As the front door opened, 3-year-old Anna Morris flew across the room and into her dad’s arms as she clutched tightly onto him, wishing that he’d never leave her again.
Unfortunately, this reunion was replayed time and time again.
As Chaplain and Colonel of the Army National Guard, Anna’s father was deployed multiple times for ops such as Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Desert Storm in Kuwait. “I haven’t really known a life that wasn’t a military life in some way when I was younger,” says Anna.
For Anna, growing up with a missing father figure has been a challenge. “Having my dad gone for those long periods of time was challenging mostly from the standpoint of trying to seek a new normal and what that looked like without having my dad in the house,” says Anna, “I had friends who tried to relate by saying things like ‘I completely understand how you feel’ and how hurtful that was that even though with good intention they were telling me that they can relate to my situation.” With a total of three deployments, there have been lengthy amounts of time in which Anna, her mother, and her two sisters, weren’t able to see her dad.
“It was still incredibly frightening for my family,” says Anna, as she now recalls the danger of the environment her father was working in. “The fear that I saw not only in myself but also in my family has made me realize that the situation at times was really dangerous. Thankfully my dad has come out alive.” Little Anna at that time did not understand the level of hazard that her father was sent to. “The older I’ve gotten the more I’ve realized how defining that’s been in my life. I think at the time I was very unaware of the magnitude not only of the danger that he was in, but also the effect that it had on my family.”
Anna grew up surrounded by women in her life, and she felt that when her father left, she needed to adjust to a new family structure – re-adjusting once again when he comes back. “It was a struggle of authority when I was younger, trying to realize that now I had two parents in charge and not just one, but also a struggle of routine.”
Whenever her father came home from a deployment, Anna wrestled with going back and forth with the order she has created. She loved it when her family was complete, but the structure in which she constructed and established was broken down once again. “Not having my father in the home was mostly just a challenge of not only seeking the normal when he was gone but also when he returned and that’s a part of the process of military families that is not as focused on,” says Anna, “When things get out of control, I seek order and routine, and that’s something that helps me get back into a good place. Having my dad come back was another disruption in that order, a welcome disruption…in the order I established with my mother and sisters.”
For those years of serving our country, not only has Anna’s father sacrificed his time, but Anna and her family has also spent their valuable childhood without a father figure. These years while Anna’s father was stripped away from her arms included missed birthdays, missed graduations, and vacations spent. “My dad had to miss several milestones, like my sister’s college graduation. Those are things that really pained him to miss.” However when her father came home, “There was much of a desire to cram time that [they] have missed”.
Time is limited – it’s obvious to all of us. And to the Morris family, “[they’ve] been made hyper-aware of that,” because of the valuable time they’ve missed with one another. “Your responsibility instead of trying to make up for that is just to focus on what you have,” says Anna, “My dad has not consciously forced that time to try to make up for it, which I think is very positive. Instead he has supported open and loving relationships with my sisters and me.”
Through it all, Anna is extremely grateful that her father was shielded with God’s protection while he was in some of the most dangerous places in this world. “I feel like I have lost so little compared to many people…I may have lost time with my dad, I have not lost my dad.” Furthermore, she has gained much more respect and appreciation to the brave soldiers of our country and also the families behind them. “The understanding and appreciation that I have gained not only for my country but for the men and women who serve our country in uniform and the families who are supporting those beloved [family members] has been exponentially increased by my experience being in a military family.”
Other than her dad, both of Anna’s sisters served in the U.S. Air Force. When asked about whether or not she has considered going on the army path because of her military-enriched life, Anna said that she has not felt called to serve in that way. “I’ve learned a lot about the military and I don’t think it’s the right place for me. I’ve thought about it, because it’s evidently something that comes up in my family, but thankfully I have not had pressure from my family to do so.”
Currently, Anna is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in International Relations at Wheaton College in Illinois. If you were to ask Anna how she picked this path, she’d say her largest influence was because of the military life she grew up in. “It’s definitely been huge in forming my world opinion,” says Anna, “My father’s a huge reason why I have such an interest in global affairs and international relations. He has a passion for the world around him and instilled that in all of us.” Her father’s experience and influence has expanded her horizons and stretched her global perspectives. “I don’t just see the United States, I see the world around me and I want to do something in my life that not only brings glory to God but that is greater than this country and greater than myself.”
Although Anna’s future is still unfolding, she will surely carry her and her father’s shared experience – which has shaped her into the young woman she is today, and the world influencer she aspires to become in the future.