Teledyne FLIR Defense Salutes Our Veterans: Interview with Dan Morgan

This November, Teledyne FLIR Defense is honoring the experiences and accomplishments of our military Veteran employees, who have served throughout the world before continuing their careers within our organization. 

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We’re beginning this month with an interview with Dan Morgan, Senior Director of Operational Excellence for Defense. This year, Dan co-authored a memoir of his experiences as a U.S. Army Colonel in Iraq, Black Hearts and Painted Guns: A Battalion’s Journey Into Iraq’s Triangle of Death. This book, written from the perspective of U.S. Army infantryman Kelly Eads, chronicles a deployment during Operation Iraqi Freedom and the hunt for Abu Musab al Zarqawi in 2005-2006.

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The book is told through the eyes of Kelly Eads, an infantryman in your battalion. What was the process of collaborating on Black Hearts and Painted Guns?  

Morgan: The reason the book was possible was because, unbeknownst to me, Kelly had kept a journal of his deployment. I also kept a journal on all my deployments. So we both had these records, but then we went our separate ways and eventually he left the Army. I stayed in and continued to deploy.  

By the time we finally reconnected, he was in the process of writing down and putting his thoughts from his journal together for his immediate friends from the unit, as well as for the gold-star family members. He was hoping to give them some insight into who their husbands were and how brave and courageous they’d been, and how much everybody loved each other in combat. 

He shared that writing project with me and asked me to take a look at it, and there were some areas where I had an opportunity to give better insight into what was happening back in those moments from two decades back. There were circumstances he was not aware of because he was a foot soldier in their fighting in the trenches. I was guiding in the battle and in the combat engagements as well, but I was the one coordinating on behalf of the commander and other forces you couldn’t see on the ground. 

So I proposed giving context to why these things happened during the conflict, so the readers would get the full picture of why we were doing what we were doing. After I went through and started adding in that layer of the story, the next thing you know, I read it and I said, "Hey man, this is turning into something pretty impressive, and we might want to look at actually making it a book." Next thing I know, I signed up to be one of the authors. I had the experience writing for other projects, so I knew about the character development and make it smell and feel for readers. That's what Kelly and I did. We just iterated back and forth for almost a year-and-a-half. 

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Were there any specific incidences while you were talking through the story with Eads that surprised you with the perspective you hadn't known or considered before? It sounds like you surprised or filled in many of those blanks for him, but what was he able to fill in for you? 

Morgan: He pushed me to be honest. After all of that experience, you can begin to get compassion fatigue. When you have so many casualties around you on a day-to-day basis, whether you're physically on the ground and seeing it happen or in the background, you get callous in some ways. Not in the sense that you're trying to fully ignore it or avoiding the violence and the loss, but it becomes routine and that's dangerous.

I was given a warning by a friend of mine, a senior officer during my fourth out of seven deployments that were a year or longer. He said, "You need to be careful. This is becoming your personality. It's becoming who you are."

After being deployed so much, that compassion fatigue had set in. I had forgotten details of traumatic events. It was very eye-opening and emotional for me because I had buried it, and just kept picking up and moving on. By writing his own narrative, Eads brought me back to the taste and the fear and the love and the bravery and everything that we were seeing and doing during that deployment.

In a lot of ways it was really healthy for me to deal with those things that I've ignored, although it did trigger some bad dreams, but that's a process. It's a process in and of itself. That's what Kelly really gave me. It gave me that reflection, which re-energized me to connect with the soldiers and the families that are still with us, as well as the ones that are left by our fallen heroes.

In that same vein, it's mentioned in the foreword that you hadn't been in touch with some of the characters in the book for quite a few years. What does that relationship look like now after this project? 

Morgan: It's strong. It was always there. There's a bond between soldiers and experiencing extreme circumstances that you can pick up, even after a long time has passed. It feels like it was just yesterday, even though it was five years later, but it's more intimate and they know that I'm there for them when they call or need something, so I respond immediately. It helped me reprioritize those relationships because they're profound. They're just extreme compared to day-to-day life. 

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How would you recommend, for those who are in the military now or are now more recent veterans, for them to remain connected to that community?

Morgan: Military people, when they're on active duty, are bound by a comradery that is all about mission, their soldiers and the families. And they're just intertwined so tightly, and it's a phenomenal bond that you generally can't experience anywhere else except maybe in your own family unit. But it's such an exceptional relationship and way of life that when you get out, it falls apart. That mission focus is not the same and it's not with the same people. When you get out, it breaks. It's hard to make that transition back to where you find that purpose and that comradery with a group of people. You have to find those people that you served with locally or regionally, whatever, that you stay in contact in some way, shape or form. Because it helps you transition and it helps you be stronger as well in that aspect.

What are some other unique challenges that the Veterans community has faced?

Morgan: Many times what you see with Gold Star families that have lost their soldier, their fallen hero, they actually are even further isolated than those who return. Because the connective tissue that held them together with other families and other Veterans is gone. It's hard for them to integrate within the veteran community, which is why Gold-Star-family programs and Veteran service organizations are critical.

But don't get me wrong, there's more post-traumatic stress growth in military veterans and families, even those that have lost someone, than people believe. The veteran community is incredibly strong. Everybody in the media and so forth focuses on the negative, but there's a lot of positives out there that we can grab onto. That's really what the purpose of that book was too, as well, to help everybody understand what happened during that time.


“It gave me that reflection, which re-energized me to connect with the soldiers and the families that are still with us, as well as the ones that are left by our fallen heroes.”


There was a significant effort in the book to describe the technology that the soldiers both worked with and faced off against in post-9/11 Iraq. Can you talk about seeing those technologies evolve from the time the book took place to now? 

Morgan: As an operations officer and commander during those times, my situational awareness and being able to see the battlefield three-dimensionally was nowhere near what it is today. In just a decade, the technology that we had during the "global war on terrorism" grew exponentially. 

When you get down to companies at the tactical, small-unit level, those units now have more capabilities at their fingertips at the lower levels that we did not have at the top back then. At that time, we were relying on radio transmissions and words that were describing to us what had happened. Then we had to think through those reports and make decisions and provide them with what we thought they needed. 

The more combat experience you had, the better you were able to understand what was going on in the battlefield and being able to support them as best you could. You had to try and visualize what was happening and how they were organized on the ground and what they needed to do. Now you can see everything. 

Did your experience with a technologically-advancing warfare situation influence your interest and passion for the work you do now?  

Morgan: I tried to get away from the military and I tried to get away from casualties. I tried to get away from anything that was going to take me back into combat and stress and war and violence. I wanted to move forward and experience the American way of life doing something completely different for two reasons. One for the experience in my own development, but two, to get away from where I’d been for 20 years.

But I found myself working my way back into defense technology and then I found Teledyne FLIR. Well, Teledyne FLIR found me, and then I began to realize that, hey, it's about service and it's about national security and people. It turns out that Teledyne FLIR, the mission and the technology that we provide to law enforcement and militaries is just absolutely phenomenal. The people that I work with are phenomenal too. It brought me back into that mission soldiers and family thing, so it's helped me in that type of transition as well. But that's brought me back into this and why I'm at Teledyne FLIR today.

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Here at Teledyne FLIR Defense, we have a strong presence of veterans both here in the US and our ally nations. What do you think it is about the organization here that we offer value to military veterans entering the civilian workforce?

Morgan: I think it’s the ability that former military people have when it comes to treating people with dignity and respect. There's that bond and understanding that enables interaction internally within the company to allow us to work as a team and succeed. I think despite stresses that every organization or company has, our leadership gives us a mission and an objective. We go after it and we work together to get there, and we understand what the risks are and we hold each other accountable and we do that through dignity and respect. I think that's the foundation, the golden rule that the military instills in people, and I think that's translated itself here.

I'd also have to say that even those who have not served in the military, recognize what the value is of the technology that we provide to our local and state and federal-law enforcement and protecting communities and valuing lives. I think that type of service and purpose, whether you're a military veteran or not, has served this company very, very well.

There’s a section in the book where we describe the hunt for Zarqawi, and I was controlling all the ground operations during that particular mission. There were a number of firefights that you could hear across the horizon. One of our aircraft went down, and my best friend was shot down and killed, which was obviously devastating during that deployment. Fast-forward years later when I’m working at Teledyne FLIR, and through just random day-to-day conversations, I learned that one of my colleagues had lost his best friend in that same exact incident—his best friend was my best friend’s co-pilot. We had no idea that our civilian jobs brought us together as coworkers and friends long before we made the connection.

That really stuck with me about what Teledyne FLIR is about. This is what we’re providing to the militaries, the law enforcement communities, etc. That kind of community where someone controlling ground operations and the other controlling air operations, both losing their best friends, can meet and work together all these years later—it’s a transcendent sort of connection.

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