Geoff Morrell, the new chief spokesman for Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Geoff Morrell, the new chief spokesman for Defense Secretary Robert Gates. (Molly A. Burgess / DOD)

ARLINGTON, Va. — The Pentagon has a new press secretary, Geoff Morrell, a former correspondent for ABC’s “World News Tonight” Saturday and Sunday editions.

As chief spokesman for Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Morrell plans to hold daily, informal meetings with the Pentagon press corps to explain his boss’ policies and positions.

The most high-visibility part of his job is his position as “the face and voice of the Pentagon,” facing television cameras and the press corps during weekly or semi-weekly briefings from the podium.

Sometimes Morrell will tackle the press solo during those televised sessions, and at other times he will introduce other officials and subject-matter experts, as he did during his maiden appearance Wednesday for a briefing on Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, or MRAPs.

A Washington native, Morrell grew up next door to anchor Peter Jennings, who inspired him to aim for television journalism. Morrell worked as an intern at ABC while attending Georgetown University, then received a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University.

He left Washington to begin his television career with an ABC affiliate in Little Rock, Ark., where he covered Gov. Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign, then quickly moved up until he reached his goal of becoming a national network correspondent.

ABC hired him to staff its Chicago bureau in 2000, then moved him to Washington to cover the White House.

As much as Morrell loved reporting, however, it left him with the feeling there was something more he wanted, or needed, to do, he told Stars and Stripes on Thursday.

He knew many of his colleagues found “enormous satisfaction from reporting, feeling as though they were doing a public service.”

For Morrell, however, “It was not nearly satisfying enough, in terms of the realm of public service.

“I was always interested in doing more. [I would ask myself] how do I contribute more than just reporting on these events? I would love to contribute to them in a more concrete fashion.”

When White House officials approached him in April to see if he might be interested in the Pentagon spokesman position, he said, “I was immediately interested.”

“I thought it was an incredible opportunity not just for me, personally, but for me to give back, and for me to be a part of what I think is a very important effort on the part of the United States to fight the war on terror. And I am unashamed and unabashed in my desire to help that effort.”

Morrell has never served in the military, but says he does count several members as personal friends.

He also has personal connections to the war on terror. On Sept. 11, he lost a friend from boarding school, who died in the World Trade Center attack, while his wife, Ann, an attorney with insurance brokerage firm Aon Corp., lost 19 employees from her department.

After the attack ABC sent Morrell to New York, where he spent three weeks in lower Manhattan, reporting on rescue and recovery efforts.

The scene there made an indelible impression on him, Morrell said.

“In the wake of that, you have a great a deal of patriotism, not that I didn’t have it before,” Morrell said. “That’s an itch I haven’t been able to scratch until now.”

Now Morrell has his chance to serve and give back, “And I’m thrilled to have it,” he said.

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