MARINE CORPS LOGISTICS BASE BARSTOW, Calif. --
President Ronald Reagan said that some people spend their entire lives wondering if they’ve made a difference; Marines don’t have that problem. The statement holds true for many Marines; even those who are still serving.
Whether it’s four or 40 years of service, Marine veterans continue to make significant contributions to our Corps. Their past experiences are invaluable and the lessons they have learned can help save lives. One particular Marine veteran’s experiences overseas and in combat have shaped the perspective he comes to work with every day.
“The payoff for me is putting out a better vehicle for my friends that are still in,” said Gary Morgan, a heavy mobile equipment mechanic at Maintenance Center Barstow. Morgan, a former Marine and light armored vehicle repairman, is now fixing and testing the same vehicles that drove him and his fellow Marines into combat.
“Being in Iraq and seeing this vehicle in combat and then seeing what we do here, I’m able to fully appreciate what we do, because I know what it’s like to be on the other end,” explained Morgan, whose four-year career included three deployments, a combat action ribbon and several months living in an LAV. “It’s an experience I never thought I would ever have,” he said.
Morgan’s Marine Corps career began during October 2000, when the then 18-year-old Apple Valley, Calif., native reported to Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego for boot camp. After completion of recruit training, Marine Combat Training, and LAV Repairmen School in Aberdeen, Md., Morgan reported to the 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion at Camp Pendleton, Calif. During September 2001, Morgan’s preconceived notion of the Marine Corps changed.
“When I joined I thought I would go to a couple different countries, have fun, get my GI Bill and go to college; I never thought I would go to war,” said Morgan. During the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Morgan’s unit was performing an exercise at the Marine Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, Calif., before being alerted of the ongoing events. “When someone told us about the planes crashing into buildings, we thought it was just a [part of our] training scenario, but then we saw the events unfold at the Battalion Aid Station and saw it was real.”
Shortly after the attack Morgan’s unit prepared up for deployment to the western Pacific, and although his unit never landed in Afghanistan, it wouldn’t be long before they were fighting in a combat zone.
“I returned from my first deployment in December , and by February  we were in Kuwait gearing up for the invasion,” he said.
During the early morning hours of March 20, 2003, Morgan’s unit, the 1st LAR Battalion, crossed the border and made the 28-day trek to Baghdad.
“It was a surreal feeling and you knew what was happening but it doesn’t really set in until afterward when I reflect back on it,” added Morgan.
During the march to Baghdad, Morgan and his fellow Marines saw very little enemy engagement, but once 1st LAR made their way into Baghdad, Lance Cpl. Morgan quickly turned from an LAV mechanic into an infantryman.
“If I wasn’t turning wrenches, I was doing patrols, acting as an LAV crewmen, mortarman, scout, or basic rifleman,’ said Morgan. When Morgan and his counterparts weren’t engaging insurgents, they found sanctuary within their LAV.
“That whole first deployment we lived out of that thing,” said Morgan, who ate, slept and performed whatever type of basic personal hygiene he could around the LAV and it was during this time that he developed a respect for the critical piece of battle equipment. “To most folks, these vehicles are just another vehicle, but for months on end around Iraq, these things were our lifeline.”
That lifeline continued until his deployment ended in June 2003, but it wasn’t long before Morgan was back in the sand. In January 2004, Morgan and the rest of 1st LAR headed back to Iraq for what would be his third and final deployment.
During Sept. 2004, while Morgan was gearing up to enter the civilian world, he came to Maintenance Center Barstow to help weld some LAVs and it was there he found a career after the Marine Corps.
“He came up to me and told me about his background just verbally and I told him I could help him with a job,” said Isaac Sanchez, who was the LAV supervisor at MCB during Morgan’s hiring. “Once he told me about his experience, I knew he would be a great addition to us and I went and talked to my boss about hiring him.”
A couple of weeks later, Morgan ended his period of active service and five days later he began his career on the LAV line at MCB, but he slowly realized that his service to his country didn’t end when he stopped wearing his uniform.
“When I took this job it was solely on the basis that I was an LAV mechanic for four years and it would be an easy job for me to slide into,” said Morgan, “but then I thought about the Marines I knew were still in and still riding around in these things, and it really changed my perspective.”
Not only did it change his perspective, but it gave his coworkers an appreciation for Morgan’s knowledge about the equipment.
“It’s guys like Morgan that have all the tricks of trade,” said Bobby Cardenas, a first line supervisor at Cost Work Center 717, and a friend of Gary’s for nearly five years. “They got all the little tricks of the trade and if something sounds funny, they can go to it right away.”
Cardenas recalls an occasion when Morgan fixed a problem just by listening to the noise the vehicle made.
“One LAV came in that had a whiny noise and he immediately said it was the hydraulic pump. I asked him how he knew and he just said he knew,” said Cardenas. To make sure it was the hydraulic pump, Cardenas notified the hydraulic shop of the problem and they gave him the same diagnosis as Morgan. “He just knew what it was.”
It’s this type of knowledge and mechanical instinct that has made Morgan invaluable to MCB and although he wouldn’t change anything about his military career, there are still some things he misses.
“I don’t regret getting out, but I miss the camaraderie, because you don’t get anything like that in the civilian world,” said the 27-year-old Marine veteran, who now resides in Barstow with his wife of three years and one-month-old son, Jacob.
Morgan, who plans on pursuing a college degree, still takes great satisfaction in his everyday job.
“My favorite part is when we get the last part done and we’re able to send it out to the [Marine Operating Forces],” said Morgan, who like so many others aboard MCLBB, continues to serve those who serve.