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National Guard recruiter dismissed for dating 17-year-old recruit

June 20, 1997

CANTON, Mo. (AP) _ In a gymnasium full of teen-agers in rented tuxedos and sparkling dresses, Donny Morgan stood out.

At 35, Morgan was twice the age of most of those attending the Canton High School prom last month, including his 17-year-old date, Bobbie Jo Childress. His attire was different, too _ Morgan, a Missouri National Guard recruiter who had recently enlisted Bobbie Jo, was wearing his best dress uniform.

The date angered some parents in this quiet northeast Missouri town. And it cost the staff sergeant his job.

Morgan, a 15-year veteran of the National Guard, claims he was forced to resign his full-time job as a recruiter Monday. Though he remains ``weekend warrior″ training one weekend a month, he lost his full-time paycheck and benefits.

Phone calls from The Associated Press to Bobbie Jo, who’s in basic training at Fort Leonard Wood in central Missouri, were unreturned.

Morgan said Friday it’s all a big misunderstanding. But he conceded he has fallen in love with the young woman.

``I told her when I met her that I was looking for a woman to spend the rest of my life with,″ he said.

Amid military sex scandals becoming an almost daily news story in recent months, Morgan hasn’t been accused of sexual misconduct. But the appearance of impropriety apparently helped spur his downfall.

A Guard spokesman, Maj. Ken MacNevin, would not comment on specifics about the Morgan case, but said, ``We do not consider it appropriate for recruiters to have personal relationships with those they recruit.″

Morgan said he plans to contact state legislators to see whether they can help get his job back. And he has allies in Bobbie Jo’s parents, who say they support their daughter’s relationship with him.

``I totally disagree with what they’ve done to this guy,″ said Carla Childress, who’s two years younger than Morgan. She plans to write to the governor to help Morgan get his job back.

In fact, it was Carla Childress who suggested Morgan take Bobbie Jo to the prom, held at the high school gym on May 2.

``She told me she wasn’t going to prom,″ Mrs. Childress said. ``That’s something a child should not miss. I said, `Bobbie Jo, what would you think about Donny taking you?‴

Morgan and Bobbie Jo’s father, Bob, met last year and became friends. Morgan met Bobbie Jo through her father and he piqued her interest in the National Guard.

Through the winter, as she began visiting Morgan’s recruiting office in nearby Hannibal to inquire and eventually enlist, the two developed a friendship that blossomed as Morgan _ at Mrs. Childress’ urging _ took on the role of Bobbie Jo’s protector.

An on-again, off-again boyfriend had been harassing Bobbie Jo _ making threats and obsessively calling on her, Mrs. Childress said. Morgan became a nearly constant companion to help keep Bobbie Jo safe.

So when Mrs. Childress asked him to take Bobbie Jo to the prom, his only question was what to wear. She suggested his dress uniform.

The appearance of a 30-something man at a high school prom didn’t sit well with some parents who were there. A letter, signed ``Concerned parents in Canton, Missouri,″ alerted National Guard officials.

``As a small town we are offended that a grown man chose to attend a high school prom with 14- through 19-year-old children,″ the letter read. ``But that he chose to attend it as a representative of the U.S. or Missouri state armed forces is appalling.″

One parent, who asked to remain anonymous, said, ``I can’t imagine with the scandals the way they are now with all the branches of the military that nothing was done wrong.″

Despite losing his job and becoming the subject of small-town gossip, Morgan maintains his appearance at the prom was not out of line.

``I would probably do it again,″ he said.

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