Sunday, February 05, 2006

Army Staff Sgt. Christopher R. Morningstar

Remember Our Heroes

Army Staff Sgt. Christopher R. Morningstar, 27, of San Antonio, Texas.

Ssg Morningstar was assigned to the 562nd Engineer Company, 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, Fort Wainwright, Alaska; killed Feb. 5 when an improvised explosive device detonated near his Stryker engineer squad vehicle in Husayniyah, Iraq. Also killed was Sgt. Jeremiah J. Boehmer.

Morningstar, from San Antonio, was a combat engineer. He joined the Army in April 1997 and was assigned to Fort Wainwright in August 2003.

Holly Morningstar said her son grew up playing with toy soldiers. He joined the Reserve Officer Training Corps in high school before joining the Army in November 2002.

“It was just a natural progression,” she told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner by phone Tuesday from her home in San Antonio. “He loved serving.”

She said her son made friends easily and was strong-willed.

He had visited her in October while on two-week leave. His son and daughter came from Eagle River to join him. They visited museums, ate at their favorite restaurants and spent a day at a lake, she told the newspaper.

“It was the first time Chris had ever tried water-skiing,” she said. “He wasn’t successful.”

Morningstar re-enlisted shortly after arriving in Iraq this fall.

“I was worried,” she said. “I wondered why he would want to put himself in danger again.”

Express-News -- All the time he was on leave in San Antonio last fall, Army Staff Sgt. Christopher R. Morningstar kept thinking about the men he led in Iraq.

His mind was often on the desert and the war from which he'd been given a brief respite, not touring the Witte Museum or other places Morningstar and his kids, Wyatt, 6, and Victoria, 7, visited with his mom.

"He wanted to get back and do his duty, get back to his buddies, as he called them," his mother, Holly Morningstar, said Tuesday night. "He just didn't want to desert them in any way."

A San Antonio native, Morningstar, 27, kept faith with his men, returning to the desert and getting back to the business of finding roadside bombs.

One of those bombs, dubbed improvised explosive devices by the military, blew up Sunday, killing him and Sgt. Jeremiah J. Boehmer, 22, of Parkston, S.D.

Both men, posted to Fort Wainwright, Alaska, were killed when the bomb detonated near their vehicle in Al Husayniyah. They were the last Stryker vehicle in the convoy when the remote-controlled device went off.

Morningstar is to be buried with full military honors at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery. Services haven't been set.

It was the second tour of Iraq for Morningstar, who joined the Army in 1997 after dropping out of MacArthur High School. He returned to Iraq in August, his 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team first going to Mosul but later moving north to Rawah, near the Syrian border. Things seemed better there; soldiers weren't getting shot at as much.

But when Morningstar called his mom every few days, the talk wasn't about the security situation but his living conditions, much improved from the first tour. He told her of the huge camel spiders that, like garbage in the desert, are part of the landscape there. The Iraqi kids, he said, were nice. One kept asking him for a football.

"He was a big, macho tough guy. He kept telling me nothing was going to happen to him . Nothing was going to happen," said Holly Morningstar, a caregiver for Visiting Angels, which provides in-home care for seniors. "He'll be fine, nothing is going to happen because he's going to be very careful and not make any stupid decisions and not do anything stupid."

Morningstar and his men hunted for IEDs. It's a dangerous, unforgiving job but tailor made for a kid who played with G.I. Joe dolls as a boy and, in the Army in 1997, thrived on the camaraderie and discipline of a life in uniform.

A one-time ROTC student at MacArthur, he earned a GED after high school, entered basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., and rose through the ranks. He married after joining the Army but separated from his wife, Tommie.

At 5 feet 8 inches, he had a slight build when he entered the Army. But he hardened with formation running and weightlifting. Others dropped out of survival training in Alaska, but he made it through.

"I think he liked the discipline," said Holly Morningstar, 50, a San Antonio native and 1973 MacArthur High School graduate. "I think he needed that structure in his life, and he liked that."

A little more than six months ago Morningstar, like all troops in the armed services these days, came to a crossroads, the decision to re-enlist or call it a war and an Army career.

Even now the choice mystifies his mom, who constantly worried about her only son and can still hear his words as if he said them only a moment ago.

"Why would he want to go back over there?" she asked. "He's putting his life into danger. He said that was what he was trained to do and that was what he wanted to do."

Army Staff Sgt. Christopher R. Morningstar was killed in action on 02/05/06.

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