There is no place like home and Tommy Joe (T.J.) Morris is happy to be in Manila visiting with his family and friends for a few weeks. Morris is on leave with the U.S. Army and will return to his duty station at Ft. Benning, Ga., later in the month.
Morris, a 2002 graduate of Manila High School, joined the Army in January of 2002. He is a combat engineer recently returned from serving in Iraq. Morris said he has probably only been home for a total of three months during his entire service career to date.
After completing basic training and his job training, Morris was deployed to Kwait on Aug. 1, 2002 until November 25, 2002. He spent Christmas at home but once again his company was deployed back to Kwait on Jan. 9. He returned to the states on July 12. Morris said it was a long six months. It was a difficult time for him and his wife, the former Dianna Carpenter, to be separated as their first baby, Zachary Gauge, was born in February. Morris had picked out the name Gauge before he left the states. He had hoped that he would be able to return to the states for the birth of their son, but it was not possible. Mrs. Morris left Ft. Benning while her husband was on overseas duty and stayed with his sister in Horseshoe Bend.
Morris got to talk to his wife a few times before going into Iraq, but after that, it was difficult to stay in contact.
Morris's company was one of the first to enter Iraq on March 20.
"After we left Kwait, we did not get mail or phone calls for one and a half months," Morris said. "That was hard not getting news about our new son."
It was also hard on the family at home not hearing.
"Every day when we did not hear from him, we worried," Mrs. Morris said. "His sister and taking care of our son helped me get through the days."
Morris said the newspapers would be a month or so old before they received them, but it did not stop them from reading the news. He said it funny but the people here saw the news and knew more about what was happening overall than they did.
Morris also wanted to express his appreciation for the Manila Nursing Center employees (his mother's co-workers) that prepared care boxes and mailed needed items to him. He also received letters from one of Manila elementary classes that he enjoyed reading.
Morris said his company was scheduled to come home the first of May but the area was not secure enough and the homecoming was delayed.
War is not something that is easy to describe. Morris pointed out that the U.S. were selective and did their best to only bomb the necessary targets and strived to avoid heavily populated civilian areas. After the bombings, Morris' company would go in to secure the area. His company made their way across from Kwait into Baghdad. He said the sand storms were ferocious.
Morris' task force was used to secure a certain area such as a supply route. It was their job to make sure no one could get in or out.
"Our task force led the way into Baghdad," Morris said.
"We had been sleeping on top of our vehicles the whole time so we especially enjoyed a two week stay in one of Saddom's resort type homes. Behind the house there was a lake with paddle boats. The house had lots of marble everywhere," Morris said.
While in Iraq, they also met a celebrity, actor Arnold Schwarzenegger. On the Fourth of July they had a sports day and Schwarzenegger was there to issue awards to the winners.
After the bombing stopped, Morris said they would go in to clean up areas and talk to the local people
"We talked to them and would trade items with them," Morris said
T.J. Morris and his cousin, Robert Morris, also of Manila, were both serving at the same time in different platoons. They would see each other in passing once the war started. Robert has been home visiting with his family and has now returned to Ft. Benning, also.
It was a wonderful homecoming for Morris to meet his son who was five months old. He has been spending time getting acquainted with him. In addition to visiting with their family in Manila, they took a few days to vacation in Branson.
"The people still in Iraq think the war is over and seem to be letting their guard down and more people are getting killed every day," Morris said.
He reminded everyone that there are still a lot of troops there and people here should not forget about them.
Morris said now that he looks back, he is glad that he had the experience but you don't see that while you are in the middle of it.
Morris is home in time to celebrate his 21st birthday on August 13.
He will get out of the Army in January of 2005. He has plans to return to Arkansas and make his home in the Horseshoe Bend area. He wants to start working on classes that will help him get a job as a game and fish officer.
T.J. is the son of Bill and Vicki Morris of Manila.