Sarah Blake Morgan’s career was going about as well as one could hope. Unfortunately, she was kind of over it.
At 31, the multimedia reporter had been in the journalism game for nearly a decade. A compelling storyteller, she’d pushed out quality pieces for Texas and North Carolina TV news stations before landing with The Associated Press.
But, now, she felt herself drowning in a sea of comfort and routine.
“I don’t remember the last time I did something truly difficult,” she tweeted in 2020. “I’ve been stuck in a state of mediocrity for a long time.”
So, she joined the Army. Talk about shaking things up.
Of course, it wasn’t that simple. Some dots would need connecting before Morgan would consider enlistment as the cure for what ailed her.
“Joining the military, that was the furthest thing from my mind,” she said.
‘She doesn’t take the normal paths’
In retrospect, though, it’s not a total surprise the military bug ultimately bit. Her grandfather was an Army colonel – a World War II battlefield commission, in fact. Her husband, also a journalist, is a Gold Star son, having lost his Green Beret father to action in Afghanistan. And, professionally, Morgan had her sights set on becoming a war correspondent.
“I didn’t know that she would become a soldier, necessarily,” said Molly Grantham, an evening news anchor for WBTV in Charlotte, North Carolina, who has worked closely with Morgan. “But she’s up for a challenge, she doesn’t take the normal paths. It totally made sense.”
The pieces were there all along. But it would take the 82nd Airborne to bring them together.
While reporting on a unit departure from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Morgan teased the 82nd’s public affairs officer that she was ready to join them, right then and there.
“I told him, ‘Hey, you know, I’ve got my bag in my car if you have room for one more,’” she recalled.
The PAO laughed off the idea of a reporter embedding on five minutes’ notice, but Morgan’s ambition connected. The PAO soon called, offering her a spot alongside 75 paratroopers headed to Colombia in a couple of weeks for an international training mission.
Morgan was one of only two women on the weeklong training mission in January 2020, the other an Army medic. When the medic declared she’d be bunking in the same barracks as her male counterparts, Morgan sounded off.
“If she’s staying with them, so am I,” she insisted, stunned at her own audacity. “I thought, ‘What’d I just get myself into it?’”
Amid the penetrating humidity and round-the-clock training, Morgan bore witness in her storytelling to the fierce commitment of the 82nd soldiers. But in sweating and struggling alongside the paratroopers, her own story was beginning to form.
“Just witnessing and experiencing the camaraderie stirred something in me,” Morgan said. “It’s really where all this started for me.”
‘I didn’t fit the mold’
Just a week after returning, Morgan found herself talking to an Army recruiter, who quickly sized up the well-dressed, 30-something journalist. He blew her off.
“I didn’t fit the mold,” said Morgan, reflecting on her age and apathy for exercise. “I didn’t run or anything. I had nothing resembling a fitness routine.”
But the switch had already flipped inside Morgan; she wasn’t turning back. Through some military connections, she secured the promise of an Army Reserve commission – assuming she complete enlisted basic training and Officer Candidate School.
“The night before I shipped to Fort Leonard Wood [for basic training in March 2021], I was in the shower hyperventilating,” Morgan said. “I was leaving a very comfortable life, a husband who loved me. I was terrified.”
Morgan’s panic soon turned to hope, even pride, as she navigated the challenges boot camp tosses at every new recruit. Even her age proved a benefit.
“I think because I had some life experience, I was able to comfort and encourage some of them,” Morgan said of the other trainees. “But, really, I was more amazed at some of their life stories, single moms and others with incredible life circumstances, and still kicking ass.”
It was at Fort Benning, Georgia, during OCS, that Morgan’s transformation from journalist to Joe – civilian to soldier – felt most complete.
“I honestly enjoyed every minute,” she said. “Maybe not in the actual moment, but when you take away the makeup and other stuff, and you’re going through the same miserable conditions as everyone else in the field, it just bonds you in a way you can’t get anywhere else.”
Journalist and a soldier
Morgan misses it mightily – the shared suffering and laughs, the unquestionable sense of purpose – all of it. On returning to life as a reservist earlier this year, she’d wake and just lie in bed, her conversations with non-military friends resonating less than they had before enlistment.
“For the first couple days, I didn’t know what to do with myself,” she said. “I’m like, ‘Put me in coach.’ I’m bummed that I can’t yet deploy, which if I said that to most people, that sounds crazy. It’s left me very confused, but in a good way.”
As she awaits further training as an Army Military Intelligence officer – a requirement for deployable status – Morgan has poured herself back into television reporting, her transformation now evident in her civilian profession, as well.
“She’s very in tune with the environment around her, and I think going to boot camp married up with that really well,” Grantham said. “She knows more about who she is, that she values structure and routine. She knows what makes her tick.”
Things that used to stress her out no longer bother her. And she said she’s never been so confident.
“I look back over the past year, and say, ‘Yeah, I’ve already done something harder than that,’” Morgan said.
And for Morgan to get where she is, she had to “dig deep,” according to Grantham.
“Not many people can say they know what it’s like to be a journalist and a soldier,” Grantham said.