Project Hero: CPT Brent Morel, Navy Cross

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 extraordinary heroism under fire was one of those patriots, and someone you should know.

[Crossposted at QandO]Previously featured in “Project Hero”:

1LT Brian Chontosh: Navy Cross
PFC Daniel McClenney: Silver Star
PVT Dwayne Turner: Silver Star
MSG Robert Collins & SFC Danny Hall: Silver Star
SSG William Thomas Payne: Silver Star
CPT Christoper J. Bronzi: Silver Star
SSG Charles Good: Silver Star
SR AMN Jason D. Cunningham: Air Force Cross
PFC Jeremy Church: Silver Star
SGT Leigh Ann Hester: Silver Star
CSM Ron Riling: Silver Star
CPL Jason L. Dunham: Medal of Honor
PFC Joseph Perez: Navy Cross
COL James Coffman, Jr: Distinguished Service Cross
1LT Karl Gregory: Silver Star
1LT Brian Stann: Silver Star
MSG Anthony Pryor: Silver Star
TSGT John Chapman: Air Force Cross
MSG Sarun Sar: Silver Star
1LT Jeffery Lee: Silver Star
SGT James Witkowski: Silver Star
SGT Timothy Connors: Silver Star
PO2 Juan Rubio: Silver Star
SFC David Lowe: Silver Star
SGT Leandro Baptista: Silver Star
SPC Gerrit Kobes: Silver Star
SSG Anthony Viggiani: Navy Cross
LCPL Carlos Gomez-Perez: Silver Star
MSG Donald R. Hollenbaugh: Distinguished Service Cross
SGT Jarred L. Adams: Silver Star
1LT Thomas E Cogan: Silver Star
MAJ Mark E. Mitchell: Distinguished Service Cross
CPL Robert Mitchell Jr: Navy Cross
SGT David Neil Wimberg: Silver Star
CWO3 Christopher Palumbo: Silver Star
SGT Tommy Rieman: Silver Star
SCPO Britt Slabinski: Navy Cross
LT David Halderman: FDNY – 9/11/01
1LT Stephen Boada: Silver Star
1LT Neil Prakash: Silver Star
SFC Gerald Wolford: Silver Star
SSG Matthew Zedwick: Silver Star
LCPL Christopher Adlesperger: Navy Cross
SGT Joshua Szott: Silver Star
SPC Richard Ghent: Silver Star
CPL Mark Camp: Silver Star
The Veteran
CW3 Lori Hill: Distinguished Flying Cross
SGT Paul R. Smith: Medal of Honor
PFC Ross A. McGinnis: Medal of Honor
SGT Joseph E. Proctor: Silver Star
PFC Christopher Fernandez: Silver Star
MAJ James Gant: Silver Star
1SG John E. Mangels: Silver Star
Staff Sgt Michael Shropshire: Silver Star
Staff Sgt Stephen Achey: Silver Star
SFC Frederick Allen: Silver Star
PO2 (SEAL) Marc A. Lee: Silver Star
PFC Stephan C. Sanders, Distinguished Service Cross
CPT Joshua Glover: Silver Star
CPT Brennan Goltry: Silver Star
Cpl. Dale A. Burger: Silver Star
CPL Clinton Warrick: Silver Star
LT (SEAL) Michael P Murphy: Medal of Honor
CW4 Keith Yoakum: Distinguished Service Cross
1LT Walter Bryan Jackson: Distinguished Service Cross
SGT Rafael Peralta, USMC: nominee, Medal of Honor
SSG Timothy Nein: Distinguished Service Cross
SGT Willie Copeland III: Navy Cross
SPC Monica Lin Brown: Silver Star
1LT David Tiedeman: Silver Star
SSG Raymond Bittinger: Silver Star
SSG Chad Malmberg: Silver Star
PO2 (SEAL) Michael Mansoor: Medal of Honor
LCPL Todd Corbin: Navy Cross
MSG Brendan O’Conner: Distinguished Service Cross
SGT Merlin German: “Miracle Man”
2nd Plt, C Co., 2/503 AIR, 173rd ABCT

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.

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