SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico, Jan. 3, 2018 — Evan and Leah Morgan have been inseparable since 2010, their freshman year at Marshall University in 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 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,” she said.
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 at age 18. She became a permanent employee in 2014.
“We were married Dec. 13, 2014, in the same church where my parents exchanged their vows,” Leah said. 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,” Evan said.
Motivation Straight From the Heart
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,” Evan said. “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,” she continued. “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 said her Spanish has improved, although she’s still a bit rusty speaking it.
“I’ve always been good at reading and writing Spanish, almost fluently,” she said. “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 said he’s thinking about extending his deployment, 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,” he explained.
Both Leah and Evan have been here over the holidays, with Leah even missing Thanksgiving Day at home.
An Instinct to Act
“I often hear people say, ‘Somebody else will take care of that.’ I’m very much the opposite,” Leah said. “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.’”
Evan is an usher at First Missionary Baptist Church in Culloden, West Virginia, and Leah serves as a Sunday school teacher.
“I teach a great group of girls, ages 7 to 11,” she said. “I usually have five or six on Sunday mornings. … 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.” Leah is set to return home Jan. 12. She said this deployment has been one of the most challenging experiences of her life and, by far, the most rewarding.