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National Guard honors Pagosa teacher with new assignment

When he was still in high school, Jesse Morehouse told his dad he wanted to join the army and help protect his country.

Just a couple of weeks ago, the local high school math and computer sciences teacher was honored with the assignment of a new command in the National Guard.

On Nov. 7, in a ceremony performed at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Maj. Jesse Morehouse assumed command of the 117th Space Battalion.

Morehouse, the most junior of five candidates, was selected for this new assignment through an interview process. Battalion command is a very competitive assignment because the success or failure of the individual demonstrates their potential for increased responsibility. Typically battalion commands are awarded to lieutenant colonels, a level Morehouse will not be eligible for under military regulations until next year.

The 117th Space Command Battalion is one of only three operational battalions in the U.S. Army, and uniquely the only one in the National Guard, that conducts space enhancement operations — that is, sending out teams of experts to help units take fuller advantage of military and civilian space capabilities. Some of those capabilities include call positioning systems, satellite communications, and military and civilian imaging satellites which photograph the earth from space. The 117th is also an active duty battalion.

Morehouse, son of local ranchers Jim and Lucile Morehouse, is chair of the Pagosa Springs High School Computer Science Department. He and his wife, Kristin, and two children, David and Ruth Ann, reside in Pagosa Springs.

Growing up in the small mountain town of Jamestown in Colorado, he had the military on his mind from an early age.

“An army recruiter called me out of the blue about joining the Army Reserves,” Morehouse recounted in an interview following the change of command ceremony.

Scoring highly on the military aptitude test, he had his choice of assignments, and enlisted as a private in the infantry. While studying at the University of Colorado, he joined the ROTC, finishing as a Distinguished Military Graduate, and receiving a bachelor’s of science in computer information systems and a master’s of science in education. Morehouse went on to active duty as an infantry officer in the regular Army, serving for five and a half years.

Valuing time with his parents, however, he chose not to make active military his career. Instead he joined the Virginia National Guard. It was during that timeframe that he met and married Kristin. He was called up for active duty shortly after the 9/11 attack to serve at Fort Meade, Md., for a year and a half to augment the security forces protecting the National Security Agency against potential terrorist attacks. One of his assignments while on active duty included the Army’s Honor Guard in Washington, DC — the unit that does all the funerals at Arlington National Cemetery and full-honor ceremonies for dignitaries. When he finished that stint, he returned to Colorado with his family and joined his current unit.

Last year, Morehouse was deployed to the Middle East for eight months in support of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Asked if that assignment had any impact on his selection for his new command post, he responded:

“I worked at a very high-level Air Force headquarters in Qatar as an Army guy coordinating operations with them (the Air Force); it was very interesting and hard work. In my military career I’ve always concentrated on getting the hard jobs, and my accomplishments in those jobs helped a lot in my selection as battalion commander. Being deployed to a war zone and actually using the skills that I have and being successful definitely helped.”

Morehouse has now been in the military for over 17 years. He enjoys serving his country and his community. Through both the military and his job as a school teacher, he feels like he’s doing something to make the world a better place.

According to Morehouse, the National Guard has as its first mission defense of our country. It also has another mission to respond to state-level emergencies and disasters, such as the snow storms on the eastern plains last year, tornadoes, and sometimes wildfires.

“What’s neat about the National Guard compared to the Army Reserve,” Morehouse stated, “is that it’s made up of soldiers who live among everyone in the community, where their roots are. They could never do the job with its extensive time commitments if their communities didn’t support them — like the Pagosa Springs school system, which supported me when I was deployed to the Middle East last year. They had to find a substitute computer teacher for eight months, which is incredibly hard in rural Colorado, but they welcomed me back. Pagosa has been a very supportive community. When I left, people were very supportive. I found out months after I returned that there were entire churches praying for my safety.”

Morehouse went on to say, ”How really rewarding the National Guard is. You’re involved in something that’s bigger than yourself — taking care of your community and your state. The military has taught me discipline. It’s taught me to sharpen my mental abilities. It’s taught me skills and given me confidence to do things myself that are difficult and complicated. And so I think it’s made me a better person, a better teacher, and a better father, and a better husband. It’s been a very positive experience for me.

“You get the real rewards in life through hard work and what you give of yourself, and that’s what gives you the payback that really means something in the end.

“The National Guard is really good as a career for young kids to start to figure out who they are in the world and give them skills. Even if they only sign up for one enlistment, they’re going to leave a more capable person and better prepared for success than if they walked into a job just off the street or out of high school. The pay is very fair and the GI Bill provides great benefits for getting a college education. And depending on what job they sign up for, some of the skills they learn are very applicable in the real world.”

Morehouse concluded, “None of us are really successful in life without the support of other people. Having a community that supports you and an employer that supports you and family that supports you — all of that allows each one of us to rise much higher than we ever could on our own. The service is a rewarding career, and I plan to continue for as long as they’re happy to have me around.”