SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (Jan. 1, 2018) -- Evan and Leah Morgan have been inseparable since 2010, their freshman year at Marshall University, Huntington, West Virginia.
The husband and wife team from Huntington District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, knew they wanted to support the recovery mission in Puerto Rico. The only consideration was timing: would the stars align so this couple could deploy together?
The answer came on Nov. 14, when Leah, a district contract purchasing agent, deployed to Puerto Rico to support the Task Force Power Restoration mission. Evan, a civil engineer, wouldn’t join her until Dec. 22.
Leah is an administrative support assistant for TF Power. Her position became available first. Once she arrived and settled into the job, a light clicked on in her head one day.
“I create the tasker requests to bring people down here, so I said, ‘Evan is an engineer; he can do this work.’ So I alerted him when civil engineers were needed here,” said Leah.
The Morgans are native West Virginians. In fact, Leah was born in Cabell Huntington Hospital, just eight blocks away from the district office. Evan hails from Clarksburg, about a three-hour drive from Huntington.
Leah began working at the district in 2010, as a student employee, age 18. She transitioned to a permanent employee in 2014.
“We were married Dec. 13, 2014, in the same church where my parents exchanged their vows,” said Leah.
Evan graduated the next day with an undergraduate degree in civil engineering. Leah had graduated seven months earlier with an undergraduate degree in biology.
“We agreed that it would be easier for my family to travel here for our wedding, since my graduation ceremony was the same weekend and they only had to travel once,” said Evan.
Leah and Evan say they are both curious, adventurous people.
Evan scuba dives and flies a single-engine Cessna aircraft. He earned his 10-month training certification and license 18 months ago, and has logged about 140 flight hours.
Leah likes flying with Evan, who says it’s grown on her.
“Oddly enough, the first few flights were the best for me. As Evan progressed in his training, I kind of learned secondhand sitting behind him, but also discovered all the things that could go wrong,” said Leah.
A particularly nerve-wracking experience one day when Evan was practicing crosswind landings, would literally bring Leah back to earth.
“It was a very gusty day, and as we approached our landing, we were getting rocked every which way,” said Leah. “I was sitting in the back seat completely terrified!”
After that experience, Leah has been a bit more hesitant to board the aircraft.
“I take flying very seriously,” stressed Evan. “Every time we go up, I perform all my pre-flight checks: check over the airplane; check the fuel; study the day’s weather; call the tower and get a weather briefing; get a second opinion about the forecast. There’s a lot that goes into flying before you lift off.”
Leah bravely took one hour of instruction, and decided then that being a pilot wasn’t for her, and resolved that she would mainly keep her feet firmly planted on terra firma.
“I love getting into a really good book,” said Leah. “My favorite genre is fantasy. I like books that take me out of reality; medieval fantasy stories that don’t really matter. They don’t contribute to your intellect very much; but it’s kind of like taking a vacation,” said Leah.
Their reason for volunteering to deploy to Puerto Rico is clear: their motivation is straight from the heart.
“Now that I’ve had time to think about it, I wanted to step out of my comfort zone,” said Evan. “I had family that wanted me to spend the Christmas holidays with them, but they were understanding. I really wanted to be with my wife and to help my fellow Americans.”
“I yearn for adventure, so I like to take those giant steps,” Leah said. “Where I come from, families are close-knit and not spread out. Most people are content with that: why would you want anything more? But, for me, I want to go out and experience the world and, of course, I want to contribute and help people who are suffering.
“So I saw deployment here as a golden opportunity to develop professionally and personally; not only because it is a good stepping stone for my career, but I love Spanish. I’m not fluent, but I did study for four years in college. I wanted to take hold of the opportunity to experience the one-on-one personal conversation.”
Leah’s Spanish has improved, although she’s still a bit rusty speaking it.
“I’ve always been good at reading and writing Spanish, almost fluently,” said Leah. “I’m picking up more from listening to the language. I struggle because most citizens here want to speak English and show you they can speak it well. Practically no one I know or come across in public back home speaks Spanish, so I never get the opportunity.”
Evan says he’s actually thinking about extending, and that means he’ll have to give up a sweet project that he’s been working on back home involving hydraulic modeling of two major river systems. “The models help the Corps plan for major storm events by identifying structures in the floodplain that would be affected should the water rise to a certain level.”
It’s clearly evident that when you spend time with the Morgans, you come away with the sense that they respect and care deeply for each other.
“I’m so attracted to Leah because of her intellect, her professionalism,” said Evan.
“Evan has such a big heart. His love for his family and his siblings is contagious, it’s genuine. I feel it when he plays and interacts with them; and I want that for my kids one day,” said Leah. “As the oldest, he also plays a dual role of brother and father figure to his two brothers and sister, and quite a few step-siblings. I really respect him for that because it shows his leadership qualities.”
Both Leah and Evan have been here over the holidays, with Leah even missing Thanksgiving Day at home.
“I often hear people say, ‘somebody else will take care of that.’ I’m very much the opposite,” said Leah. “If I see a need I have this instinct to act. I saw the need for volunteers to come down here, especially over the holidays, a time when it’s most inconvenient. So I thought, ‘if no one else is going to step up at this time and support this critical mission, I want to be the one to do it, and be able to say that I did it!’”
The Morgans are also very firmly rooted in their faith.
“When we were dating, we spent a year every day reading the Bible together. And we read it cover to cover. It was really rewarding and awesome because we enjoyed a lot of good conversations that stemmed from reading Scriptures,” said Leah.
“At times it was exhausting because we were in college and had to get around academic work and our jobs, so we had to read three or four chapters every night to complete the Bible in a year,” added Evan.
Evan and Leah pressed on and completed their goal.
“It made us realize that we were right for each other,” said Leah.
Evan is an usher at First Missionary Baptist Church, Culloden, West Virginia, and Leah serves as a Sunday school teacher.
“I teach a great group of girls, ages 7 to 11. I usually have five or six on Sunday mornings. While here, they sent me a package and it contained a hand-drawn Christmas tree with ornaments and notes and messages on it, and a big star on top. It was about 3 feet wide and 4 feet long, and it made me tear up. When I opened it, it had hand cut-out paper snowflakes,” said Leah.
Leah, who is set to return home Jan. 12, 2018, said this deployment has definitely been one of the most challenging experiences of her life and, by far, the most rewarding.
The Morgans said it’s like “we are on a launching pad.” There are so many Corps offices throughout the world with endless job opportunities. All the networking we are doing here is positioning us to go somewhere else and explore new opportunities, they said. Leah also imagines one day working in her chosen field of biology in the Corps Water Resources Development program.
The great comedian Milton Berle coined the phrase: “Laughter is an instant vacation.”
Evan said almost everything makes him laugh. “My wife says I have ‘chronic enthusiasm.’”
“Evan makes me laugh at the most unexpected times and I love his sense of humor. He’s very much a kid at heart, which is a good thing in a lot of ways, but he’s also very mature when it counts, such as flying an aircraft,” said Leah.
Once again, Leah Suzanne Morgan will redeploy home first, but Evan James Morgan will not be too far behind.