1st Lt. Ellen Morrison addresses the 251st Engineer Company shortly after assuming command of the unit. Photo by Maj. Carl Lamb

An avid outdoorswoman, cross-fitter with a first-degree black belt in Taekwondo, 1st Lt. Ellen Morrison of Bowdoin can now add first female commander of the Maine National Guard’s 251st Engineer Company to her list of accomplishments.

Morrison accepted the role of commander at a ceremony attended by family, friends and colleagues in Norway, Maine, on April 30.

The 251st Engineer Company has a lineage that traces back to 1810, with its first campaign during the War of 1812. The company’s goal is to provide obstacle placement, route and area clearance and general engineering support for soldiers in combat.

“I like to think of it — it’s more of based on what I’ve done as a soldier not really based on my gender,” Morrison said in an interview. “I was the most qualified soldier right now to be the commander.”

According to Capt. Jonathan Bratten, the outgoing 251st commander and Maine National Guard historian, over the course of the company’s history there have been an estimated 100 commanders.

As of now, the company includes 95 soldiers from across the state, five or six of whom are female. The unit began including women in combat arms branches in 2016.

“The company is opening up and it’s not based on gender anymore, it’s based on what an individual can do,” Morrison said. “It’s not really based on appearance anymore.”

1st Lt. Ellen Morrison stands for the Army Song, alongside Lt. Col. Shanon Cotta, commander of the 133rd Engineer Battalion, and Capt. Jonathan Bratten, outgoing commander for the 251st Engineer Company. Photo by Maj. Carl Lamb

In her new role, Morrison will oversee organizing and leading the company, both in training and in combat. Her three main focuses include empathy, leadership and initiative.

According to Morrison, training exercises typically emulate previous combat missions and aim to strengthen skills in enemy prevention through obstacle construction and obstacle breeching.

“It’s refreshing your skills, working as a team too, there’s a lot of things we do as a team,” Morrison said. “My biggest thing, during drill is just soldier welfare, checking in on my guys seeing how they are like mentally.”

Before being appointed to commander, Morrison served as a unit executive officer beginning in October 2019. She also previously served as a platoon leader and executive officer with Augusta’s 152nd Support Maintenance Company and served as a platoon leader with the 251st during two out-of-state trainings in New York and Louisiana.

According to Bratten, the company converted from general engineers to combat engineers in 2008, taking on its current designation. From 2004-2005, when it was referred to as Company C, 133rd Engineer Battalion, the unit deployed to Iraq.

In January of 2021, the company was deployed to Washington DC to support the presidential inauguration, with a mission to guard the Madison Building of the Library of Congress.

“Lt. Morrison was selected for her position being the most qualified person to take that position,” said Maine National Guard Public Affairs Officer Maj. Carl Lamb. “It’s also fortunate that that happens to coincide with a significant historical event in her being the first female to command the two-five-one.”

“We are confident that in addition to influencing up-and-coming military leaders regardless of gender, Lt. Morrison will serve as a positive role model for current and prospective female service members,” Lamb added.

Morrison was born in Ukraine and adopted from Russia, growing up in Maryland.

She studied at New England School of Communication and has been in Maine for around eight years, roughly four of which have been in Bowdoin. She works at a visual marketing solutions company out of Brunswick.

Soldiers of the 251st Engineer Company salute for the national anthem during an April 30 change of command ceremony in Norway. Photo by Maj. Carl Lamb


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