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Girl Scout Veteran Series: Joni Morgan


Joni Morgan 2019

As service unit manager and co-director of the Girl Scout Museum at Daisy’s Place, ‘Army Brat’ Joni Morgan says Girl Scouts was her sanity saver growing up. Now, 60 years of Girl Scouting later, she hasn’t slowed down. Read on to learn about her journey in the military and the international world of Girl Scouts.

How long have you been a Girl Scout? I joined as a Brownie in 2nd grade, went all the way through high school, and as an adult became a lifetime member.  Total of 11 years as a girl, 50 years as an adult, so that makes 61 years.

Favorite Girl Scout memory? Oh my, way too many!  One would be primitive camping in pup tents in the rain - we trenched our tents but not enough; one girl's air mattress floated out of her tent.  We DID cook our BBQ chicken on a spit; one girl sacrificed her poncho to put up over the fire; We took turns sharing cooking duties and the remaining ponchos.  We were so proud of ourselves.

Another would be watching my daughter grow and develop, and earn her Gold Award, in the same program that I have loved for so long.

Which Girl Scout Cookie or Fall product item is your favorite? Thin Mint cookies, of course.

What got you interested in the military? I went to college, first to become a veterinarian, then changed my major to zoology, wanting to work in a natural history museum or with the National Park Service.  Federal funding was tight and there were no jobs when I graduated.  My father was a 30-year Army enlisted man so I was used to the concept; I figured I'd spend 4 years in the service and see if things were better after that time.  Long story short - I ended up in the Navy and wouldn't change a thing!

 

Did Girl Scouts influence your decision to join the military? Only peripherally, I think.  More like my life as an Army Brat made me realize how stabilizing the Girl Scout program was.  And I knew I'd "survived" my first 18 years in the service, so to speak, so I felt I was prepared. 

My life as an Army Brat might be seen as chaotic to some - I went to 9 schools, 8 cities in 6 locations (including 3 years in Italy).  Schoolbooks were different each place; fads and jargon different; cliques were already established, and I was always the outsider.  But my parents treated it all as 'just another day'.  And most importantly, there were Girl Scout troops everywhere. I always knew I had a home.  We wore the same uniforms, we worked on the same programs out of the same books, and most importantly - I had a ready-made family of sisters wherever I went. 

How did Girl Scouts prepare you for the military and life beyond? It was in Girl Scouts that I first learned to step outside of my own comfort zone.  I've always been rather organized and logical, but Girl Scouts helped me learn to communicate that to other people, to make things happen, to do things I wouldn't have considered doing myself.  (Like cook that stupid chicken in the rain - definitely wasn't my idea!)  Some of my most passionate interests were generated in Girl Scouts. My first badge was Rock and Mineral, I continued my collection for many years and took 2 semesters of geology in college - fast forward many years, and I was doing enrichment studies in the Oak Ridge school system for elementary, middle school, and high school classes, on rock and minerals formation and on plate tectonics.  

One of my other early badges was Languages (we lived in Italy at the time.)  I found that I have a knack for languages; I took Spanish in high school; several semesters of German, one of French, and one of Swedish in college.  Not fluent by any means but I can communicate basics in Spanish, Italian, German, and Greek.  And since I was stationed overseas all of my active duty time, it was very easy for me to 'slide into the culture' and be comfortable, even though my family was far away.

All the time I was overseas in the Navy, I was documenting my travels - sort of like badge work!  I knew how to plan a trip (another badge was Traveler), and I sent pictures and stories home to my family, sharing with them the things I was learning. That may have been what propelled me into archive work with the museum, documenting items and researching their backgrounds.  Telling more stories!

What branch of service were you in? What rank? US Naval Reserves - retired as an O-6 Captain (think "Captain Janeway of Startrek"!)

How many years did you serve? 5 years active duty, 21 years reserve, total of 26 years

Did you go overseas? As a child, I spent my 4th birthday in Germany; spent 3 years in middle school in Italy.  While on active duty myself, I spent 2 years in Nea Makri Greece (outside of Athens, very close the town of Marathon - origin of the Marathon Race) and 2 years in Naples Italy.  As a reservist, I did also reserve duties in the Philippines twice.

How does your military experience affect your life today? It's part of my psyche. In many ways it just pushed forward what Girl Scouts started - forcing me to step outside of my comfort zone (and deal with it productively), encouraging me to take chances and learn from failures (Girl Scouts taught me that I WILL survive!), and giving me a bit of wanderlust, wanting to travel and get to know people in other lands and cultures - something I believe EVERY US citizen should have the opportunity to do. You realize how small our world really is, and especially how lucky we are in the US.

What are your hobbies today? My major hobbies (outside of my grandson and my furbabies!) are singing/guitar, reading science fiction, learning bits and pieces of other languages, and travel.