Carolyn Morgan Is the First Black VFW Post Commander in Madison
Fighting the Odds
|Rosa Thompson (l-r), co-chair of the 24th Annual Heart &
Soul Scholarship Ball and Madison Alumnae President
Terri Strong are two of the 52 reasons the Deltas have a
strong impact on Madison’s African American community
By Jonathan Gramling
On a bleak winter’s day, I find myself waiting outside VFW Post 8483 on Hwy. CV situated on a
relatively barren hilltop. I am waiting for Commander Carolyn Morgan, the first African American to hold
the post in the Madison area, to fetch her cap for the photo we are about to take. A couple of woman
vets finish smoking their cigarettes outside and as they enter the VFW hall, one says something to the
effect that Morgan is doing a great job as commander and the rest nod in agreement as they hurry
In spite of the polished images that we present of the military, being in the military can be very difficult
and put incredible strains on one’s sense of endurance and personal life. And veterans can have it
even harder as their post-discharge needs can go unmet. And being a woman, Morgan had had to fight
some incredible odds.
Morgan’s father had served in the military and so Morgan entered the Air National Guard in 1980 when
the role of women in the military was quite curtailed.
“I started out in law enforcement in the Guard and then had a mishap at tech school,” Morgan said. “A
guy broke my fingers. He threw a pool ball at me because I beat him in a pool game. They sent me home.
The Guard wouldn’t send me back, so they made me an administrative assistant. I didn’t like that, so I became a truck driver. I started doing bad anyway because
they didn’t want women driving trucks. We couldn’t be security police either. That’s why I ended up in law enforcement. Women couldn’t carry M-16s and guard the
perimeter. They didn’t want women driving trucks either. I bothered them and bothered them and bothered them and finally one day, they said, ‘Come on Morgan.’ I
told them, ‘I knew a thing or two.’ The guy looked at me and said, ‘Now you done qualified,’ and I went on active duty. I never got to drive the trucks again. I ended
up going active duty and ended up becoming a food service specialist.”
Morgan served in Misawa, Japan where she had her daughter and learned to snow ski. She then came back to the U.S. and was stationed at Shaw Ari Base in
South Carolina before being shipped off to serve in Desert Storm in the Persian Gulf.
“I was in the United Arab Emirates, the UAE, in Abu Dhabi,” Morgan said. “We were at an R&R base. I started out passing out soda and water in the headquarters
building. One night, I was sent down to the main camp that they were still building at 2 a.m. My supervisor wanted me to do it and I said I would do it with an escort.
He got mad. He told me that I was in the military and I needed to do my job. I said, ‘When they are out there shooting dogs at 2 a.m.,” — we were on an old Russian
base where they left a bunch of wild dogs — ‘I’ll do it with an escort, but I’m not walking by myself.’ The next day, he shipped me down to the dining facility. I didn’t
care. I had to be there anyway.”
When she came back to the States, Morgan worked as a recruiter until she was discharged in 1996. Morgan became disabled through her service in Desert Storm,
although it to the VA years to figure it out. She had a lung disease called sarcoidosis and suffered from PTSD and MST, Military Sexual Trauma. Eventually these
took their toll and she is 100 percent disabled. It wasn’t easy getting benefits.
“It’s hard to get benefits because they think it is all in your head,” Morgan said. “You have to tell your story over and over and over again and they aren’t connecting
the dots. When I see my primary care physician, they aren’t not who I see for my disability. Someone who knows nothing about me is going to assess whether I
receive the disability or not. It’s not my doctor. My doctor knows me very well, but then I see another doctor who is only going to see me for an hour. They have to
go through all of your records. I was in the military for 16 years and I have my own civilian records. Tell me that person looked through all of my records to see what
is going on. And so they deny, they deny and they deny.”
What also made it difficult was being a woman in an institution designed for men.
“They didn’t know anything about women veterans,” Morgan said. “When I went to the VA, I was asked, ‘Where’s your dad? Where’s your husband? Where’s your
brother?’ I was called Mr. Morgan. I was in the hospital at the VA in 1993 and they had to close the whole wing down for me, being a woman veteran because there
were open-bay bathrooms. They’ve come a long way, but they still have a long ways to go yet. We seem to get our women’s clinic and then we take some steps
back because they have more men and need to put the men in the women’s clinic. We don’t have our own sacred place that we really need.”
Morgan feels that things have changed for the better for women since
she first joined the Air National Guard.
“A lot of things have changed,” Morgan said. “Number one, women
are able to fight in combat now, even though we always were in the
Gulf War and in Vietnam. Women are fighters, but they didn’t want to
acknowledge that. But now, we have the women who are called
Lionesses. Men are more accepting of women being in now. But you
still have the old guard. Everything is still going on.”
There are 529 members in Morgan’s VFW Post. She is in charge of all
operations of the post, its auxiliaries and the canteen. She is like the
CEO of a non-profits and Morgan wants to make sure they are well
taken care of.
“My thing is every single person who comes in here, if they want a
hug, they get a hug from Commander Care Bear,” Morgan said. “That’s
what I am known for. If people come in, right when I walk in the door, I
go ‘Care Bear’ and everyone says, ‘Care Bear.’ And I walk around and
give everyone hugs. It brings down any tension that might be in there.
And it lifts everyone’s spirits.”
While Morgan has a warm heart for the vets — they have been through
a lot together — she is also one tough cookie. While some of the old
guard may have their attitudes about race and women, Morgan gives
them the help and support that they need. She deals with it and keeps
on going, pretty much what she has had to do her entire life. And most
importantly, she is still there to serve and protect. That’s the Air
National Guard way.