He is 27 years old, stands fit and trim at 6'2'' and will return for a second tour of military duty in Iraq sometime this month.
His name is Cpl. Michael T. Morton and he is a U.S. Marine. For me, the war in Iraq now has a face.
I met Morton and members of his family last Saturday night during a surprise birthday party for his father, Marty Morton, who is director of Maintenance, Facilities and Operations for La Cañada Unified School District. The party in La Crescenta celebrated a dual purpose, as it was also a farewell send-off for Mike.
Locals Cliff Jones and Bob Tanabe had invited me for an interview with the younger Morton. Jones and Tanabe are in the initial planning stages of a program to adopt Morton's unit in Iraq, by sending care packages containing donations from the States. Jones was inspired by a similar effort his brother, ex-Marine Randy Jones, initiated in Illinois.
The party Saturday night was low-key, which gave me the opportunity to speak at length with Mike and his wife, Julie. I found him to be a very
bright and personable man. Highly principled but easy going - a remarkable combination in all, complimented by Julie's dry sense of humor and obvious affection. Morton told me that a half dozen years ago, he felt frustrated working in what appeared to be a dead-end job
doing retail sales.
"I wanted to make a difference and feel good about myself," he said.
Mike's family's background in the Navy inspired him to investigate all branches of the military for enlistment options. In January of 1999, he made the rounds, investigating the Army, the Air Force and the Navy. All the while, he noticed that an officer in the Marines was observing his progress without comment, other than an occasional, imperceptible shake of the head. Perplexed and slightly irritated, Morton was intrigued enough to return for an interview with Marines recruiter SSgt. McKinney the following day.
Sufficiently impressed during the interview, Morton signed up afterward and began testing for possible placement in the Marines.
"McKinney was fired up," Morton said. "He was excited, enthusiastic about what he does. He told me the Marines were where I wanted to be,
'If you're trying to set your life straight and take pride in what you do.'" After Morton completed a written test 45 minutes later, McKinney determined he would be qualified for embarkation, a procedure by which Marines and their gear are moved by plane, train or boat from one
destination to the next.
The new Marine's training took place at Camp Johnson, North Carolina.
In 2000, Morton was transferred to Okinawa, Japan, where he remained stationed with Marine Wing Support Squadron 172 for a year. During that time, Morton created "load" plans using computer templates to determine
that aircraft were properly balanced before take-off, when transporting troops, trucks, engineering equipment, tents, water purification systems, food rations and the like.
Upon his return to Camp Pendleton, Oceanside, Morton met Julie Craddock in passing at a mutual friend's birthday party. Julie says she didn't think much about it at the time as Morton was dating someone else. The two met again at an enlisted "E-Club," when Morton had been assigned temporary duty at Twenty-Nine Palms, participating in CAX (Combined Army Exercise). This time, the relationship took hold and the couple dated for a year.
In a once-in-a-lifetime experience, Morton boarded the USS Pearl Harbor on Dec. 1, 2001, arriving at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on Dec. 7, 2001: Pearl Harbor Day, exactly 60 years after the attack. From there, his ship continued to Africa, where he served in a security detail during February of 2002 for a month, protecting Marines as they built a bridge for a village in Kenya near the troubled border of Somalia. Morton was equipped with a machine gun in in his foxhole lookout.
From Africa, he continued to Singapore where he bought Julie's wedding ring, then went on to make R & R stops in Australia, Thailand, Bahrain and Qatar. His deployment ended on June 15, 2002, and he proposed to Julie when he returned to San Diego. The couple was married Aug. 24, 2002, on a river boat in Laughlin, Nev.
In January of 2003, the Mortons came together one evening, each with something important to share.
"I've got some great news," Julie told her husband.
"I've got some bad news," he responded. "You go first."
"I'm pregnant!" Julie said of their daughter, Kylie, now 18 months old.
"I'm going to Iraq this weekend," Morton replied.
By Jan. 13, Morton had left for Camp Coyote in Kuwait to serve as movement control chief. His position entailed processing up to 60 requests a day for transporting subordinate units of 500-1,000 Marines, along with their equipment and supplies: "The three 'Bs,'" Morton said, "Beans, bullets and Bandaids," or rations, weapons and medical supplies. Morton coordinated truck convoys for movement of the same, usually at night.
After war in Iraq was declared by President Bush in March 2003, Morton left Camp Coyote for Camp Viper in southeastern Iraq, serving once again as movement control chief. He returned to the U.S. in the summer of 2003 and was present for his daughter's birth on Sept. 3. A year and a half later, Morton is preparing for another tour of duty in Iraq, with a window of departure some time in March.
He will be deployed to Al-Asad Air Base as part of Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 465, positioned as its embarkation chief. His squadron, the War Horses, is composed of 250 people including a dozen women. It is for these Marines that Jones and Tanabe are organizing a support group stateside. According to Jones, drop-off points for donations such as snack items, toiletries and comfort needs (anything from cards and letters, to pre-paid calling cards) are being arranged locally as of press time.
Morton told me that overall, "The Iraqi people are friendly. They're not out to get us, or anything like that. A lot of them don't want us there, but a lot of them do. We'll be in a convoy and have to slow down as people wave at us from the side of the road saying things like (thumbs up) 'U.S. is number one!'" Morton further noted that following U.S. training, members of the Iraqi military and military police were beginning to lift some of the burden off U.S. troops.
"Hopefully in the long run, it will help stop Marines from going over because the Iraqis will be able to take care of their own country," he said. "But if they need us to go back, then so be it- we'll do it.
"It's not that I want to go over there and risk my life, but if my country needs me, by God I'm going over there."
Since joining the Marines in 1999, Cpl. Michael T. Morton has been awarded the Good Conduct Medal and National Defense Medal, among other honors.
If you wish to support our troops, regardless of whether or not you support the war in Iraq, please contact Cliff Jones at 648-2026; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or Bob Tanabe 957-1657 e-mail email@example.com. Jones and Tanabe are firm supporters of President Bush's policies, however, their effort on behalf of our troops is non-partisan.