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Air Force Tech. Sgt. Michael Morris developed an interest in fixing things from an early age growing up in northern Minnesota. That passion would take him around the world serving his country.

Morris died in Cordenons, Italy, on Jan. 12 while stationed at Aviano Air Base. He specialized in maintaining helicopters and had been deployed multiple times to Afghanistan and Iraq.

Morris had COVID-19 when he died, but Air Force representatives said no cause of death has yet been determined because autopsy results remain incomplete. He was 36.

Family members remembered Morris as a strong-willed, energetic, humorous and caring father of three children.

"If he put his mind to something, you know he was going to do it," said his wife, Amanda Morris, of Deer River, Minn.

Morris was raised largely by his grandmother on the Leech Lake Reservation. As a member of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, Morris was proud of his Native American heritage and kept a bear claw with him that represented his clan, said his brother Aaron Morris of Cass Lake, Minn. The brothers discovered a shared love of mechanics after stumbling across a junked bike frame and converting it into a ridable bicycle — the first of many they built together.

"We didn't have [any] adult's help," Aaron Morris said. "It was my brother and me putting our minds together."

Morris later developed a passion for working on cars, then much heavier machinery after he joined the military.

He enlisted in the Air Force in 2006 and, as a technical sergeant, specialized in maintaining the HH-60 helicopters typically flown in combat zones.

Aaron Morris said his brother was determined to make those helicopters "perform the way they need to so they can save lives."

Maj. Christopher Clark, commander of Morris' aircraft maintenance squadron, said Morris' colleagues were deeply saddened by his death.

"Mike was well known and highly respected in our community," Clark said in a statement. "He was a friend to many and we'll miss him dearly."

While in Minnesota, Morris had a passion for the outdoors and enjoyed hiking, fishing and hunting.

"He missed coming home and being in the woods. He missed the snow," his brother said.

In addition to his wife and brother, survivors include daughters Matehya and Makenna, son Brayden, all of Deer River, and sisters Krissy Morris of Worthington, Minn., Deahna Wiganowski of Wichita, Kan., and Brittany Wienand of Minneapolis.

Eric Roper • 612-673-1732