One of the benefits of biography is that it takes us out of ourselves and motivates us to greater faith and works as we are inspired by the life of the person we are reading about. Enjoy and be encouraged by the account of George…
You were built to overcome fear.
A few days ago, I jumped out of a high performance aircraft for the first time in almost five years. The "Basic Airborne Refresher" was a Godsend. While I miserably failed the virtual jump (hey, the VR goggles kept slipping down my face), I needed the reminders of when to pull the Canopy Release Assembly and the proper placement of the Main Lift Web Tick Tab Assembly for a guy my size. My practice landings were poor the first day, and good enough the morning of the jump. It was going to happen.
When I started this blog, I never intended to write about war. It was only the most emotionally and spiritually intense period of my life - what was I thinking???
In Nate Self's "Two Wars", he overlays his experience in the battle of Takur Guar (Roberts' Ridge) as a spiritual battle between good and evil, God and the devil. He sees the Taliban fighters as physical representatives of evil spiritual forces, bent on destroying the good spiritual forces of the operators trapped on that mountain. We are the good guys, they are the bad guys, and Jesus is on our team - evidenced by Nate's cry out to Jesus in the midst of that battle and his subsequent survival.
I wish it were that simple.
My last month in the valley was completely insane. I was on the receiving end of enemy fire every single day I stayed in that valley, many times more than once. Incredibly, not a single soldier with me was killed, with only one man wounded with some shrapnel bits. There is a 6-day break in my journal of enemy contact, where I visited troops at "safe" forward operating bases to the east of our valley. Otherwise, the attacks were so constant that I took to wearing my helmet and body armor around at Able Main.
I should have been dead - repeatedly. My life was only seconds and inches from ending so many times. God had indeed prepared a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
So much conflict is generated by misunderstanding, and, sadly, it often costs lives.
In David Kilcullen's book, "The Accidental Guerrilla", he describes a battle between US Special Forces with their Afghan allies versus the Taliban. In that battle, many of the locals joined in to attack the US forces. Afterward, a journalist followed up with the locals to ask if they hated the US. The local men replied that they didn't hate the US at all. They fought, basically, because a fight broke out and they weren't going to miss it.
This story encapsulated our experience in the Pech Valley.
It always seems the men who die in combat are the ones you think least deserve it.
Shortly after we lost one man, far away from our area, we lost another in a common security mission in the middle of our valley. As a way of keeping the enemy from attacking voting areas, supply units, or local forces, our platoons would set themselves up in known ambush areas..and wait. On one, I was in the back seat of a truck, and we had been there a while. I had to pee.
You may have heard that the only son of a family can't be sent to war. You heard wrong.
We went three months without a KIA. On the one hand, that sounds pretty amazing. Over 1200 fights in a year, and three months with no one killed?
You get used to the danger.
I was interviewed by a reporter from Starts and Stripes, who asked me, “how does everyone deal with a life in which they could die at any moment?” I replied, “they cope by dismissing the danger. You can’t live life walking around and thinking about how you might catch a machine gun bullet in the mouth.”
In 1914, on the Western Front, armed enemies had a widespread "Christmas Truce", exchanging gifts and playing games together on Christmas Day. In the Pech River Valley in 2010, we were attacked four times on Christmas.
November had been a hard month, losing more men in the first part of that month than the entire five months prior combined.
Combat introduces elements into life that we don't find back at home, like flying bullets and explosions. It also removes distractions that affect how we think.
Last time, I shared how very, very few people think of God in the midst of a firefight. However, in those gaps between fights, people think. A daily, acknowledged, consistent, life-threatening danger leads people to think about what matters, and what may matter. Even a high-risk area like ours was really a year of boredom punctuated by regular bursts of intense activity.