ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. --
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Many recruiters form close bonds with their future Marines, especially when they share common life experience -- or, in the case of U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Vincent Huggan and Pfc. Stanley Morris, common tragedy.
Huggan’s journey began as a teenage boy with his mother and two younger brothers. In high school, he excelled in track and football. While his mother was cheering him on in the crowd, he always seemed to be missing that father figure. When he looked around him, he could see teammates with their fathers, and even when he was successful, he felt lost.
“It was always bittersweet because my dad wasn’t there to say great job,” Huggan said. “I thought about how that felt and I didn’t want that for my brothers.”
Just as Huggan’s father started coming into the picture, tragedy struck.
“My father, he was kind of in and out of the picture, and then he was trying to make amends to the family,” said Huggan. “He unfortunately died of a heart attack. Obviously my family was in disarray, but it also, for me, put a lot of burden on my shoulders.”
Huggan knew he needed to step up as a father figure to his much younger brothers, the oldest of whom was eight years younger. While in college, he juggled three jobs to help make ends meet for his family in Poughkeepsie, New York.
“Being the oldest of three boys and then having my two younger brothers,” said Huggan, “I didn’t want them to feel the hurt, the pain that I was going through, or that I was feeling by not having a dad there.
“Instead of thinking about all the things that I was going through, the suffering and hurting I was going through, I instantly just threw myself into them.”
Huggan could barely scrap enough money to provide food for his family, so he swallowed his pride and followed his friend to the nearest Marine Corps recruiting station. After enlisting, Huggan used most of his paycheck to move his family into a better town with more opportunities for his brothers.
As Huggan grew as a Marine, his scope of influence expanded beyond just his immediate family. While he was stationed in Pensacola, Florida, he coached youth basketball, which he saw as an opportunity to mentor street kids without a strong family structure.
“We just wanted these kids to have something to idolize other than the low lives or drug dealers they saw in their local community,” he said.
One of Huggan’s Marine Corps mentors convinced him to expand his influence by volunteering for recruiting duty. Here, he met Morris, a quiet 17-year-old, through a pullup challenge at Palm Harbor University High School in Palm Harbor, Florida. Huggan was in the school talking to students, challenging them to do pullups during a wrestling tournament that Morris competed in during his junior year. Morris shyly approached the pullup bar next to a blue and red table with pamphlets and prizes for the students who could complete the most pullups.
Morris gravitated toward physical challenges like this to release the tension he felt at home. This tension came from years of his father falling sick and Morris taking the responsibility to take care of him.
“I don’t think I got a normal childhood with my dad being as sick as he was,” said Morris. “I feel like I had to grow up a little faster than the other kids in my school. I tried to make sure I still had fun, but it made me more sensitive on important tasks to help my mom take care of him and to get him to appointments.”
Like Huggan, Morris took on a fatherly role, but with a twist. Morris was only six and the younger of two brothers when his father first fell ill. He and his older brother Christopher began caring for his father in a sort of role reversal.
Huggan and Morris would later develop a mutual understanding of their common childhood trauma, but at the high school that day, Huggan simply challenged Morris to jump on the pullup bar. Morris hopped up and knocked out nearly eighteen pullups, more than any other student that day.
Morris considered the military for his future but didn’t know which branch. He gathered information to make his decision by observing Huggan. Huggan taught him that the Marines were a brotherhood by showing up to his wrestling matches in the absence of his father. Huggan’s commitment eventually persuaded Morris to join the Marines.
Huggan didn’t realize just how parallel their lives were until he invited Morris and his mother to the recruiting office. Huggan pointed at the next available date, Aug. 17, 2020 , and looked back to see the pale faces of Stanley and his mother, Rosemary, staring in silent shock. Aug. 17 was the anniversary of Stanley’s father passing away. They called it fate.
Whatever they called it, the tragic landscape of Huggan and Morris’ past has channeled past sorrow into a course that enriches the lives of those it cuts across.
“Caring for my dad helped me to care for my fellow Marines, knowing that I will help them as much as I can because they are like family,” Morris said. “I will never give up on my fellow Marines because they will never give up on me. Like my recruiter and my drill instructor and everyone higher up, they made it, and they know I can too.”
Morris graduated Marine Corps Recruit Training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina, Jan. 8. He is now undergoing initial formal training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri to become a motor transportation operator capable of supporting Marine Corps operations throughout the world.
Huggan continues to pursue his passion of mentoring young men and women as a canvassing recruiter at RSS St. Petersburg.