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No greater love

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Zach Anderson
  • 4th Air Force Public Affairs
At his core, Col. John Morris is a man of action.

Serving for more than 20 years in Air Force security forces will do that to a man. Security forces is a career field that specializes in quickly restoring order during chaos and responding to and neutralizing threats in the most efficient and effective manner possible. It's a world that embraces the philosophy of "adapt and overcome;" a profession characterized by assessing a situation and taking immediate action. In short, security forces is about doing whatever is necessary to accomplish the mission.

It is in that environment Colonel Morris has spent the vast majority of his Air Force career. While he no longer wears the distinctive blue beret of a security forces Airman, he still carries with him the ingrained, no-nonsense problem solving attitude of a military cop. If there's an issue, Colonel Morris is a firm believer in resolving it, the right way, as quickly as possible.

"That never changes," said Colonel Morris, now serving as 4th Air Force Director of Communications and Information. "Even though I haven't worn the beret for about three years, that security forces attitude is still there. Just get the job done, take care of your Airmen and accomplish the mission."

For more than a quarter-century of service in both the active duty and Reserve components of the Air Force, Colonel Morris has held true to that philosophy. So it comes as no surprise that, when confronted with what he calls the most important mission of his life, the colonel was more than ready and willing to take action and "get the job done."

It was June 2004 when Colonel Morris' oldest daughter, Michelle, then 14, was diagnosed with a severe kidney disorder. Following an initial surgery, doctors told Colonel Morris and his wife, Josie, that Michelle's kidneys, while functioning, were irreversibly damaged. After a second surgery four years later at the age of 18, Michelle was forced to begin dialysis sessions three times each week. She continued to undergo these sessions as she entered college. Her parents have endured each session at her side for the last two years.

"My wife and I go with her to the dialysis sessions and pick her up from them. It just tears your heart apart when you see her tied to that dialysis machine for three and a half hours, three times a week," said Colonel Morris. "However, she never complains and always remains optimistic about her future. She is the bravest person I have ever known. Josie and I are proud to be her parents."

While the sessions served to keep Michelle alive, they weren't a solution to the problem.

"The purpose of dialysis is just to prolong the kidneys," said Colonel Morris. "It just keeps them going until a donor can be found."

Michelle was placed on a national waiting list for a kidney donor, but for a man whose entire military career had been built around quickly resolving issues, a "waiting list" wasn't a viable option.

"You can be on that list for years; five to six years is the average wait time," said Colonel Morris. "This has been going on since 2004. That's a long time. What if something happens? What if something gets worse? At some point, you've just got to find a donor."

Not willing to simply wait for a suitable donor, both Colonel Morris and his wife were tested for donor compatibility. As fate would have it, the colonel turned out to be a viable kidney donor for his daughter.

It was just the news he wanted to hear.

"I was ecstatic! I was so incredibly happy! As soon as I found out, I was anxious to go into surgery and get it done!"

Of course, a kidney transplant operation isn't minor surgery and isn't without the risk of complications for both the donor and recipient. Speaking about these risks just days before the scheduled operation, Colonel Morris said he never once considered not going through with the procedure.

"There is absolutely no hesitation. None. The solution to this problem is my kidney. There was never any option. If my wife was compatible and I wasn't, she'd be doing it. As it turned out, I'm compatible and we thank God for that. I have two kidneys in good shape and giving one to my daughter is worth any risk."

The colonel said both his wife and his youngest daughter, Sarah, 15, expressed concern for he and Michelle but they knew the benefit of the donation surgery far outweighed any possible risks.

"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little scared," he said. "I mean, you never know what might happen on an operating table. But even if it was some kind of life-threatening risk, I'd still do it. That doesn't matter. This is my kid, my daughter. This will give my daughter a new lease on life. She won't have to do the dialysis anymore; she'll have a normal life. Like I said, it's my daughter and I'd do anything for my kids. Any parent would ... there is no greater love."

Answering the call of duty is nothing new for the colonel. Throughout his career, Colonel Morris has served on numerous deployments and at various duty stations. He's taken part in military operations in Korea, Cuba, Japan, Okinawa and the Republic of the Philippines. While deployed to Iraq in 2006, he served as deputy group commander at the 447th Air Expeditionary Group, Sather Air Base, Baghdad International Airport, where he earned the Bronze Star for meritorious achievement while serving in a combat zone.

Yet this proud combat veteran said all these previous missions pale in comparison to his most recent undertaking: the mission to give his daughter a new life.

"It's the most important thing I've ever done in my life," he said. "There is no comparison. This mission, this is about my kid's life. It's the most important thing I could ever do."

On Sept. 1, six years after Michelle's first diagnosis, Colonel Morris and his daughter finally underwent the transplant operation. Doctors at the Loma Linda University Medical Center Transplantation Institute successfully removed a healthy, fully-functioning kidney from the colonel and placed it inside his daughter. With that, at long last, Michelle was given that "new lease on life" she desperately needed.

Maj. Gen. Eric W. Crabtree, 4th Air Force Commander, spoke of the incredible gift of life Col. Morris has given his daughter.

"What Colonel Morris has done is incredibly admirable and is really an example of his love for his family," General Crabtree said. "Colonel Morris is an exceptional individual, not just as a military officer, but as a father and man who truly loves his family. It's such good news that he was able to donate to help his daughter, and I'm extremely happy the situation turned out as it has. My thoughts and prayers will continue to be with him and his family. There is no question he has the full support of his Air Force family here at 4th, and we will continue to support him and his family throughout their recovery and beyond."

Speaking via telephone following the surgery, Colonel Morris expressed his appreciation and gratitude for the ongoing support of his Air Force family. While he and Michelle still face several months of recovery as well as ongoing tests to ensure their continued health, he is thrilled the transplant operation was a success and that he was finally able to help his daughter.

"It just feels good. Just so incredibly good," he said.

A mere eight days after undergoing the transplant operation, Colonel Morris was already in uniform, back in the office, taking care of business. While not quite at full strength, he said he had an obligation to get back to his duties as soon as possible, which is yet another reflection of the colonel's "get the job done and accomplish the mission" attitude.

"I mean, after all...I have work to do!" he said.

No doubt the last six years have been difficult for the Morris family. But now, after a long struggle for this man of action and his family, the ultimate job has been completed and the most important mission of all has finally been accomplished.