Soldier with Harford ties honored after surviving Afghanistan shooting

Sgt. Joe Morrissey holds the body armor plate that saved his life while serving in Afghanistan in 2012. He is with his wife, Nikki, during a recent ceremony at Ft. Belvoir, Va.
Sgt. Joe Morrissey holds the body armor plate that saved his life while serving in Afghanistan in 2012. He is with his wife, Nikki, during a recent ceremony at Ft. Belvoir, Va. (Photo courtesy of Doug Cuddihy, The Aegis)

Were it not for the plate in his body armor, Army Sgt. Joe Morrissey would never have been married, and his daughter would not be ready to enter the world in a matter of weeks.

The reality of the situation was not lost on his wife, Nikki, a Harford County native, who is seven months pregnant with their daughter, Harper, due in November.


"It's pretty amazing how much was able to happen just because of a piece of equipment," Nikki Morrissey said.

Joe Morrissey, a native of Florida, survived being shot in the abdomen by an insurgent on Aug. 9, 2012 during his second deployment to Afghanistan, protected by the Enhanced Small Arms Protective Insert, or ESAPI, plate in his body armor.


The plate is made by Ceradyne Inc., headquartered in Costa Mesa, Calif.

Nikki Morrissey traveled to Ft. Belvoir, Va., with her husband, and father Bob Cole, last week for a ceremony, during which Morrissey received the damaged plate from representatives of Program Executive Officer Soldier, an Army agency tasked with coordinating with defense contractors to design and manufacture soldiers' clothing and equipment, including their body armor.

Nikki and Joe were married on Oct. 6, 2012, about two years after they met. He returned to the U.S. from his second deployment to Afghanistan in September 2012; he had also been deployed in 2010.

He wasn't injured in the shooting other than some bruises, and said he plans to re-enlist and make a career out of the Army.


He is assigned to Bravo Troop, 4th Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, a RSTA (Reconnaissance, Surveillance and Target Acquisition) unit with the 82nd Airborne Division, headquartered in Ft. Bragg, N.C.

He and his wife live in Raeford, N.C., about 25 miles from Ft. Bragg.

She, her father and her husband spoke by telephone from Ft. Belvoir after the ceremony last Wednesday.

"We're thrilled that his body armor did its job; he took a direct shot," Bob Cole, who grew up in Joppatowne and now lives in Fork, said of Joe Morrissey.

He is the owner of Cole Concrete Inc., a concrete contracting firm headquartered in Kingsville.

"We're just thrilled, very proud of him," he said of his son-in-law.

Cole described the turnout for the ceremony as "overwhelming," with Army officers and various news crews.

A PEO Soldier spokesman said about 40 to 50 people attended the ceremony, including a member of Morrissey's fire team with Charlie Troop of the 4-73 Cavalry.

Morrissey was assigned to Charlie Troop when he was serving in Afghanistan.

The soldier, Spc. Sam Walley, had lost an arm and a leg in an IED explosion in June 2012, two months before Morrissey was shot.

The spokesman said Morrissey had been helping Walley with his recovery in the U.S.

Still traumatic

Nikki Morrissey talked about hearing the news of the shooting from her husband, and how it was still traumatic even though he survived.

She was living with his mother in Port Charlotte, Fla., and he called them about 48 hours after the shooting.

"It's hard to hear, even though you're hearing it from him and you know he's OK, it's still kind of traumatic," she said.

Nikki Morrissey said she was relieved, but the danger facing her husband hit "closer to home."

"You try to block it out of your mind and not think about it, the danger that they're in, but when they call you and tell you they got shot, it's kind of hard to block it out," she said.

'Maintain my balance'

Morrissey described the shooting incident in detail.

He said he and his fellow soldiers were conducting a 24-hour surveillance shift of a Main Supply Route, or major road, in his unit's operations area.

The soldiers had received a call from their base regarding several Afghans walking on the road after cutting through the concertina wire. Troops had installed the wire along the edges of the road to secure the Main Supply Route.

Morrissey was traveling in an M-ATV, an all-terrain vehicle armored against land mines, with two other soldiers.

They encountered a farmer and two children on the road, which cut through an agricultural region.

Morrissey got out of his vehicle and went up to the man and the children and was speaking with them when their attention suddenly shifted away from him to activity taking place behind him.

The sergeant turned around and spotted an armed insurgent in a nearby vineyard.

"As soon as I spun around, he was 30 meters away from my position and shot me," Morrissey recalled.

He said the impact of the rounds was "like a really quick jab, or a sucker punch to the abdomen."

Morrissey shot back at the insurgent, who was using the mud walls of the vineyard "to his advantage."

He got back to his vehicle, but could not "confirm or deny" if he hit the insurgent; he said the farmer and the children were able to get away safely.

He was not knocked down after being shot.

"I was actually able to maintain my balance throughout the entire exchange [with the insurgent]," Morrissey said.

The sergeant said he traveled back to his base after the shooting, received a new plate and went back out on patrol.

Army medical staff later examined him to ensure he had no internal injuries, and the plate involved in the shooting was taken for testing.

"Within a few days, I was right back down the line with my men and we were able to continue the mission," Morrissey said.

He thanked the staff of PEO Soldier, which conducted a "forensic engineering analysis" of the armor plate, according to a press release.

"It's just a great feeling to know that my equipment works, I'm home safe and I'm now married and have a child on the way," Morrissey said.

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