Season 1 finale

Editor’s note: This is the final profile of Marching Orders, season 1. Read previous profiles at ThisWeekNEWS.com/MarchingOrders.

Craig Morin, 30, of Columbus was a U.S. Army officer in Afghanistan in 2013 and 2014, advising the Afghan National Army during Operation Enduring Freedom.

Morin was born in Cincinnati and grew up in the nearby suburban village of Evendale – what he called “typical suburban life growing up” – as the youngest of three brothers.

While growing up during the military deployments of the century’s first decade, Morin said, he developed a “desire to serve and participate in what I thought was going to be the defining event of my generation.”

“I was looking for an adventure, and I had a strong desire to do something physical. I wasn’t ready at 22 years old to sit behind a desk,” he said.

After attending Princeton High School, he attended Ohio State University, graduating in 2011 with a degree in philosophy, and was commissioned as a second lieutenant through the Army ROTC program.

He said he chose a philosophy major because he was interested in studying ethical decision-making, which would be important for a role in the military.

Morin quenched some of that thirst for adventure during airborne school, part of his training for becoming an Army Ranger.

His first parachute jump was the easiest, he said.

“I think you’re so excited, yet the adrenaline is going so hard that you’re not particularly aware of all the things that could potentially go wrong. By the time my last jump came around, I was very much aware of those things,” he said.

Although he and the soldiers carried no military gear during their first jumps, Morin was loaded with equipment when he made his final jump, which was at night.

That jump was a little scarier by comparison, he said, but he enjoyed the experience, watching the silhouettes of other parachutes around him.

On active duty as a platoon leader, he wasn’t expecting to be deployed to Afghanistan – until he saw most of his battalion had been deployed.

Morin was in the part of the battalion that had deployed three months later, he said. He was told he would ship out in seven days and had four days to visit his family.

In Afghanistan, he was stationed at Forward Operating Base Tagab in Kapisa Province, with the 2nd Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division.

“I worked on a small advising team that was responsible for mentoring, training and coaching the Afghan National Army,” he said.

Partnering with host-nation forces comes with a host of struggles, such as building and maintaining relationships, he said.

“My primary counterpart was an Afghan company commander. This man was a hero to his men and had spent his adolescent and adult life fighting the Taliban,” Morin said. “I was a young lieutenant from another country with no combat experience. Navigating that credibility gap was vital, and maintaining rapport with him was the most important thing I would do while I was there.

“Together, we would plan and execute various patrols. It was my job to help with the command and control of those patrols and also help integrate U.S. assets – air support, medical evacuation, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance,” he said.

The Afghan company commander was an aggressive fighter, Morin said.

“In the Afghan culture, the idea of pride is a lot more important. So there were times he’d seek out the opportunity to kind of go toe to toe with the Taliban and assume some risks that, if I was commanding forces on the ground, I would not have necessarily done that,” he said.

Maintaining the right relationship with the Afghan commander was vital, Morin said.

They had disagreements, he said, adding that he occasionally had to use motivational tactics. He also had to accept some of the risks, he said, because if he didn’t have a good relationship with the commander, the U.S. unit that succeeded him wouldn’t either.

The Afghan commander’s approach, Morin said, was tailored to a longer, broader war, and his subordinates followed his example.

The terrain surrounding the base was a flat plain next to steep, high peaks, Morin said. It was brutally hot in summer and bitterly cold in winter.

“Christmas was actually a day I look back on pretty fondly,” he said.

Bad weather had grounded air support, so no patrols were underway. He played Monopoly and watched movies all day. It was the first time he watched “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

As the U.S. footprint was downsized in Afghanistan, Morin’s unit was transferred to Bagram Airfield, a facility so large it had a bus line running from one side to another.

One day when his team’s lead operations adviser, a captain, was out for a run, he spotted two Afghans trying to break into a fenced-in motor pool, Morin said.

The captain noticed bomb-making materials when he confronted the pair, resulting in a hand-to-hand fight in which he killed one of the men, injured the other’s throat and sustained wounds.

The second would-be bomber was apprehended at the base gate, identified by his throat injury.

Morin’s own unit left Afghanistan without sustaining any casualties, he said.

Morin said he had a feeling of isolation when adjusting to civilian life. After years of training and the Army, he was given a week of training on the transition to being a civilian, most of it focusing on job coaching and building a resume.

Several of the men who were in his company in Afghanistan since have committed suicide, he said.

Morin said he has been in therapy for three years and “couldn’t recommend it more.”

“I’m only now seeing the real benefit of that process,” he said.

Adjusting to civilian life requires finding a way to take care of oneself in a meaningful way, he said.

Morin is a project manager for Hot Chicken Takeover, a Columbus-based restaurant chain specializing in Nashville-style hot chicken.

The company has a “fair chance” policy and employs people who have been homeless or incarcerated or who have had drug problems – “people who in other environments might feel a sense of isolation,” Morin said.

Working with others who are trying to move beyond their past has been helpful to his own transition, he said.

Morin’s decorations include the U.S. Army’s Ranger Tab, Expert Infantryman Badge, Parachutist Badge, Air Assault Badge, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Army Commendation Medal (with oak-leaf cluster), Army Achievement Medal (with three oak-leaf clusters), National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon and NATO Medal.

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