Station Commander of the Month Returns Home to Tornado-Ravaged Town
July 8, 2011
When Sgt. 1st Class Aaron Morris visited his hometown of Joplin, Mo., following the devastating May tornadoes, it was barely recognizable.
“As I entered town, I could see the massive destruction,” Morris said. “I grew up my entire life in my hometown of Joplin, Mo. If it weren’t for the landmarks, I wouldn’t be able to tell what street I was on. The home I lived in prior to joining the Army was completed destroyed.”
Commanding a station of 11 noncommissioned officers for the Bloomington Recruiting Company and Evansville/Jasper Recruiting Station, took a back seat on May 23, 2011, when Morris, the April Station Commander of the Month, went home to check on his family and help those in need.
Morris was notified on Sunday, May 22, by his mom in Tulsa, Okla., that a tornado had hit Joplin, and he, in turn, notified his chain of command. He was put on emergency leave to go home and handle family issues.
“My father and most of my immediate family are still in Joplin. Because phone towers were down and calls weren’t going through, I couldn’t get the status of my family’s condition, other than my father by text. The rest of my family was unaccounted for,” he said.
When Morris arrived in Joplin, he went to the National Guard Reserve Center to see what assistance he could provide. The first person he ran into was Maj. Gen. Stephen L. Danner, the Commander of the Missouri National Guard, who directed him to the disaster operations center.
For five days, Morris was assigned to the police command center for search and rescue operation, where he dug through seven miles of rubble looking for survivors and identifying the locations of the deceased for the coroners.
“For four days straight I worked 18-hour days. Tuesday they sent us to work at Home Depot, which was one of the worst-hit areas. Lots of bodies were found there along with two survivors,” Morris said.
After spending two and a half years as a detailed recruiter, two years as a station commander in Mentor, Ohio, and 11 months as station commander for the Evansville/Jasper Recruiting Station, Morris said that giving humanitarian aid in Joplin has been one of the most rewarding experiences he’s ever had.
“It is very hard to see people that I grew up with and have a bond with lose everything. I didn't lose tangible things like they did. I only lost the places where my childhood memories were made. I guess I count myself lucky, I didn't lose my home, no one in my family died, and I still have a job. So many people in Joplin can't say that. Still today they are trying to pick up the pieces of their broken lives. While life still goes on here in Evansville, Indiana, my heart still belongs to Joplin, Mo.”
Morris sad that going through a disastrous experience and coming so close to losing people he loves put so many things into perspective.
“I work differently, and I care about others more deeply. Even being a Soldier and receiving the honor of Station Commander of the Month feels different,” he said.
Morris said that it was quite an honor to know that his non-commissioned officers placed him in a position to be Station Commander of the Month.
“They are no doubt paramount to my success. They are resilient and hard working. I could not do it without their support,” he said.
Previously working as a multiple launch rocket systems crewmember, Morris was very apprehensive at the prospect of being a recruiter.
“I had heard the horror stories that surrounded people’s careers in the United States Army Recruiting Command (USAREC) but in efforts to be the best at whatever the Army placed in front of me, I was open to recruiting,” Morris said.
Morris enjoyed his time as a detailed recruiter and decided to convert to recruiting as his military occupational specialty (MOS).
“I really lucked out when I arrived in Ohio. I had a great station commander that eased the transition from doing detailed recruiting to 100 percent recruiting,” Morris said.
When Morris arrived at the Evansville Recruiting Station as the station commander, he and the team looked at the overall success of the station - what had made it successful in the past and what they have struggled with in the past. They identified the high school programs and community relations as areas needing work. This was particularly important in the relationships with the neighboring military friendly organizations, including U.S. Army Reserve units and the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) programs, in the area.
“Schools in our area are very open to our presence,” Morris said. “We are considered to be a viable source of educational information and benefits for the youth in our area. The vast majority of staff and faculty call us when a young man or woman expresses interest in the service or if they are struggling to find a way to pay for their education.”
Morris said developing America’s youth is by far the best part of this job.
“I love the Future Soldier side of recruiting as it is the human factor,” Morris said.
Morris said he considers team building the best incentive he offers as station commander.
“Although some NCOs like the plaques, or “wood” as they call it, I think that a simple lunch offers the unique opportunity to get to know each other and find out what each individual thinks is important. I really think that you have to look at each individual and find out their driving force whether it be family or time off for the single guys,” he said.
Morris said his greatest success came last year when his station finished second in the battalion for overall mission accomplishment.
“Many may say second place is no big deal but for the Evansville Recruiting Station, if you look at where we were and where we are now, we have accomplished greatness,” Morris said. “And we will continue to strive for more.”