Logan High School teacher Mary Morgan took to the stage a few days before Veterans Day and told the students her story. Sometimes her voice shook, and there were times when emotion threatened to disrupt the storytelling.
Talking about her deployment into Iraq as an Army Reservist and the struggle to find meaning in her life after leaving the military is not easy for her, but it is an opportunity to demonstrate personal courage to her students.
“I’m not perfect, I am still working on it,” she said. “But if I sit back and I relax, and I just look at what I really want, it all comes back to these issues, these values right here.”
Morgan is referring to the Army core values of loyalty, duty, respect, honor, integrity, personal courage and selfless service.
“I find ways to instill that in them without saying ‘Hey, this is an Army core value’ — I find ways to show them that these are my values, and I learned it in the military, and now I am applying it outside,” she said.
Morgan, a special education teacher, graduated from Logan High School in 1998. She always had an interest in being a police officer or a firefighter, but she felt like her short stature would limit her. And, she admits, she didn’t want to do hard things. But then 9/11 happened.
“I wanted to do something, but I didn’t know what,” she said.
The next year, Morgan said she was watching a documentary called “Basic,” and it piqued her interest. When she joined the U.S. Army Reserves, she never thought the war on terror would expand into Iraq, but it did on March 20, 2003, the same day she graduated from basic training.
Morgan was part of the 854th Transportation Company, and two years later, while sitting in a Word War II history class, she got word that her unit was being mobilized.
Iraq was hard, something she finds difficult to explain to people who haven’t been there.
“I don’t like to talk about the horrors of war, the things you can’t describe, the things you want to forget,” she said.
Coming home after a year in the sandbox brought its own set of challenges.
“I felt like an outsider; I felt lost,” she said. “I felt like time and events and life had passed me by.”
In 2006, Morgan said her mother — longtime teacher Connie Morgan — encouraged her to apply for a position as a teacher’s aide at LHS. That three hours a week in the school gave her some of the purpose, pride and structure she was missing, she said.
Over time, her hours increased and she learned that she had a genuine love for helping students.
“My real lifesaver would be becoming a ‘real’ high school teacher,” she said.
Morgan said she experienced another setback in 2014 when her physical health was declining and she had to make the very difficult decision to leave the Army.
“I lost my identity again,” she said.
After separating from the Army, there were a couple years when she struggled with sadness and loss. She readily acknowledges she wasn’t doing her best.
As she worked to find her own unique teaching style, she found it difficult to find the connection she needed, and a common theme throughout was — am I a soldier or a teacher?
“This is not a sad story; this is my story of a hard-won success,” she said.
Last year, Morgan said she discovered she could apply the same Army structure and values to her work at the high school by changing her mindset.
If there was new leadership in the school district, she likened it to having a new captain, knowing full well that a new captain means new orders.
“It helped me focus more on the important aspects instead of the little nuances that people get hung up on in life, like the drama,” she said. “You can’t have drama, because when you get drama then you are losing focus.”
This shift in her teaching has given her back her sense of purpose and set a standard for her students.
“I am a connected person, and in everything I do, I try to leave it better than when I came in,” she said. “My students are my ‘children,’ and I want to leave them with something better.”