Redstone Arsenal, Ala. – When Army astronaut Col. Andrew “Drew” Morgan returned from the International Space Station on April 17, 2020, he wondered – What’s the next career move for a Soldier after a tour that included human spaceflight?
Most of Morgan’s predecessors retired from military service following their time at the Army’s NASA detachment so they could stay with NASA in a variety of capacities or to pursue other occupations, but Morgan sought an alternative path.
On June 28, 2023, along with his family, distinguished U.S. and Marshallese visitors, and about 200 community members, Morgan received the U.S. Army Garrison, Kwajalein Atoll’s guidon from outgoing commander Col. Tom Pugsley, placing Morgan in command of a remote Army garrison in the Marshall Islands that supports one of the United States’ most vital national assets, the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site.
The three-year transformation for Morgan was far from simply exchanging a space suit for an Army uniform. The idea of returning to the “regular Army” started to take shape as he orbited the Earth as part of NASA Expeditions 60, 61, and 62. Morgan credits several of his military mentors with both influencing his decision and ensuring the path before him included the necessary education and experience.
“Mentors like Gen. James Dickinson, commander, U.S. Space Command, and Lt. Gen. Daniel Karbler, commanding general, U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command, planted the idea in my mind before I even flew in space, but it wasn’t until I returned that I gave it serious consideration,” Morgan said. “After my spaceflight I felt a calling to lead, and those great mentors were willing to help me pave a path to be competitive for command.”
Few Soldiers know that the Kwajalein Atoll exists, and fewer still understand its vital support to its senior mission operated by USASMDC, the RTS. Morgan, having served with the command for 10 years with seven of those as the NASA Detachment commander, has a unique understanding of Army space operations and the command.
Living in a South Pacific tropical paradise that is nearly 2,300 miles southwest of Hawaii and more than a five-hour flight from a significant landmass provides challenges, but ones Morgan and his fellow astronauts are all too familiar with.
“Living on the International Space Station and on Kwajalein Atoll have a few relatable parallels: both are remote, isolated, resource-constrained and perform important missions for our nation,” Morgan said. “I have already found myself thinking about our island outpost in the same way we thought about resources – like power, water, and food supply – while I was on the ISS. These basic functions keep our people safe, healthy and able to perform our space domain awareness and missile test missions.”
A new assignment and change of duty station has a significant impact on Soldiers and their family members, particularly overseas moves. After 10 years in Houston at the Johnson Space Center, Morgan’s family’s opinion was crucial to his decision to uproot himself and his family.
“I would never have pursued the option to command without the full buy-in of my family,” Morgan said. “We were moving the oldest of our three daughters immediately before her senior year, so there were some significant considerations. But everyone was up for this adventure, 110% supportive of this mission. We are all in!”
As to his own ability to adapt to change, during a 2021 episode of USASMDC’s podcast, The High Ground, he eluded to something his fellow U.S. Navy astronaut and close friend, Capt. Victor Glover, mentioned about resiliency – that it’s important to become “comfortable being uncomfortable.” Morgan credits his military experience and his time with NASA for helping to develop his ability to adapt to career and life changes, and his continuing desire to remain in the Army.
“I’m a Soldier, physician and an astronaut . . . so stepping away from NASA to command in the Army feels like coming home. For the next two years, that home will be right here at USAG Kwajalein Atoll, embracing the challenge of leadership and continuing our service to the country, albeit in a new, equally unique place,” Morgan said. “In the Army you can do almost anything, from flying in space on an orbiting outpost, to leading a mission on a remote Pacific outpost. This is why I wanted to be a Soldier.”