By Geoffrey Roper, Fort Carson MountaineerJanuary 29, 2010
FORT CARSON, Colo. - Little did Jeff Morris know when he first decided to become an electrician back in the early 1970s, years later he would be in Iraq saving Soldiers' lives.
In fact, before he deployed he had hardly been anywhere far from home.
"I never even thought about ever going to Iraq in my life," said Morris. "I've never been out of the country except for Mexico."
It all happened rather quickly. Morris had been working at Fort Carson as an electrical engineer with the Directorate of Public Works for only a short time when he saw an e-mail asking for electricians over in Iraq. He and his boss called some people in Washington, and soon after, in 2008, he left behind a wife and three children and was there.
One thing he worried about was telling his family. He said his wife, Janine, was "not too thrilled about it" at first, but knew it was something important to him so she supported his decision. Then he called his mother to ask for her advice.
"I asked her how she felt about it," said Morris. "She said, 'Well Jeff, if you feel like that is what you've got to do, you go ahead and do it.'"
That was all he needed to hear.
As soon as Morris arrived in Iraq, he got right to work and tried to fix what he saw as errors that earlier contractors "messed up from the start."
He said there were issues all throughout Iraq. Electrical pumps for the showers and water systems, water heaters, light fixtures - they all had problems. Morris said he was told 16 Soldiers had died from electrocution before he got there - two he knew of just from walking into the showers, since the water pumps used to get water to the faucets had not been grounded and were electrically charged.
He and the other electricians there worked for the find-and-repair team, fixing any problems they came across. They would fix one issue and immediately move on to the next problem. He said it was nonstop the entire time he was there.
Morris also had to deal with the constant threat of enemy fire. He said he never really felt threatened, but admitted there were a couple of times when he had to hit the ground due to enemy fire.
"Sure they would shoot mortars at you," said Morris. "But they were just shooting. (The enemy) had no idea where they were going."
As far as being in a war zone versus the safety of working at Fort Carson, Morris said he tried not to think too much about it.
"You stay focused on what you are doing," he said. "The main thing is you know who you trust; who's around you. If you hear an explosion, you need to get down. If you don't hear it, you're either dead or it didn't hit close enough."
Jose Sosa, who took over Morris' duties at Fort Carson while he was in Iraq, said he truly respected what Morris was doing.
"That's very honorable," said Sosa. "That's a huge thing to do. I was in the Army for the first Gulf War, so I know the dangers involved ... what he did was a great thing."
Light fixtures had been causing many of the fires. Morris said they had no thermal protection, as they would in the United States. He said they would just end up getting hotter and hotter while the lights were on, and were touching combustible material, such as ceiling tiles and tent roofs.
"It's not a hard repair," he said. "But it should have been done right at first."
Morris also said one of the biggest challenges was the lack of continuity, having to deal with such things as various voltages and multinational standards.
"In the States we color-code everything," he said. "You learn real quick over there you don't trust the color codes."
Morris spent 15 months in Iraq, actually agreeing to extend his stay multiple times since his supervisors there liked his work and abilities. Morris said the reason he stayed beyond his planned 90 days was simple.
"Soldiers are over there putting their lives on the line getting shot at," he said. "They shouldn't have to come back (to their housing areas) and get killed taking a shower."
Morris has returned to Fort Carson and is back working on his regular duties again. Now however, he, along with those he works with, are sure to have a completely new outlook on what being an electrician really can mean.