Shepherds move their sheep. And children play in the cool of the day."
Morris said he didn't set out to write a book or even blog, "just looking for a way to stay in contact with family and friends" and chronicle a journal on "what it's like for an average Joe to go to war." Mail arriving from the U.S. can take several weeks.
He expressed disappointment to his readers that there were many things about the war and the Haditha probe that he couldn't blog.
Wednesday, May 17, 2006- "The incident is classified," he wrote, "too sensitive... My military bosses might be reading it. Al Queda could read it... the parents of some of the young Marines."
Morris served active duty in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1983 -1988. He enlisted in the reserves in 1993 but for nearly 10 years worked as an elementary school principal in the San Francisco Bay area.
In many ways, his life didn't seem to parallel one of going to war. In 2002 he enrolled in a San Francisco seminary school with plans to become a missionary in Asia. Upon graduation his reserve unit was mobilized to the Horn of Africa and life changed.
In the genesis of his blog, Morris wrote of why men go to war. "Men go to war for the stories we can tell when we get back," he wrote. And the stories vary when told to "Mom, a girlfriend or drinking buddies."
Palm Sunday 2006 passed without notice at Sparta Base, Morris recalled. Respondents to his blog reminded him of the omission. He decided to put his seminary training to use, post flyers and invite troops to an Easter service the next week. He drafted a sermon and later blogged it.
Sunday, Aprril 16, 2006 - "Jesus' death on the cross describes a very dark time. Similarly, we are in dark times... personally as far as our deployment and the danger and discomfort we face.
"Jesus suffered and died just like Marines have died here in Haditha: for something bigger than themselves. The resurrection brought hope. Hope for all of us as individuals as well as for the bigger picture here in Haditha and Iraq.
"No one showed up for my Easter sunrise service this morning, but that's okay. I did it out loud to myself. I needed to hear it, too."
Morris calls his journey to war "a great experience. Maybe it'll just keep the war effort in the forefront of people's minds," he said. "There are guys who are still sweating over there."
He returned home Aug. 17, 2006, to his wife, son, Noah, 9, and daughter, Charisa, 6. In October 2007 he accepted a consultant's position with the civilian contractor Joint War Fighting Center in Suffolk and moved to Hampton Roads.
"We train and observe various task forces and combatant commands around the world," he explained, "and provide feedback on how things could be better."
One of his most recent jobs sent him back to the Horn of Africa,where his reserve unit was deployed in 2005.
His last blog appeared shortly after he arrived home.
Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2006 -'I'm just trying to get used to life back at home. It's so different than my previous life in Babylon that it's impossible to compare. I'm enjoying it though..."
James Thomas Jr., firstname.lastname@example.org
Col. Glen Morris poses with a young Iraqi boy in Haditha. (Photo courtesy Glen Morris)
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