Remembering Gratiot County on Veterans Day: “Not Too Old to Serve” – Craig Morrison, Iraq War Veteran

Craig Morrison in Iraq 2006.jpg

Above: Craig Morrison, 1st Cavalry Divison, Iraq, 2006

Craig Morrison once decided that he was unhappy with his job and that he needed a career change. In late 2004, he entered the Mt. Pleasant Army Recruiter’s office and within a short time he left for basic training – at the age of 33.

Morrison, a 1990 Fulton High School graduate, was also married with children. Recalling his decision to enter the Army at that time he said, “The pay was good and I needed a change in career. I was not happy with my job. I had tried to go back to school and study with online classes and this was all very hard.” There was also a key benefit for serving the country, free health care. He could later say with confidence, “They (the military) take care of you.”

Under the Delayed Entry Program he signed the papers in September, 2004 and he left for basic training on January 5, 2005.  Only four weeks into basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia he pulled two hamstrings, but was able to come home for 30 days. The downside of the injuries meant that he returned just in time to watch his unit graduate. After being in physical therapy for two months, he then had to go back and take his basic training over again.

His next assignment took him to Fort Gordon, Georgia where he took communication work through Advanced Individual Training. His training enabled him to work with computers, radios, antennas and cables. He eventually specialized in working on radios for tanks, Humvees and hand held radios. As this went on, Craig adjusted to the regimen and structure of military life. “It was fun. I later missed the heck out of it,” he now remembers.

By January, 2006 Morrison moved to his permanent duty station at Fort Hood, Texas. A month later, his wife and family moved there to be with him. Then came his deployment to Iraq that fall. On the day he left, his wife, Kristina, returned home to find that it had been broken into and vandalized. Before he flew to Iraq, he made a final call home from Maine and his wife gave him the bad news. There was nothing he could do to help her. However, his commanding officer made contact with individuals at Fort Hood who went to help his wife. After this, Kristina decided to bring the family back home to mid-Michigan. It was one of several moves that she made during her husband’s time in the service.

Morrison soon became assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division, 15 PSB (Personal Services Brigade), which was part of the 15 SB (Sustainment Battalion). In October, 2006 he arrived in Kuwait, then he was sent to Baghdad, serving as a replacement for 14-15 months. Upon entering the city Morrison thought then that “We had no idea where we were at.” Before landing, the plane he was on did a combat dive, a sudden aerial maneuver used to deter the enemy from shooting at American planes when they landed. Craig’s ears hurt for more than one day, but eventually the pain subsided. His base was located on the outskirts of Baghdad and it was fortunate that this unit only left the base via helicopter and did not have to do combat or patrol. During his deployment to Iraq, he never had to fire his weapon.

Morrison was stationed at the Victory Base Complex, which was made up of four or five connected bases. Signal Hill, the large tower at the base, was a target that the enemy often aimed for. On December 7, 2006, Signal Hill was hit for the first time in its then two year history. Indirect fire often occurred during Craig’s deployment, mainly during the day, but sometimes at night.

Life on the base became tolerable for him in his spare time partly due to his wife’s willingness to burn shows on DVDs and mail them to him. He received a package from her every few weeks and men in his unit often found their way to Morrison’s room to watch the shows. Other things to do included watching “bootleg” DVD movies, which almost all Soldiers bought and viewed. There was a basketball court and tennis courts on the base. Dial up internet was used to communicate with home, but the quality was often poor. Contact with TCN’s (“Third Country Nationals”) from a variety of different countries regularly took place. These individuals held jobs on the base like cleaning barracks, running the PX, taking care of trash or working at the nearby Burger King.

Morrison’s Army career took a big change in Iraq when he injured his back. He tried to deal with the pain through prescribed meds, but the pain only increased and got worse. Finally, his unit sent him to accompany another soldier to Germany. While there, Morrison received a MRI and a doctor told him he had two herniated disks. The doctor wondered how he could stand straight up, in addition to handling the pain. It was agreed that Morrison would be sent back to Iraq “on profile” to pick up his things and to make farewells. It was not easy to do and Morrison felt conflicted about his injury and his desire to stay in the Army in a combat zone.

After surgery at Fort Hood, Craig went through the “Med Boarding” process which was how he would have to leave the military. By 2008, Craig Morrison was out of the Army. He returned to Michigan and to the job he had at the Krapohl car dealership in Mt. Pleasant. The government promised that Soldiers would be able to return to the jobs they left behind when they joined up. After a while, Morrison moved to similar car dealership positions at Alma and in Ithaca (where he currently is employed).

Looking back at his Army career, Craig believes that if his health had been better he may have stayed in the Army and served twenty years. After some time at home, he eventually asked the Army Reserves and the National Guard about serving. Both turned him down due to the experience he had with his back.

Still, there are several things that he cannot forget, like losing a buddy in the combat zone, the smell of diesel fuel (which reminds him of Baghdad), and the image of seeing a severely injured female Soldier who was on the same flight he took to Germany. His analysis of his experience in the Army, as compared to many other Soldiers in the war zone, was that “My experience in Iraq overall was a much better one. I only served on one deployment – it was an experience. I came out better than I went in.”

I asked him what civilians today do not understand about the men and women who serve in Iraq and Afghanistan. He shared his observations. First, many of those in the military go on multiple deployments to the war zone (not just one). When Morrison sees groups of soldiers together like he sometimes does at a nearby McDonalds, he sees less and less combat badges on their uniforms, meaning that most of these volunteer soldiers have not been in combat. Also, many returning soldiers return home with psychological damage that they have to deal with. Finally, in the combat zone, comradery is a real and genuine thing for soldiers.

Today, I remember those Gratiot County men and women who, like Craig Morrison, have faithfully served our county, our state and our nation. Many of these veterans from Korea, Vietnam, the Cold War, Gulf War II, and Gulf War II deserve their recognition. Join me on the blog as we visit these periods from Gratiot County’s past.

 

 

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