CAMP HANSEN, Okinawa, Japan --
She began as an artist in Maine, painting celestial representations of people while helping her family coordinate the local lobster festival. Fast forward a few years and she’s a steel mill worker in Baltimore. Move ahead a few more years and she’s loading rockets onto an AH-1W Super Cobra helicopter in Okinawa.
The roadmap of Cpl. Elizabeth R. Morrill’s life is a long and winding one, even before she started preceding her name with Marine Corps rank. And while many Marines’ stories begin shortly after high school graduation, Morrill’s begins at the age of 26, following a rich tapestry of experiences.
“I always knew I was going to be a Marine, ever since I was 13,” said Morrill, an aviation ordnance technician with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 262 (Reinforced), 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit. “It just took a little longer to get there than usual.”
Morrill’s blank canvas started while growing up in Portland, Maine, as one of six children. She was both the oldest and the only female of her siblings. Her youth was spent on the coastal shores in a lobster boat with her father, hauling up the heavy traps and measuring and banding lobsters.
While she enjoyed her time working with her father, her true passion was art. And when she wasn’t catching lobster or beating her male counterparts on the high school wrestling mat, she was painting.
Knowing which direction she wanted her life to take after high school, Morrill enrolled in the Maine College of Art to further her education. However, because catching lobster doesn’t pay a six-figure income to support her artistic endeavors, she departed college after one year to let her skills flourish independently.
“I wanted to improve my painting myself, but I needed a source of income,” she said. “Since I grew up doing physically demanding work and wrestling in high school, two friends and I started a gym in August of 2003.”
The gym was open for only two years before the expenses became greater than the profit. Morrell drifted between professions during the next few years, from professionally painting to selling appliances at a big-box hardware store. However, the chance to show her art at a gallery in Baltimore inspired her to move to the city, a decision that eventually steered her to her next milestone: becoming the first female worker at a local steel mill.
“It was the only good job hiring at the time, so I thought ‘why not,’” she said. “Outside of wrestling at high school, it was the first real test of having to prove myself as an equal worker because of my gender. I worked hard for (the male workers’) respect and earned it, but there were still some rough areas.”
After some time and experience in the steel mill, a new worker was put under the charge of Morrill for training in her machine. She assumed he was training to be an assistant for the machine, but once she trained him to competence, he became her supervisor. She later discovered that during her tutelage, he was being paid five dollars per hour more than she was receiving. That information was all Morrill needed to leave her career as a steel worker and turn her attention to the Marines.
“During the time I had off from the plant, I began attending recruiting events for the Marine Corps,” she said. “At this point, I realized it was time and joined the Delayed Entry Program.”
Morrill originally wanted to be a crew chief for a helicopter, but the female quota for Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island was full for that month, and becoming a crew chief meant waiting months before entering boot camp.
This wasn’t an option for Morrill, who had already quit her job at the steel mill, left her apartment and sent her belongings back to family in Maine.
“To be able to leave at the start of the following month, I switched to an open-contract designation, but retained the aviation stipulation,” she said. “So 26-year-old ‘me’ was off to boot camp.”
When Morrill arrived at Parris Island, she experienced a serious change in lifestyle, but not the usual shock and awe for most new arrivals. Because of her life experience and age, she recognized the “training-isms” of boot camp life and the purpose of her drill instructors; three of which were younger than her. The other recruits saw her as a motherly figure, mostly due to her maturity and physical prowess from a life involving hard labor. Morrill graduated as the “iron woman” of the three platoons in her series and an honor graduate, which earned her the first of two meritorious promotions.
After a month of Marine combat training, four months of schooling for aviation ordnance in Pensacola, Fla., and four more months at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., Morrill became an aviation ordnance technician.
Her job is to manage and handle the weapon systems for various aircraft, involving everything from heavy machine guns to rockets. She also helps inspect and maintain permanent systems mounted on the aircraft, including the aircraft’s countermeasures system.
Following her Pendleton training, she found herself working with the last CH-46E Sea Knight helicopter squadron in the Pacific theatre: HMM-262 in Okinawa, Japan.
Within the next year, Morrill’s pre-Marine experiences propelled her above others of her rank. Her excellence was demonstrated by winning the Marine of the Quarter for her Squadron, Marine Air Group and Marine Air Wing, which brought the second meritorious promotion of her young career.
Now serving as a non-commissioned officer for her shop, Morrill uses life experience to better herself while leading her Marines.
“She definitely leads by example, always out there working side-by-side with us,” said Cpl. Joan Patrick, an aviation ordnance technician with HMM-262 and a native of Dewitt, Mich. “When she first checked into the squadron, she didn’t know a lot about the platform we were working on. But she was the first one to get on the line and humble herself to learn from the other lance corporals in the shop, instead of standing aside and dictating work.”
With more than two years in the Marine Corps, it is the longest job Morrill has held in her adult life and she loves every day of it. She credits her unique life experiences for her success, her outlook on the Corps and her leadership style.
“I went from owning my own business, working in a steel mill and having my own apartment to being yelled at on how to sweep a floor,” she said, laughing at the common boot camp indoctrination. “But it’s not what I focus on; it’s all the good points that the Marine Corps offers to someone like me. Free medical and dental insurance, and not having to pay rent makes you appreciate what you have.”
With a firm understanding of the benefits of her service, Morrill works as if she is paying back the Marine Corps. She regrets the fact that most Marines her age are staff non-commissioned officers, but she is thankful for her life experiences and what it allows her to offer to her fellow Marines.
“As far as the Marine Corps goes, she’s still young, but she’s leaps and bounds ahead of others due to her experiences,” said Sgt. Douglas Koenig, ordnance noncommissioned officer in charge, HMM-262 and a native of Erie, Penn. “Her priorities are more solid than some of the other Marines; she strives to do things to the best of her ability and she also does a lot of community service. That’s why she’s a two-time meritorious Marine and an outstanding person overall.”