BY JURRY TAALIB-DEEN
Journal Staff Writer
November 26, 2012 was the day Stephanie LaRae Morris was deployed to combat in Afghanistan; seven months after joining the United States Army.
Trained as a petroleum supply specialist, she would drive trucks to deliver gasoline to other armored vehicles during her deployment, in the war torn country. With the line of work Ms. Morris was involved in, it was both dangerous and life threatening that was synonymous, maiming and killing American soldiers.
Bombs remotely denoted by the enemy, the road side devices would inflict loss of limbs and death, against American GI’s. Aware of thehigh risks that came with her job, she still carried out her orders and duties without hesitation.
Seven months after her deployment, her base came under motor attack.
For security purposes, Ms. Morris said that she couldn’t go into detail. But after the heavy bombardment, she suffered a left femur and right foot fracture.
Five months later, on November 15th, the 24 year old Toledo native and Libbey High School graduate received a hero’s welcome back home in Toledo from family, friends, the Lebanese and Arab communities, as well as area government officials and, members from the general community.
The event entitled, “Honoring Our Hero,” was held at the Sultan Club, located at 8959 Door St., and was organized by family friend Dorine Mosley and members of the Sultan Club, headed by Nabil Shaheen, president.
Some of the extensive program presentations consisted of the Posting of the Colors by the University of Toledo’s ROTC, words of gratitude form the Toledo Arabic American Community, the President of the Toledo Buffalo Soldiers, Mayor-Elect D. Michael Collins, the presenting of the Key to the City by current Mayor, Mike Bell and much more.
“We wanted to give her a hero’s welcome at home,” said Mrs. Mosley.
“She’s our hero who has earned numerous medals and honors while in the military, including the Purple Heart, and she deserves to be acknowledged as such.”
“This is a good cause,” Mr. Shaheen said. “I’ve been in the United States for over 30 years and I can’t remember a time when an Arab American group has done anything similar to this event.”
Mr. Shaheen went on to say, “We, Lebanese and Arab Americans, live in this country. Our children go to school in this country and we’re a part of this country. And Stephanie is our hero. We love and support her.”
Although everyone was joyful and happy about Ms. Morris’ return, there was a time when somberness was more of the mood, particularly from
Relda Bates, Ms. Morris’ mom.
She recalls when her daughter first said she wanted to join the military. “I didn’t want her to go,” Mrs. Bates told the Toledo Journal. “But once Stephanie decides a thing, it’s hard to make her change her mind.”
Mrs. Bates said that her family was a military family, including Ms. Morris’ brother, Marcus Matlock, who she wanted to follow.
Mr. Matlock had honorably served eight years in the Army and did two tours in Iraq. He said he tried to encourage his sister to join the Air force, in order to avoid combat but Ms. Morris had decided on the Army.
Mrs. Bates said while her daughter was in Afghanistan, she would hear from her regularly which helped ease her worries. Then, on a day she was supposed to hear from her daughter, she didn’t receive that call.
Mrs. Bates became a little uneasy but still hoped for the best.
When she got off work later that night, her family informed her that Stephanie’s base had been attacked. “I instantly lost it,” Mrs. Bates said. “Then the next day, I received a call from the Causality Unit; I really freaked out. But fortunately, they were calling to let me know Stephanie would be alright.”
“Today and this entire weekend is a lot to take in,” Ms. Morris said.
“I’m not really a big crowd type of person, but I really appreciate everything done for me.”
“I understand why people say I’m a hero. But this job is what I signed up for, and I don’t see myself as a hero,” she said.
Another honor bestowed on our war hero was being the Grand Marshal in the 2013 Holiday Parade, held the next day in downtown Toledo. I’ll admit, I’m kind of nervous about the parade,” Ms. Morris said.
As she sat on the back seat of a convertible car that slowly made its way through the streets of downtown, Ms. Morris was greeted over and over again with applause and people yelling, “Thank you.”
Once she heals, Ms. Morris said she plans on returning back to active duty. “People have asked me why I want to go back, especially since I’ve already experienced so much. I simply say, I like what I do, and I want to keep doing it.”