Project Hero: CPT Brent Morel, Navy Cross Posted by: McQ
on Saturday, August 16, 2008
The doorbell rang at 3am. Mike Morel answered it and stood staring at 3 Marines .
“You’re going to tell me my son is dead”, he said.
“Yes, sir”, one of the Marines answered.
“Was he in the front when he died”.
“Yes, sir”, said the Marine.
Said Mike Morel, “I always knew that’s where he would be”.
Some commanders are larger than life to their troops. And that was the case of Marine CPT Brent Morel who was the platoon commander for 2nd Platoon, Bravo Company, First Reconnaissance Bn, First Marine Division of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force.
Recon Marines – the elite of the Corps and the 27 year old Morel was proud to lead them. Morel was a 1999 graduate of the University of Tennessee-Martin with a degree in history before he went into the Marine Corps. He was one of those guys whose leadership style was to never ask another to do something he wouldn’t do himself. And so he thrived in the Corps and his Marines worshiped him as a result.
SGT Willie L Copeland III, a member of his platoon, and awarded the Navy Cross for the same action in Iraq, said of CPT Morel, “My last memories of him will always be as a Marine who led a team to fight in the direction of the bullets. That was the type of Marine Morel was – he led from the front.”
And trust me, troops notice and appreciate that more than you know. They will follow a leader like that to hell and back.
The day was April 7th 2004, the place, al Anbar province, and the mission was to find and engage the enemy. Little did Morel’s platoon know that 40 to 60 of the enemy were waiting to engage them in a massive ambush.
The lean, redheaded Morel was leading a 15 vehicle column near Fallujah and had placed his recon platoon’s vehicles in the lead. The area they were traveling was perfect ambush territory. 10 foot tall berms, irrigation ditches and culverts alongside the Euphrates river provided perfect concealment for anyone wishing them harm.
And harm certainly came looking for them. An RPG arced over the berm some 100 meters away and exploded into CPL Eddie Wright’s exposed HUMVEE mounted machine gun taking off both his hands.
Morel gave the order to stop and dismount. And then the Marines did what every human instinct would tell them not to do - they determined the direction of fire and charged the ambush.
“Nothing’s natural about running into bullets,” said SGT Copeland.
And who led the charge? CPT Brent Morel. He had sprung into a full sprint across an open field toward the enemy berm. SGT Copland, seeing his platoon commander’s dash, followed through the barrage of fire with his 5 man team. On the way, Morel, Copleand and the 5 Marines eliminated 10 of the insurgents in close combat.
Morel had now climbed up the 10 foot berm to maneuver into a firing position. He’d also ordered the two vehicles not caught in the kill zone to move to flanking positions on the ambush.
At this point, Copeland and his 5 Marines had caught up with Morel who then decided to lead his men through a muddy, chest deep canal.
They were on the offense. Morel wanted to get closer to the enemy. After they had waded the canal, only one berm separated them from the rest of the enemy fighters.
Morel turned and looked his Marines in the eyes.
“Cover me, we’re assaulting through”, he said.
One of the Marines, SGT Dan Lalota asked, “You want to assault through?”
Without hesitation, CPT Morel said, “Yes”.
The reply from the 6 Marines was, “Roger that”.
And, as was his style, it was Brent Morel who went over the berm first. But as he got over the berm and turned to yell back to his Marines, a round hit him high on his left arm, went straight though the ampit area into his body.
When a leader goes down, it can sometimes completely change the entire dynamic of a battle. But we’re talking about United States Marines here.
SGT Copeland, who called CPT Morel his mentor, did precisely what his mentor had taught him to do by example. Refusing to endanger anyone else, Copeland signaled the other Marines to remain in covered positions and went to Morel’s aid.
While the others engaged in close combat, SGT Copeland worked frantically to save CPT Morel’s life. For 15 minutes he stayed by his commander’s side, in a frightfully exposed position, refusing to leave him. As his battalion commander noted, “the fact that SGT Copeland wasn’t hit is just miraculous”.
The ambush was defeated, and a great many of the insurgents paid with their lives for the mistake of taking on the Recon Marines. Brent Morel’s body was recovered and returned to the Tennessee hills he so loved.
On May 21st, 2005, Amy Morel stood at the Marine Corps Reserve Center in Memphis, TN and stared at the bronze bust of her husband. It looked just like him, right down to the scar he got while he was in boot camp, she said. Standing there at the ceremony, staring at the Navy Cross resting in the display box, she found comfort in the preservation of her husband’s legacy. “Although I’d rather have him receive the award in person, I am glad to see his brave action didn’t go unnoticed”, she said. “It is only fitting that this bust be kept here to inspire those who pass by it. He was a great man”.
Mike Morel, Brent’s father, found some solace from his grieving when he stumbled upon an online memorial to his son one night. He added his thoughts to those of others mourning his son’s death. He also was able to talk with President Bush about his loss. And, on Christmas eve, the first he’d ever celebrated without his son, he wrote:
“Son, this is my first Christmas without you in 28 years. Today I am extremely jealous of my God. He knew you before you were born and let me borrow you for a while. How my heart aches for you. The other morning I awoke at 3am to someone crying. It was me crying in my sleep.”
Heroes are created, lives are lost, sacrifices are made and a very human debt is paid. War is merciless and tragedy is a constant result. But freedom and liberty exact a heavy price which patriots willingly pay. CPT Brent Morel, United States Marine Corps and awarded the Navy Cross for exceptional heroism was one of those patriots, and that is why he is someone you should know.
PROJECT HERO is an ongoing attempt to highlight the valor of our military as they fight in both Iraq and Afghanistan. We constantly hear the negative and far to little of the positive and inspiring stories coming out of those countries. This is one small attempt to rectify that. If you know of a story of valor you'd like to see highlighted here, please contact us. And we'd appreciate your link so we can spread the word.