Marine Captain Brent Lee Morel, the 27-year-old son of Molly and Mike Morel, CRNA, of Martin, Tenn., was killed April 7, 2004, during an Iraqi uprising near Fallujah, Iraq. Brent was a part of the Marines 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, Bravo Company, stationed in Camp Pendleton, Calif.
Growing up, Brent was a typical kid with his fair share of childish pranks, defining moments-of-life lessons, and most recently, Brent’s first-ever win over Mike in a game of golf before he shipped off to Fallujah. “When he was young, Brent was the little red-headed kid that got picked on,” said Morel. “After he began taking Tae Kwon Do classes, he became confident. In turn, he often stood up for other kids who were being picked on.” Brent went on to earn his black belt.
Brent earned a military scholarship established by the parents of Marine Sergeant Walter Singleton. Singleton died in Vietnam by advancing into enemy territory to help injured soldiers to safety. According to Mike Morel, “When Brent came forward to accept the award, Singleton’s mother had to sit down.” Later she showed the Morels a photo of her son. “Brent could have passed for Singleton’s brother.”
Brent’s decision to enlist full time in the Marines came as no real surprise to the Morels because of the long history of military service on both sides of the family. Brent joined the Marine Reserves when he was a freshman in college, and graduated from the University of Tennessee, Martin, with a bachelor’s degree in history.
“Brent led from the front, not the middle or the back,” said Mike Morel. This showed in many of the decisions Brent would make throughout his military career. As an officer in the military, Brent did not have to undergo the training that his enlisted men did; however, he signed up so that he would be able to understand what his men had been through, “so I could look them in the eye.” Brent would later reveal to his father that those were some of the hardest classes he’d ever been through.
Brent’s commitment to his men was evident in the requests he made of his mother and father. “He didn’t call home that often but when he did it was usually to ask for some toiletry supplies or treats for his men or the Iraqi children he came in contact with. He wanted those children to remember the U.S. in a good way,” said Morel. “We sent hundreds of toothbrushes and a lot of toothpaste. He said the camels had better teeth than the kids.”
After Brent’s death, Morel spoke to the father of one of his son’s men and was astonished to learn that each soldier is allotted a certain number of minutes to use on the phone each day. “I told this other father that Brent doesn’t call home much, and he said that’s because Brent was giving his minutes to his men so they could speak with their loved ones a little longer.”
Mike recalled a story told to him by a fellow soldier of Brent’s that sums up the way the young Morel felt about his men. Apparently Brent and his commander were having words about what activities his troops would engage in next, and unable to come to an agreement, Capt. Morel was overheard saying, “Sir, these are my men, I am the commander of these men, and you will not mess over them, sir.” His troops would later frame those words and present the plaque to Brent.
Brent was experienced in hunting, fishing, and martial arts. His instincts as a hunter and fisherman served him well. The day he was killed, as his unit was moving forward on a reconnaissance mission, something didn’t seem right to him. On his order, the battalion began to retreat. If they had continued forward, they would have been surrounded and ambushed by more than 300 insurgents. Many of his men were injured in the ensuing fight, but Capt. Morel was the only soldier killed, shot under the arm where there was no armor. He died cradled in the lap of one of his men.
The day Brent was killed, an instinctual foreboding nagged at both parents until the military informed them of their son’s passing early the next morning. “There was a knock at the door at 3 a.m. I opened it, looked at the three Marines standing in front of me and said, ‘You’re going to tell me my son is dead,’ and they said, ‘Yes, sir.’” Upon hearing the answer, many questions swirled through Morel’s head, but the first he actually verbalized was as follows, “I asked the men was he in the front? They answered yes. I always knew that’s where he would be.”
Brent’s funeral cortege stretched two miles. People stood in their front yards and placed their hands over their hearts as the processional passed by. In southern tradition, roads were closed, and the police and firefighters were present in a show of respect.
In the words of Brent’s grieving yet proud father, “He was a regular stand-up guy.” A regular stand-up guy who left his second act, American life minutes for the rest of us to enjoy.
Capt. Morel leaves behind his wife, Amy Mullins Morel; his parents, Molly and Mike Morel, CRNA; his sister Marcy Morel Woods; his brother-in-law, Richard Woods; his niece, Madison Nelson; and his maternal grandparents, Paul and Georgette Smith.
A scholarship fund to assist the children of Marines in attending college has been established in Brent’s name. If you would like to contribute to this fund, please send all donations to the Brent Morel Scholarship, c/o the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation, 121 South Saint Asaph Street, Alexandra, VA 22314-3119.