FLORENCE, S.C. — Maj. Robert Morgan of the U.S. Marine Corps was happy in Virginia Beach in August 1990.
Half a world away, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein ordered his troops to invade the tiny nation of Kuwait. Hussein's troops, veterans of the Iran-Iraq war that ended in 1989, quickly rolled through Kuwait, sending panic in Jeddah, the capital of Saudi Arabia, and in Washington, D.C.
As a member of the Fourth Marine Expeditionary Brigade, Morgan was called to get to the office because of the invasion. Within a week, Morgan was aboard a ship headed for the Middle East.
The ship's route took Morgan and the others aboard through the Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea and the Suez Canal.
For the next few weeks, the brigade practiced invading from the ship onto the land.
"That's what we were going to do to Saddam Hussein," Morgan said.
In communications, Morgan learned of a problem with the embassy in Somalia.
At the time, Somalia was falling apart at the seams. The increasingly unpopular military regime of Mohamed Siad Barre was about to be overthrown — Somalia did not have a functioning government from 1991 to 2006 — and it was feared the rebels would take over the embassy similar to the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979-1980.
Eventually, the ship was ordered to steam as fast as it could to Somalia. Once there, the ship was expected to launch a non-combatant evacuation force or NEO force of approximately 60 men to secure the embassy and get the people inside to safety.
Morgan, as an officer, was tasked with assisting to plan the operation.
The successful operation resulted in the evacuation of 281 people — the wife of the Sudanese ambassador gave birth aboard ship to make 282 evacuees — and one harrowing experience for Morgan.
He described the constant sound of gunfire going by and added that the Somalis go crazy at night because of a drug they take called khat.
Morgan added that all of his training in the Marines came into play during that mission.
Morgan served from 1974 to 1994.
He joined the Marines after graduating with a degree in political science from the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, the school famed for its upset of No. 1 seed Virginia in the 2018 NCAA Tournament.
During his time at UMBC, Morgan had worked for a Maryland state senator. He quickly figured out that politics wasn't in his future.
"I kind of realized there wasn't a whole of future in that kind of thing," Morgan said. "I also realized that a state legislature that's in session for three months can do a lot of damage, and I'd hate to want to be a part of it year long."
Morgan decided to follow the path of his father, an infantry staff sergeant.
"I don't reveal this to too many people, but I couldn't get in the Air Force, or at least I couldn't get to fly," Morgan said. "I wanted to fly. I wanted to be a pilot."
Morgan grew up in Baltimore near the airport now called Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.
"There wasn't an airplane that took to the sky that I didn't look at," Morgan said.
Morgan took the test the Air Force offered to potential pilots and was told he had no aeronautical aptitude.
Then he tried the Navy. He succeeded on the test but was told he'd have to wait around a year and half to enter officer candidate school, also known as OCS.
"I go, 'Well, that's not going to work," Morgan said. "I remembered from one of my college colleagues who was a reserve Marine who told me up in Baltimore there's a reserve engineer battalion, but they had the officer selection office up there."
Morgan went in and interviewed.
A week after that, he got a call asking when he wanted to go to OCS. The result: a wait of one month.
He began his service in June 1974 with OCS in Quantico, Virginia. Then he went to Pensacola, Florida, for pilot training.
After about four flights in the air, Morgan heard just what the Air Force people said: "You have no aeronautical adaptability.'"
He went back to Quantico for more training. His eventual specialty was communications.
Morgan's first stop was Okinawa, Japan. He also served in Korea, Japan, Norway, Germany, Spain, Saudi Arabia, Dubai and Oman.
Stateside, he served at Camp Lejeune, Quantico and Washington, D.C.
Toward the end of his time in the Marines, Morgan met a South Carolina girl, Margaret Gaddy, from Florence. They visited Florence for several years — her parents were alive — and relocated to Florence when her parents died around three years ago.