Marine Sgt. Morgan W. Strader, killed Friday in Fallujah, volunteered for his second tour of duty in Iraq — one that was nearing its end when he was killed in action.
Strader’s mother, 50-year-old Linda Morgan, his stepfather, Timothy Kelley, 51, and younger sister Jessica, live in Montclair.
Strader, 23, was in Fallujah while fighting with the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force because he wanted to use experience garnered during the initial 2003 invasion to help protect younger Marines who had never been in the country, Kelley said.
He wanted to use his experience to help guide others, Kelley said. He had extended his tour for the sole purpose of accompanying his fellow Marines, Kelley said.
“He volunteered to go back when he didn’t have to,” Kelley said, explaining that his stepson was not politically motivated. “He was there to try to help his fellow Marines.”
He was killed on patrol while “on-point” — military terminology for taking the lead position in a small group.
Strader initially joined the Corps to earn money for college and, like many young men, for the adventure, Kelley said.
U.S. forces began an all-out assault last week to recapture Fallujah from insurgents launching attacks against coalition forces.
U.S. and Iraqi military forces now control the entire city of 300,000, according to the Department of Defense. The ancient city lies on the
northern banks of the Euphrates River west of Baghdad.
Strader never lived in Prince William County, but in the suburbs of Indianapolis with his father Gary Strader, and in Crossville, Tenn., with his mother and stepfather.
He will be buried in Crossville within the week.
Strader was an outdoorsman who loved hunting and fishing and spent time doing both at his grandparents’ rural Crossville home. He also enjoyed riding all-terrain vehicles in the woods.
Strader was an active athlete in a Department of Defense high school in Germany while Kelley was in the Air Force his freshman and sophomore years, and then in Cumberland County High School, in Tennessee, during his final two years of high school.
He played soccer, wrestled, ran on the cross-country and track teams, and took karate lessons. He was also a distance-bicycler. In Germany he participated in a junior Army ROTC program.
Strader visited Crossville, and spent many summers and Christmases at his maternal grandparents’ house there, Kelley said. The family lived there before moving to Prince William County in 2001.
“Those were his happiest years, in Tennessee … he was right there in that community he was so familiar with.”
Crossville is between Knoxville and Nashville in an area known by residents for its rural quality and natural beauty.
Strader planned to move back to the area after his enlistment was up to go to college, and finally, settle.
“I think our country needs to know the price that’s being paid for what we’re doing over there,” Kelley said. “Morgan, unfortunately, is one of many. People need to realize that freedom is not free.”
Strader had worked as a military policeman at Camp Pendleton, about 35 miles north of San Diego, a position he did not relish. In Iraq, he was assigned to an infantry unit.
He was able to call home frequently and last spoke to his mother Nov. 10 — two days before he was killed.
During the conversation Linda Morgan told her son she was worried, hearing about preparations for the Fallujah attack.
“Don’t worry about me mom,” he told her. “Worry about these young kids who don’t have as much experience.”