A Toledo soldier who was survived an attack on her training unit in Afghanistan will serve as the grand marshal of Toledo’s 2013 Holiday Parade on Saturday.
Specialist Stephanie Morris, 24, a 2007 graduate of Libbey High School, will arrive by air on Friday from Walter Reed Army National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.
Ms. Morris suffered serious wounds to her leg and foot in the attack on June 18 near Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan and is still undergoing rehabilitation.
Ms. Morris will be escorted by the Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club in the 2013 26th Annual Blade Holiday Parade presented by the Taylor Automotive Family.
The parade steps off at 10 a.m. Saturday on North Summit and Jefferson streets in downtown Toledo. It continues north on Summit, heads west on Jackson Boulevard, and moves south on Huron Avenue until ending at Huron and Monroe streets.
More than 100 clowns from the Distinguished Clown Corps will distribute candy, and marching bands, Shriners, four giant helium balloons, “hospitality elves,” choirs, characters from the movie Planes, and of course a certain jolly character in a red suit and with a bushy, white beard will march.
The planned 70 units include the University of Toledo Marching Band, high school marching bands, Buddy the Elf, baton twirlers, dance teams, dogs that do tricks, the Toledo Horsemen Club, six Clydesdales pulling a carriage, and single horses from Lucas County 4H Club.
Imagination Station will offer visits with Santa Claus from noon to 6 p.m. where Ms. Morris will greet the public after the parade. A timed ticket is required and can be obtained free when purchasing admission to Imagination Station.
Mark Peddicord, The Blade’s consumer marketing engagement manager, said he learned about Ms. Morris after seeing a flyer for a fund-raiser.
“We found a role model for our young people that they would respect and also a modern hero,” said Mr. Peddicord. “What a great young lady, protecting this great nation of ours and doing all she can do so you and I can enjoy Christmas.”
Ms. Morris, reached by The Blade, said she was eager to visit Toledo, but said she could not stay long because she must return to continue her recovery.
“I have to stay at Walter Reed because I still have to go through the recovery process and still have physical therapy and other appointments every day,” she said.
“If I was able to fully recover I would go back [to Afghanistan],” Ms. Morris said.
Her injury occurred in a frightening attack that occurred as she and her fellow soldiers were returning from a training mission off-base.
They were waiting for their transportation back to the base when mortar rounds struck near them and they scrambled for cover. Private Morris screamed to be heard by her squad leader while attempting to help one of her unit members and friend to safety, according to a description of the incident.
She did not immediately realize she had suffered critical wounds to her left femur, which was broken and protruding from her body. Bones were shattered in her right foot.
Ms. Morris was treated at the Army’s field medical facility and then moved to Landstahl, Germany, before being flown to Walter Reed.
Private Morris received the Afghanistan Campaign MFOAL Army Commendation Medal, Combat Action Badge, NATO Medal, Overseas Service Ribbon, Army Service Ribbon, and Purple Heart. She is the daughter of Relda Bates and Lawrence Morris, Sr. Her stepfather is Mandale Bates, all of Toledo.
Ms. Morris's commander, Capt. Eric Baca, called Ms. Morris, "one of the best soldiers a commander could ask to serve with.
"She continually put herself in danger by executing many responsibilities and jobs within the convoys she was tasked to serve within. She was and continues to be the heartbeat of the company. Her personality and charisma inspired many soldiers to continue after the loss of two soldiers before this incident," Captain Baca said.
Ms. Morris said she attended Owens Community College for two years and earned her certification as a medical assistant from Ross Medical College in Sylvania before following her brother Marcus Matlock and enlisting in the Army in November, 2011. She is a member of the 32nd Transportation Company, Fort Carson, Colo.
Despite her training, she wanted to be a truck driver rather than a medic, she said.
At Libbey she played basketball and tennis, and ran track.
Ms. Morris will get a hero's welcome, said Dave “Braker” Caughorn, president of the Toledo chapter of the Vietnam Veterans Motorcycle Riders.
He said his club, as well as the Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club and the Patriot Guard Riders, supported by the Lucas County Sheriff’s Office, will escort her from Toledo Express Airport, where she arrives at 10:30 a.m. Friday. They’ll go to the Sultan Club, 8959 Dorr St., for a ceremony and lunch in her honor.