Project Hero: CPT Brent Morel, Navy Cross

by McQ | August 16, 2008 9:20 am

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[1] 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[2]]Previously featured in “Project Hero”:

1LT Brian Chontosh: Navy Cross[3]
PFC Daniel McClenney: Silver Star[4]
PVT Dwayne Turner: Silver Star[5]
MSG Robert Collins & SFC Danny Hall: Silver Star[6]
SSG William Thomas Payne: Silver Star[7]
CPT Christoper J. Bronzi: Silver Star[8]
SSG Charles Good: Silver Star[9]
SR AMN Jason D. Cunningham: Air Force Cross[10]
PFC Jeremy Church: Silver Star[11]
SGT Leigh Ann Hester: Silver Star[12]
CSM Ron Riling: Silver Star[13]
CPL Jason L. Dunham: Medal of Honor[14]
PFC Joseph Perez: Navy Cross[15]
COL James Coffman, Jr: Distinguished Service Cross[16]
1LT Karl Gregory: Silver Star[17]
1LT Brian Stann: Silver Star[18]
MSG Anthony Pryor: Silver Star[19]
TSGT John Chapman: Air Force Cross[20]
MSG Sarun Sar: Silver Star[21]
1LT Jeffery Lee: Silver Star[22]
SGT James Witkowski: Silver Star[23]
SGT Timothy Connors: Silver Star[24]
PO2 Juan Rubio: Silver Star[25]
SFC David Lowe: Silver Star[26]
SGT Leandro Baptista: Silver Star[27]
SPC Gerrit Kobes: Silver Star[28]
SSG Anthony Viggiani: Navy Cross[29]
LCPL Carlos Gomez-Perez: Silver Star[30]
MSG Donald R. Hollenbaugh: Distinguished Service Cross
SGT Jarred L. Adams: Silver Star[31]
1LT Thomas E Cogan: Silver Star
MAJ Mark E. Mitchell: Distinguished Service Cross[32]

CPL Robert Mitchell Jr: Navy Cross[33]
SGT David Neil Wimberg: Silver Star[34]
CWO3 Christopher Palumbo: Silver Star[35]
SGT Tommy Rieman: Silver Star[36]
SCPO Britt Slabinski: Navy Cross[37]
LT David Halderman: FDNY – 9/11/01[38]
1LT Stephen Boada: Silver Star[39]
1LT Neil Prakash: Silver Star[40]
SFC Gerald Wolford: Silver Star[41]
SSG Matthew Zedwick: Silver Star[42]
LCPL Christopher Adlesperger: Navy Cross[43]
SGT Joshua Szott: Silver Star[44]
SPC Richard Ghent: Silver Star[45]
CPL Mark Camp: Silver Star[46]
The Veteran[47]
CW3 Lori Hill: Distinguished Flying Cross[48]
SGT Paul R. Smith: Medal of Honor[49]
PFC Ross A. McGinnis: Medal of Honor[50]
SGT Joseph E. Proctor: Silver Star[51]
PFC Christopher Fernandez: Silver Star[52]
MAJ James Gant: Silver Star[53]
1SG John E. Mangels: Silver Star[54]
Staff Sgt Michael Shropshire: Silver Star[55]
Staff Sgt Stephen Achey: Silver Star
SFC Frederick Allen: Silver Star[56]
PO2 (SEAL) Marc A. Lee: Silver Star[57]
PFC Stephan C. Sanders, Distinguished Service Cross[58]
CPT Joshua Glover: Silver Star[59]
CPT Brennan Goltry: Silver Star[60]
Cpl. Dale A. Burger: Silver Star[61]
CPL Clinton Warrick: Silver Star[62]
LT (SEAL) Michael P Murphy: Medal of Honor[63]
CW4 Keith Yoakum: Distinguished Service Cross[64]
1LT Walter Bryan Jackson: Distinguished Service Cross[65]
SGT Rafael Peralta, USMC: nominee, Medal of Honor[66]
SSG Timothy Nein: Distinguished Service Cross[67]
SGT Willie Copeland III: Navy Cross[68]
SPC Monica Lin Brown: Silver Star[69]
1LT David Tiedeman: Silver Star[70]
SSG Raymond Bittinger: Silver Star[71]
SSG Chad Malmberg: Silver Star[72]
PO2 (SEAL) Michael Mansoor: Medal of Honor[73]
LCPL Todd Corbin: Navy Cross[74]
MSG Brendan O’Conner: Distinguished Service Cross[75]
SGT Merlin German: “Miracle Man”[76]
2nd Plt, C Co., 2/503 AIR, 173rd ABCT[77]

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.

Endnotes:
  1. awarded the Navy Cross: http://www.qando.net/details.aspx?Entry=8059
  2. QandO: http://www.qando.net/
  3. 1LT Brian Chontosh: Navy Cross: http://www.qando.net/details.aspx?Entry=2966
  4. PFC Daniel McClenney: Silver Star: http://www.qando.net/Details.aspx?Entry=2992
  5. PVT Dwayne Turner: Silver Star: http://www.qando.net/Details.aspx?Entry=3033
  6. MSG Robert Collins & SFC Danny Hall: Silver Star: http://www.qando.net/Details.aspx?Entry=3070
  7. SSG William Thomas Payne: Silver Star: http://www.qando.net/Details.aspx?Entry=3109
  8. CPT Christoper J. Bronzi: Silver Star: http://www.qando.net/Details.aspx?Entry=3164
  9. SSG Charles Good: Silver Star: http://www.qando.net/Details.aspx?Entry=3205
  10. SR AMN Jason D. Cunningham: Air Force Cross: http://www.qando.net/Details.aspx?Entry=3245
  11. PFC Jeremy Church: Silver Star: http://www.qando.net/Details.aspx?Entry=3286
  12. SGT Leigh Ann Hester: Silver Star: http://www.qando.net/Details.aspx?Entry=3329
  13. CSM Ron Riling: Silver Star: http://www.qando.net/Details.aspx?Entry=3376
  14. CPL Jason L. Dunham: Medal of Honor: http://www.qando.net/Details.aspx?Entry=3416
  15. PFC Joseph Perez: Navy Cross: http://www.qando.net/Details.aspx?Entry=3448
  16. COL James Coffman, Jr: Distinguished Service Cross: http://www.qando.net/Details.aspx?Entry=3491
  17. 1LT Karl Gregory: Silver Star: http://www.qando.net/Details.aspx?Entry=3518
  18. 1LT Brian Stann: Silver Star: http://www.qando.net/Details.aspx?Entry=3590
  19. MSG Anthony Pryor: Silver Star: http://www.qando.net/Details.aspx?Entry=3653
  20. TSGT John Chapman: Air Force Cross: http://www.qando.net/Details.aspx?Entry=3691
  21. MSG Sarun Sar: Silver Star: http://www.qando.net/Details.aspx?Entry=3727
  22. 1LT Jeffery Lee: Silver Star: http://www.qando.net/Details.aspx?Entry=3767
  23. SGT James Witkowski: Silver Star: http://www.qando.net/Details.aspx?Entry=3796
  24. SGT Timothy Connors: Silver Star: http://www.qando.net/Details.aspx?Entry=3829
  25. PO2 Juan Rubio: Silver Star: http://www.qando.net/Details.aspx?Entry=3859
  26. SFC David Lowe: Silver Star: http://www.qando.net/Details.aspx?Entry=3901
  27. SGT Leandro Baptista: Silver Star: http://www.qando.net/Details.aspx?Entry=3996
  28. SPC Gerrit Kobes: Silver Star: http://www.qando.net/Details.aspx?Entry=4030
  29. SSG Anthony Viggiani: Navy Cross: http://www.qando.net/Details.aspx?Entry=4085
  30. LCPL Carlos Gomez-Perez: Silver Star: http://www.qando.net/Details.aspx?Entry=4123
  31. SGT Jarred L. Adams: Silver Star: http://www.qando.net/Details.aspx?Entry=4240
  32. MAJ Mark E. Mitchell: Distinguished Service Cross: http://www.qando.net/Details.aspx?Entry=4320
  33. CPL Robert Mitchell Jr: Navy Cross: http://www.qando.net/Details.aspx?Entry=4359
  34. SGT David Neil Wimberg: Silver Star: http://www.qando.net/Details.aspx?Entry=4401
  35. CWO3 Christopher Palumbo: Silver Star: http://www.qando.net/Details.aspx?Entry=4445
  36. SGT Tommy Rieman: Silver Star: http://www.qando.net/Details.aspx?Entry=4482
  37. SCPO Britt Slabinski: Navy Cross: http://www.qando.net/Details.aspx?Entry=4517
  38. LT David Halderman: FDNY – 9/11/01: http://www.qando.net/Details.aspx?Entry=4553
  39. 1LT Stephen Boada: Silver Star: http://www.qando.net/Details.aspx?Entry=4552
  40. 1LT Neil Prakash: Silver Star: http://www.qando.net/Details.aspx?Entry=4588
  41. SFC Gerald Wolford: Silver Star: http://www.qando.net/Details.aspx?Entry=4632
  42. SSG Matthew Zedwick: Silver Star: http://www.qando.net/Details.aspx?Entry=4719
  43. LCPL Christopher Adlesperger: Navy Cross: http://www.qando.net/Details.aspx?Entry=4749
  44. SGT Joshua Szott: Silver Star: http://www.qando.net/Details.aspx?Entry=4792
  45. SPC Richard Ghent: Silver Star: http://www.qando.net/Details.aspx?Entry=4831
  46. CPL Mark Camp: Silver Star: http://www.qando.net/Details.aspx?Entry=4873
  47. The Veteran: http://www.qando.net/Details.aspx?Entry=4925
  48. CW3 Lori Hill: Distinguished Flying Cross: http://www.qando.net/Details.aspx?Entry=5019
  49. SGT Paul R. Smith: Medal of Honor: http://www.qando.net/Details.aspx?Entry=5054
  50. PFC Ross A. McGinnis: Medal of Honor: http://www.qando.net/Details.aspx?Entry=5093
  51. SGT Joseph E. Proctor: Silver Star: http://www.qando.net/details.aspx?Entry=5131
  52. PFC Christopher Fernandez: Silver Star: http://www.qando.net/details.aspx?Entry=5161
  53. MAJ James Gant: Silver Star: http://www.qando.net/Details.aspx?Entry=5979
  54. 1SG John E. Mangels: Silver Star: http://www.qando.net/Details.aspx?Entry=6034
  55. Staff Sgt Michael Shropshire: Silver Star: http://www.qando.net/Details.aspx?Entry=6085
  56. SFC Frederick Allen: Silver Star: http://www.qando.net/Details.aspx?Entry=6240
  57. PO2 (SEAL) Marc A. Lee: Silver Star: http://www.qando.net/Details.aspx?Entry=6289
  58. PFC Stephan C. Sanders, Distinguished Service Cross: http://www.qando.net/Details.aspx?Entry=6431
  59. CPT Joshua Glover: Silver Star: http://www.qando.net/Details.aspx?Entry=6541
  60. CPT Brennan Goltry: Silver Star: http://www.qando.net/Details.aspx?Entry=6593
  61. Cpl. Dale A. Burger: Silver Star: http://www.qando.net/Details.aspx?Entry=6750
  62. CPL Clinton Warrick: Silver Star: http://www.qando.net/Details.aspx?Entry=6979
  63. LT (SEAL) Michael P Murphy: Medal of Honor: http://www.qando.net/Details.aspx?Entry=7056
  64. CW4 Keith Yoakum: Distinguished Service Cross: http://www.qando.net/Details.aspx?Entry=7186
  65. 1LT Walter Bryan Jackson: Distinguished Service Cross: http://www.qando.net/details.aspx?Entry=7236
  66. SGT Rafael Peralta, USMC: nominee, Medal of Honor: http://www.qando.net/Details.aspx?Entry=7734
  67. SSG Timothy Nein: Distinguished Service Cross: http://www.qando.net/details.aspx?Entry=7951
  68. SGT Willie Copeland III: Navy Cross: http://www.qando.net/details.aspx?Entry=8059
  69. SPC Monica Lin Brown: Silver Star: http://www.qando.net/details.aspx?Entry=8108
  70. 1LT David Tiedeman: Silver Star: http://www.qando.net/Details.aspx?Entry=8161
  71. SSG Raymond Bittinger: Silver Star: http://www.qando.net/Details.aspx?Entry=8207
  72. SSG Chad Malmberg: Silver Star: http://www.qando.net/Details.aspx?Entry=8248
  73. PO2 (SEAL) Michael Mansoor: Medal of Honor: http://www.qando.net/details.aspx?Entry=8300
  74. LCPL Todd Corbin: Navy Cross: http://www.qando.net/Details.aspx?Entry=8404
  75. MSG Brendan O’Conner: Distinguished Service Cross: http://www.qando.net/details.aspx?Entry=8452
  76. SGT Merlin German: “Miracle Man”: http://www.qando.net/details.aspx?Entry=8740
  77. 2nd Plt, C Co., 2/503 AIR, 173rd ABCT: http://www.qando.net/details.aspx?Entry=8969

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