/ / Language: English / Genre:prose_military / Series: Battlefields and Blessings

Stories of Faith and Courage fron the War in Iraq and Afghanistan

Jane Cook

In this newest installment of the Battlefields & Blessings series, Stories of Faith and Courage from the War in Iraq & Afghanistan is a 365 day collection of inspiring stories of courage perseverance and faith based on first-hand accounts of more than seventy individuals who have served in the war. Through multiple, never-before-told stories, readers will uncover the personal challenges of the battlefield. In Stories of Faith and Courage from the War in Iraq & Afghanistan you will discover the experiences and perspectives of deployed soldiers, chaplains, military wives and parents, organizers of humanitarian efforts, and veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. It has won the prestigious 2010 Gold Medal Award from the MWSA (Military’s Writers Society of America) and the 2010 Silver Medal Award from the Branson Stars and Flags Book Award. Through multiple, never-before-told stories, readers will uncover the personal challenges of the battlefield. In Stories of Faith and Courage from the War in Iraq & Afghanistan you’ll find the experiences and perspectives of deployed soldiers, chaplains, military wives and parents, organizers of humanitarian efforts, veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, loved ones of fallen soldiers, and more. You'll meet: • The crew member on a Marine transport vessel combating a dust storm during the invasion. • A major overcoming bureaucratic challenges to stand up the Iraq Air Force. • A three-star general motivating his team to build a stronger Iraq through reconstruction projects. • The mother of a Navy SEAL who herself demonstrated tremendous courage under fire after her son’s death. • And a congressman heralding the founding principles of our nation, ones he passed along to his son who served in Iraq. Readers will come away appreciating those who have lived loudly for liberty.

Jane Hampton Cook, Jocelyn Green, John Croushorn

Stories of Faith and Courage from the

WAR IN IRAQ & AFGHANISTAN

Dedication

Dedicated to those who have lived loudly for liberty in Iraq and Afghanistan and their families.

January 1

WHITE HOUSE RUN

Jane Hampton Cook, Former White House Deputy Director of Internet News Services

“Take off your shoes and run,” the security officer called to me.

I’ll never forget that moment on September 11, 2001. Hundreds of my White House colleagues and I were evacuating the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (EEOB), the grand Victorian building next door to the West Wing.

At less than five feet tall, I don’t have the leg length to run quickly, but I ran as fast I could to exit the White House complex. I remember the sick feeling I had when I learned that two planes had attacked the World Trade Center and a third plane had just hit the Pentagon. The possibility of a fourth plane striking the White House was very real.

On that unforgettable date, my job responsibility was developing and designing the content for the official White House website. I was working on a new page focusing on President George W. Bush’s educational initiative, but that page never was posted. Instead we created new postings, highlighting America’s multi-front response: diplomatic efforts, military attacks, financial blocking of terrorist financing, and humanitarian aid.

When I think about September 11, I remember two things: the courage of those first responders, many who lost their lives, and America’s strength, resilience, and commitment to freedom. A few days after the terrorist attacks, my mother had shared with me Psalms 91, a biblical passage that strengthened me during this difficult time. I found it fascinating that Psalm 91:1 (9-1-1) brought such as powerful message. “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty” and in verse 11, “he will command his angels concerning you.”

When the security officer called out to me to “take off my shoes and run” on that trying day, he was acting as an angel from God to guard me in all my ways.

Prayer:

Thank you for bringing guidance in times of extreme need.

“They will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” (Psalm 91:11–12)

January 2

A LIFE-SAVING LATTE

Chaplain, Maj. Gen. (Ret.), Charles C. Baldwin, former Chief of Chaplains, United States Air Force

“We’ve been bombed,” a guard hollered into the cafeteria where retired Major General Charles Baldwin, a longtime leader of chaplains, was sitting and drinking a latte.

The announcement didn’t make sense to Baldwin. He hadn’t heard an explosion, and after more than thirty years in the Air Force, Baldwin knew what a bomb sounded like.

Although he was a General and a senior administrative leader, going to the Pentagon was a normal part of Baldwin’s daily routine. Stationed at nearby Bolling Air Force Base, he came to the Pentagon that morning to attend his first senior staff meeting as the new deputy chief of chaplains for the Air Force. He soon realized that nothing about September 11, 2001 would be routine.

“The meeting started at nine o’clock,” Baldwin said. Led by the Secretary of the Air Force, the meeting took place in the basement of building eight.

“We were about twenty minutes into the daily slide briefing, when someone interrupted. We turned our attention to the television and watched the second plane fly into the World Trade Center Tower,” Baldwin recalled. Shocked, “we immediately adjourned.”

“I had a ten o’clock meeting on other side of the Pentagon, but stopped to get a latte in the cafeteria” Baldwin said.

“Shortly after I got my latte, a guard ordered an evacuation.” We immediately exited the building,” Baldwin said. “That’s when we saw the huge fireball on the other side of the Pentagon.”

Baldwin then realized that his ten o’clock meeting was located at the site of the black billowing smoke. Had he proceeded to his meeting earlier and not stopped to get a latte, he would have been in the wedge when it was hit.

The Pentagon had turned from an office building into the burning aftermath of a battlefield. Having served as a chaplain in Desert Storm a decade earlier and as a rescue pilot in Vietnam, Baldwin knew what to do.

“I went to the Sheraton hotel across from the Pentagon where they were bringing in the wounded. At that point I turned into a chaplain and went from couch to couch.” Baldwin spoke words of comfort to the patients triaged in the hotel before going to local hospitals. After about an hour, Baldwin decided to return to Ground Zero at the Pentagon. But it wasn’t smoke or shock that drew him there. He wanted to be with the people who were hurting the most. His life’s purpose led him in that moment to step in and simply be ready to face the tragedy head on.

Prayer:

Almighty God, you have given my life purpose and meaning. May I embrace the service you desire for me.

“But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” (Exodus 9:16)

January 3

MORE CHAPLAINS THAN NORMAL

Chaplain, Maj. Gen. (Ret.), Charles C. Baldwin, former Chief of Chaplains, United States Air Force

“On an average day there are normally five or six chaplains in the Pentagon,” Chaplain Charlie Baldwin explained, “but on September 11, 2001, it was really an amazing thing. There were about thirty-five chaplains in the building.”

These chaplains were at the Pentagon that morning for various meetings. After the evacuation, they gathered at the casualty collections points to minister to those in need. Unlike local pastors who also arrived, these military chaplains had clearance to the Pentagon, which enabled them to help find survivors.

With all three chiefs of chaplains out of town, retired chaplain, Major General Baldwin and two other deputy chief of chaplains (Army and Navy) developed a plan. “We realized we needed to organize this pastoral care moment, because this was not going to be short term. So we claimed some tent space and then sent many chaplains as far as they could go into the building to look for survivors. Then we developed a plan to organize the chaplains on site as the wounded came out,” Baldwin explained.

Many of these chaplains were senior officers with administrative responsibilities and no longer involved in day-to-day chaplain duties, but they all returned to their roots.

“We all became the chaplains who were present to help the injured. We went to the casualty collection points and just did, what any chaplain would do, what any pastor would do,” Baldwin explained. “I stepped in and out of the role of organizing the chaplain ministries and just being one.”

One gentleman came up to Baldwin, pointing to the gaping hole and said, “My wife’s in that room right there. I need to get in there.”

Baldwin talked to him throughout the day, encouraging him not to give up hope. It was possible she could have been away from her office. The good news didn’t come, but Baldwin knew from experience that a chaplain’s job was to not to give a magic answer but to be a hopeful presence during this trial. The ministry of the site was profound. Some might wonder if those chaplains wanted to be there. “Why wouldn’t you want to be there? If you’re a military chaplain, that is where you belong,” stated Baldwin. “That is exactly the purpose for which you were trained to be present with people during difficult times, not to have the magic answers, but to be present.”

The presence of six times the normal number of chaplains at the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, was truly an amazing preparation for the immediate aftermath. For many hurting people that day, chaplains were God’s instruments of hope and peace.

Prayer:

You are a great God. Thank you for putting an extra number of chaplains on site at the Pentagon that day.

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” (Psalm 147:3)

January 4

THE DAY RANK DISAPPEARED

Chaplain, Maj. Gen. (Ret.), Charles C. Baldwin, former Chief of Chaplains, United States Air Force

Rank disappeared on September 11, 2001. Everyone wanted to do whatever they could to help. About four o’clock in the afternoon, the fire chief in charge of the recovery process made an announcement at Ground Zero.

“We need volunteers to put on masks and gloves and be willing to do a sweep through the Pentagon. Any volunteers?” he asked.

“People ran to get a place in line,” recalled retired Major General Baldwin, Air Force deputy chief of chaplains.

“So here we were in line. Next to me was a two-star general, and I was a one-star general. We’re standing in our blues. We stepped forward, put on gloves, put on the masks. They gave us the instructions to stay together in rows, and we were going to sweep through the building and walk through the clouds of fire, dust and all that. And just before he said, ‘Okay, this line step forward,’ a brigade from Arlington Cemetery pulled up in buses.”

Because this brigade was trained and ready to do a sweep, the fire chief released the volunteers.

“I looked around and saw the field full of people who were willing to step into the fiery furnace to see if somebody else could be pulled out. So we stepped away and went back to the areas where we could be helpful, be the pastors present.”

Two experiences prepared Baldwin to lead chaplains on that unforgettable day. He was a rescue helicopter pilot in Vietnam, where he witnessed death, carnage, and many other terrible things. Years later as a lieutenant colonel in Desert Storm, he was in charge of chapel services at the base in Saudi Arabia. “We preached every Sunday in the war zone and saw people die. Body bags were brought back to our base to process before sending them back home,” he explained.

He learned his role was to be a calm, encouraging presence in the midst of the tragedy. “You don’t have to be a military chaplain to have the theology of hope that says ‘God is present in the midst of terrible things.’ Military chaplains have the type of experience that says, ‘God is present on the battlefield, not to help people kill people but to help them through the tragedies and consequences of sin. They don’t bless the bombs, they just pray that God would be present with those who are the instruments, even we would say the instruments of peace. It’s an amazing thing.”

Prayer:

Thank you God for your promise to be present with me no matter what.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

January 5

WHERE WAS GOD ON 9/11?

Chaplain, Maj. Gen. (Ret.), Charles C. Baldwin, former Chief of Chaplains, United States Air Force

“Where was God on the morning of September 11,” a CNN reporter asked Chaplain Charlie Baldwin in an on-camera interview in his office not long after the terrorist attacks.

“It wasn’t something I had to make up. It was obvious to me that he was present in the midst of the terror. He revealed himself through the angels of mercy who were present,” Baldwin recalled.

Baldwin saw many moments of mercy at the Pentagon that day. “One second lieutenant, a young lady, came running over to me, asking, ‘Chaplain, what can I do to help?’”

“Go to that tent and just wipe their brows, and you will be helping.”

She went to one of the collection tents where victims were being brought. There she set up cots, and did whatever needed to be done.

Right beside her was a two-star general doing the same thing. “I want to help. What else can I do?” Knowing the man was a Christian, Baldwin added, “Tell them not to be afraid. Tell them God is here. He will take care of them.”

Baldwin mentioned that chaplains offer the same message to troops on the ground, “so they can be assured that God is with them; that they might know that they are not alone.”

“These people weren’t the preachers,” Baldwin decreed. “They were just people who cared. They were God’s hands, his instruments of love and comfort, saying ‘God is with you, and he will be with you through this whole thing.’”

Baldwin was asked several times by reporters, “Where was God on 9-1-1?”

“The answer was, ‘He was present.’”

“He worked through that second lieutenant, brand new to the Air Force. She probably didn’t think she would experience something like this so early in her military career. But she just jumped into the middle of it all, carrying stretchers, taking bandages. If the nurses needed an orderly, he or she was that person.” God was everywhere. He made his presence known through the least of these.

“He was in the building when the terrorists struck. He offered healing to those who received it. He offered comfort to those who were dying. And God’s presence was overwhelming and even miraculous in some cases,” Baldwin replied.

Prayer:

Thank you for using the “least of these” to provide hope to those in need on the battlefield. Thank you for being a presence among your people.

“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.” (Psalm 139:7–8)

January 6

CHEMISTRY CLASS

Maj. Brandon Reid, United States Air Force

I was holding and inspecting my chemical mask!

Though I had been in the Air Force for five years and was on my second deployment to Southwest Asia where the threat and enemy were near, I had never before been concerned about my chemical gear. I now realized I should have paid more attention during my annual chemical defense classes, one of my requirements as an Air Force navigator on C–130’s. Recalling how to put all the gear on was easy, but my worse case scenario was: I don all my gear and simply worry about dehydration. However, remembering where to inject the large needle from my gear into my hip without jamming it into my sciatic nerve was gaining prevalence on my list of important things to know.

It was fall 2002. Discussions of an invasion of Iraq gained fervor on television and on our base in Oman.

My crew and I had grown accustomed to flying into Pakistan and Afghanistan after September 11, 2001. Original fears of unknown operating areas and first-time combat operations had led to many prayers and self-reflection, but we had replaced them with card games and reading. With the exception of occasional small arms fire or a lucky rocket propelled grenade launch, threats to our C–130 aircraft were minimal. The walk many of us had taken with God to get through earlier tough times had been replaced by repetition.

This normalcy was broken that day when our commanders ordered us into a tent for a chemical gear refresher course. As they spread us apart to make sure we had enough room to inspect and manipulate our individual equipment, I noticed a difference. The more experienced master sergeant, not the young senior airman, was teaching the course. I suddenly realized this was for real. Something was about to happen. That moment brought the confrontation of war to the forefront of my thoughts.

Much like repetitive life back home, we pray more during challenges than seasons of ease. Whether we’re in the comfort zone or combat zone, God sustains us. If we routinely see life from an altitude of thirty thousand feet or fly through our day with our feet on the ground, God is there. He is with us when the sun goes down and when it rises, whether over the sands of a Middle East desert or an American suburb’s sidewalks.

Prayer:

You are the maker of sunsets and sunrises. Thank you for this day you have given me.

“I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the LORD sustains me.” (Psalm 3:5)

January 7

PREFLIGHT PRAYER

Maj. Brandon Reid, United States Air Force

So here I was about to fly into harm’s way as a member of a crew that’d been flying together for two and a half months. We had flown more than twenty-five flights together and were well seasoned by Air Force standards. We knew each other’s weaknesses, strengths, and limitations, though we’d never discussed religion. Now here we were in the cargo compartment of a C-130 aircraft getting our final briefing from our aircraft commander

Having gotten our mission for our first flight of the Iraq war, we went through our typical pre-flight intelligence and mission briefing. I decided to walk to the plane instead of riding in the crew bus to get my mind in the right place. For whatever reason I kept thinking of my father who served in Vietnam on an AC-130 gunship; he survived being shot down in enemy territory. Upon arriving at the C-130, I ran through my checklist, paying special attention to the defensive equipment controls. It was then that our aircraft commander asked me to lead in a word of prayer.

“Brandon, would you lead us in a prayer?”

While the request caught me off guard, it felt correct and needed. We came together as a crew and formed a circle. I said a prayer asking God to watch over us and our fellow brothers in the coming armed struggle. As proud members of the Air Force, we had chosen to join military service and sworn an oath leading us all to this destiny. I said some words of thanks and praise and asked God to protect us. If we weren’t meant to come back, we had accepted that and were at peace with it.

We’d never discussed our relationships with God before and perhaps many of these men had been separated from any type of relationship with God for years. However, his unshakeable presence and grace was upon each man on that plane and delivered a sense of calmness all fear behind now, just get the job done.

Prayer:

Even though some on this earth have rejected you, I thank you that you are a God who welcomes us as we humble ourselves before you.

“The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them (the kings who take their stand against him).” (Psalm 2:4)

January 8

PARACHUTE

Maj. Brandon Reid, United States Air Force

I did something I normally didn’t do during that first flight into Iraq I wore my parachute.

My father was a member of an AC-130 gunship crew in Vietnam that was hit by a SA-7 surface to air missile (SAM) in June 1972.[1] He was one of only three survivors. To hear him tell the story, he’s not sure why he lived while others died. Of all the details of his survival, the one I find most amazing is that after standing up in his aircraft, he remembers an explosion and confusion all around him. It was then that he regained consciousness in mid-air. That presence of mind gave him the ability to engage his parachute. Thanks to his parachute, he survived that day, and I was born two years later.

Fast-forward twenty-nine years to my first flight into Iraq. I’m the one flying into harm’s way, not my father. Although I had become accustomed to flying into Afghanistan’s dangerous air space, it was not procedure for C-130 aircrew to wear parachutes. However, on that first flight, I felt compelled to wear a parachute like my father.

As a navigator, I’d reflected on my father’s shoot-down many times over the years. I’ve always concluded that the parachute and a bit of luck saved his life. As we prepared for flights into Iraq, the intelligence we received painted a bleak picture for a C-130 aircraft, so I thought it best to don my parachute for that first flight, incase a SAM (surface to air missle) found us.

Not until I returned to Kuwait and prepared for a second flight into Iraq did I realize the truth. Perhaps my commander’s request that I lead the crew in prayer steered my thoughts. It wasn’t timing, luck, or a parachute that saved my father. It was God’s will. God saved my father that day because he had work yet to be done. My own life was part of God’s plan. After concluding this, I tossed my parachute in the back of the plane. I geared up for the next flight following normal sans-parachute procedure. I looked to God as my saving grace, not some piece of equipment.

Truth be told on that first flight into Iraq; the parachute was bulky and very uncomfortable. However, on all flights since with God on my shoulder, the weight has been lifted.

Prayer:

Lord, you are the great life-preserver. Preserve my life according to your plan.

“Defend my cause and redeem me; preserve my life according to your promise.” (Psalm 119:154)

January 9

BOTTLE OF SAND

Maj. Brandon Reid, United States Air Force

Just like back home in the United States, we take photos of the significant moments of things we want to remember. So, I took a picture of the Army “kids” in the back of the plane at the onset of the war in Iraq.

As we loaded them onto the plane in Kuwait I couldn’t help but say to my fellow aircrew, “How do they carry all that stuff on their backs?” and “Gosh, they look so young.”

We ran several shuttles that night from Kuwait into Iraq; each time delivering about sixty paratroopers in the 82nd Airborne into harm’s way. The 82nd Airborne is an elite airborne infantry division of the United States Army. This mission was one of those moments where the Air Force and Army joined forces, demonstrating the joint strength of the United States military. Our last flight took us flying into and out of daylight, which made the end of our mission even more dangerous than the beginning.

Just before our final departure from Iraq, I ran out of the ramp of our C-130 into the daylight and filled a bottle with some Iraq sand. While I still have that bottle of sand, I never look at it as I thought I would a symbol of aviation excellence. Instead, it’s a reminder of sacrifice. I always think of those kids that got off our plane in a foreign land and the seven who lost their lives. The fresh faces in the photographs are still embedded in my mind. I was too involved with myself and celebrating the aircrew accomplishments of finishing our mission that I never stopped to think of others who were entering battle and would not return.

Instead of celebrating, I wish I had been praying for safe return of other soldiers.

God promised his people he would bless them and make their “descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore” (Genesis 22:17). That bottle of sand reminds me to pray and think about God as the Good Shepherd of all who serve in the armed forces.

Prayer:

I pray for those around me today, remembering that you love them and care for them more than I can ever know.

“Know that the LORD is God, It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.” (Psalm 100:3)

January 10

DUST THAT TURNS DAY INTO NIGHT

Corp. Will Brandon, United States Marine Corps

The dust storm wind was so loud that it drowned out the engine of our amphibious assault vehicle. Tracks, as we called them, are armored personnel carriers. I was part of a three-man crew transporting fifteen Marines that night March 24, 2003, just four days into the invasion of Iraq. We were about eighty to one hundred miles north of An Nasiriyah on our push to liberate Baghdad. Despite the wind, Lance Corporal Mejia’s voice came in loud and clear over the intercom in my helmet.

“I can’t see anything out here,” Mejia exclaimed as he drove.

“Just keep close enough to see the track in front of us,” Sgt. Connors instructed from the turret. “Everything alright down there L.B.?”

“Yes, Sergeant, everything’s cool. Real dusty though,” I responded from the troop compartment. I was the rear crewman. My job was to keep an eye on the infantry in the back and provide security for them when they exited the vehicle.

The dust was pouring into our track’s open hatches. We had been through a couple of dust storms, but nothing like this. Visibility was about ten meters, forcing our column of thirty-seven tracks to move at a snail’s pace.

“Listen up,” Connors called. “I just heard over the net that we can’t move any further in this dust. We are going to set up our defense for the night.”

It took several hours to set up our armored coil, a security formation resembling a clock with tracks filling the clock’s positions at 90-degree angles. After trudging through relentless dust, we finally got into position.

When the infantry started digging, the strangest thing happened. The dust got so thick, it turned day into night. This was the darkest pitch I’d ever seen. It was so dark when I got out of the track, I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face, even with my night vision goggles. I had to feel my way along the track to reach the rear personnel hatch.

Then a bizarre thing happened. It got light again. The world around us was wrapped in a strange red fog, as if we were on Mars. The dust wasn’t strongly blowing anymore, but visibility was only about a couple hundred meters. Half an hour later, it was dark again for good. Night had finally come. Because of the dust no one, including the enemy, would be moving tonight, so we thought.

Prayer:

Father, though the wind sometimes howls and dust hinders my visibility, I put my trust in you.

“I am laid low in the dust; preserve my life according to your word.” (Psalm 119:25)

January 11

NIGHT WATCH

Corp. Will Brandon, United States Marine Corps

A couple hours into that night, the dust storm began to let up. As visibility became completely clear, we were shocked to see an enemy convoy about four kilometers to our direct front. Lacking our night vision capability, the enemy used very dim headlights to maneuver. Although these headlights were about half as bright as regular automobile headlights, they were very visible from our position. We were astonished. The Iraqi convoy stretched from one end of the horizon to the other. It was just sitting there, not moving.

All I could think about was what a great opportunity for an air mission. The chatter over the radio suggested it was going to be a target for the artillery. We used the artillery quite often, and the round of choice was Improved Conventional Munitions. The ICM is a big bullet that bursts open and drops a bunch of little bombs that are designed to take out tanks. They could blow a two-foot hole in packed dirt so precisely that you could drop a soda can down the opening.

Finally, after what must have been more than an hour of staring at this massive enemy convoy, we heard the sound of Marine artillery guns way off in the distance to our four o’clock. Five seconds later, we heard the burst, followed by the crackle of hundreds of mini bombs impacting. Unfortunately, all of the shells hit way to the left or right. Nothing hit any of the enemy vehicles to our direct front. The bomb had one effect. The enemy immediately turned off their lights.

“Great,” we all thought. “We didn’t hit any of them and now we can’t even see them.”

As I sat behind the driver’s station where Lance Corporal Mejia watched the thermal driving screen, I switched between binoculars and night vision goggles trying to get a glimpse of something out there. Finally we saw movement. More than a dozen large dust signatures were barely visible in the air. Only one thing could throw a dust plume that high a tank! Our twenty-six ton tracks are no match for a forty or sixty-ton standard battle tank. A .50 caliber machine gun could chew us up, let alone a round from the main gun of a tank.

All we could do was watch and wait for help as we stared into the darkness with a giant enemy in front of us.

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, be my watchman throughout my day and night today.

“Watchman, what is left of the night? Watchman, what is left of the night”? (Isaiah 21:11b)

January 12

CHATTER

Corp. Will Brandon, United States Marine Corps

As we stared into the inky darkness, knowing an Iraqi tank convoy covered the horizon directly to our front, the radio chatter keyed up.

“We needed help out here and fast,” we pleaded.

We had no tanks with us at that moment; they had all gone to refuel a big problem. The only thing we had was several shoulder-fired AT-4s, rockets which are only good out to three hundred meters in the daytime. The Iraqi tanks would make easy targets of our highly silhouetted tracks long before that.

Our platoon sergeant, “the Gunny,” began calling our commander over the comm, the communications network.

“Colgate, this is Iceman,” we heard come across the net. “Why don’t we have any tanks out here?”

“The tanks say they’re not coming until they refuel, Iceman.” Colgate responded.

“What do you mean they aren’t coming till they refuel? We are going to be in some serious trouble here real soon!” Gunny exclaimed. “What about CAT?”

CAT is a Humvee with a TOW missile on top of it.

“CAT can’t make it out to us,” was the response. “Ground is too rough.”

“All right everybody listen up. This is Iceman. Everybody start your vehicles now. We are getting out of here as soon as the first shot is fired.” Everyone immediately started their trucks.

“No one is going anywhere. Shut your vehicles down now,” Colgate shouted over the net; the anger quite apparent in his voice. Just as fast as we started them, we shut the trucks off.

Mejia and I went into the troop compartment and unstrapped the AT-4s. We jumped out of the back of the truck, and called over to an infantry squad leader, a corporal, who had ridden with us.

“What’s going on, what’s up with you guys?” he asked.

“There are fifteen tanks coming this way, you guys need to get these ready,” Mejia said handing him the rockets.

After Mejia and I returned to the Amtrak, the wind picked up. Everything looked hazy as dust filled the air again. This was worrisome because now we couldn’t see the tanks anymore, only the dust. The whole world around us lit up once again into a Mars-like amber glow. It was as if a streetlight suddenly turned on over a dark foggy street.

Chatter is often useless, leading us nowhere. Babbling was no substitute for real action, real decision-making.

Prayer:

Weed out the fruitless noise and chatter in my mind and heart today. Fill it with the substance of you and the promises of your word for righteousness.

“…a chattering fool comes to ruin.” (Proverbs 10:10b)

January 13

BIBLE IN A ZIP-LOCK BAG

Corp. Will Brandon, United States Marine Corps

To our horror, the corporal to whom we had given the AT-4 fired off an illumination round from his M203 grenade launcher, but because of the wind, the round drifted back toward us. Its tiny parachute carried it back to the ground, completely giving away our position.

“We were dead for sure now,” I thought. I just knew the enemy tanks would loom out of the dust and darkness at any moment.

“What are you doing,” I blasted. “The tanks are going to know we are here for sure now!”

“Where are they, we can’t see them?” the corporal replied, not seeming to care that a lance corporal had yelled at him.

“They’re out there. Straight ahead of us, about 1500–2000 meters. Don’t fire another one of those flares,” I begged.

I got back into the track and climbed up to the troop commander’s station, behind the driver.

“Can you see anything?” I asked.

“No, nothing yet, too much dust,” Mejia replied. “Take a break. I’ll wake you if anything happens.”

“I think it’s going to be easier than it sounds, sleep that is,” I responded as I climbed into the troop compartment.

Sitting on the center bench seat and leaning against the ramp at the very back of the vehicle, I lit a cigarette and tried to relax. Dirt cigarettes we called them the ones the Iraqis tried to sell from the side of the road.

“How can I sleep at a time like this?” I thought.

I pulled a small zip-lock bag from my uniform’s left breast pocket. Here I kept a pocket-size Bible the USO (United Service Organizations) distributed at Aviano Air Force base in Italy, where we stopped en route to Kuwait. Also in the bag was a plastic wallet-size picture holder with photographs of my girlfriend in Ohio and my family back home in Manitoba, Canada.

After reading several versus from the Psalms, I returned the Bible to the bag and looked at the photo album. In my mind I said goodbye to everyone I loved. Then I returned the pictures to the bag and prayed. I thanked God for the life he had given me, my parents, and the people I loved. I asked God to take my life into his hands and do with me what he willed. When I was finished, I closed my eyes, laid down on the bench, and miraculously fell asleep.

Prayer:

Lord, you’re in control. Thank you for sustaining when I sleep and when I rise.

“I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the LORD sustains me. I will not fear the tens of thousands drawn up against me on every side.” (Psalm 3:5–6)

January 14

ARMOR OF LIGHT

Corp. Will Brandon, United States Marine Corps

I fell asleep for a period time, even though it felt like only a few minutes. Before then, I had been surviving on two hours of sleep a night. But a strange thing happened when I woke. Daylight was streaming through the driver’s hatch where Mejia was still sitting. The darkness was over.

“What’s going on up there, man?” I asked.

“Nothing, you missed it,” Mejia replied. “It cleared up enough. Air was called in.”

“I didn’t hear anything,” I exclaimed.

“I don’t know how you missed it: it was kind of loud,” he chuckled.

I was surprised Mejia didn’t wake me when the Marine air strike destroyed the tanks, but grateful for the peace that came with sleep.

I was told later those Iraqi tanks were T-72s, the most modern tanks the Iraqis had. These were former Soviet vehicles weighing at least forty-one tons. Those T-72s would have made short work of us easily if they could have seen us. I was also told the tanks had closed within 1,400 meters of our line; almost well within the range of their main guns. If it hadn’t been for that last dust storm, those tanks may have very well rolled close enough to see us, and our armament coil of smaller vehicles would have made easy targets.

As I think about that night in Iraq, I can’t help but reflect in wonder and awe. I might have fallen asleep and missed the “air show,” but I didn’t miss God’s hand. He used a dust storm to turn daylight into the darkest pitch I’d ever seen. He sustained us despite the missed location of the ICM, the chatter over the radio, and the mistaken illumination round fired by the corporal.

After that night we pushed on toward Baghdad. We were ambushed multiple times. On April 4th we attacked the West side of Baghdad and controlled the city within a week. We stayed as a reinforcement unit until President Bush announced the conclusion of combat operations. We were some of the first Marines to come home and received a true hero’s welcome.

I believe God answered many prayers that night and sent a final dust storm to spare us. I’m grateful to him for providing me assurance from his Psalms and allowing me to give him thanks for my life and those I love. He was the fresh air of hope in a dust storm.

Prayer:

God, thank you for your armor of light and bringing us out of the darkness.

“The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.” (Romans 13:12)

January 15

OPERATION PREPARATION

Cdr. Rob Thomson, United States Navy

God gave Noah only seven days to pack the ark. Navy Commander Rob Thomson faced a similar challenge loading the USS Boxer, a helicopter carrier, in a week’s time in anticipation of the United States invasion of Iraq.

“We got word in late December 2002 that we would be shipping out to Iraq to prepare for a possible confrontation with Saddam Hussein,” Thomson said.

Normally it takes months to prepare for this kind of deployment. Not only did they compress the loading operation into one week, but it was also the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. Crewmembers had to suddenly give up their leave and vacation plans.

As Operations Officer, Thomson was responsible for anything that involved planning and executing, such as moving helicopters and crafts, troops, and supplies aboard ship.

“We loaded our 2,000 Marines and 900 Navy crew and all of their gear between Christmas and New Year’s Day, then set sail the first week of January 2003,” Thomson explained.

Pressing utmost on Thomson’s mind was his family he couldn’t take with him or care for while he was gone.

“I was leaving behind Kinuko, my Japanese wife, in what to her was a ‘foreign country’ and Alex, my three-year-old autistic son, for her to care for alone in our San Diego home. No one from her family lived within 10,000 miles, and my family was 3,000 miles away in Pittsburgh.”

Thomson and Kinuko had married nine years earlier, living mostly in Japan where Thomson served three tours of duty. Kinuko, the daughter of a rice farmer, grew up in a Japanese town that was so remote most of its residents had never seen a foreigner until Thomson came to meet her family. “Everyone stopped and stared,” he noted.

Moving to San Diego had been a huge adjustment for the Thomsons but with a significant benefit. For the first time they were able to plug into a church and not simply attend chapel services. Although the church was small, their hearts were huge ark-like.

“The church we attended only had about fifty or sixty members, but the love of Christ dwelt in each one,” Thomson said.

When these church members learned about Rob’s sudden deployment, they offered to help Kinuko and Alex, which gave Thomson tremendous peace of mind as he embarked on a deployment that would take him into a combat zone for the first time of his sixteen years in the Navy.

While Commander Thomson oversaw the practical preparations and operations for loading the USS Boxer and its 2,900 crewmembers, he also looked to the Great Shepherd and a loving community to care for the wife and son he was leaving behind.

Prayer:

Thank you for your practical provisions for my most basic needs.

“The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.” (Psalm 23:1)

January 16

PRAYING BY NAME

Cdr. Rob Thomson, United States Navy

“Several events occurred between February and June 2003, while I was in and around Iraq that brought home to me the awesome power of God and how he works through his people,” Commander Rob Thomson explained of his deployment to Iraq.

The USS Boxer arrived in the North Arabian Gulf the third week of February 2003. Thomson spent the next month preparing for battle in Iraq by pre-staging equipment and supplies in Kuwait. No one knew when the war would start, but they had to be ready when the call came. The plan was to send the Marines aboard the USS Boxer into Iraq through helicopters aboard the ship. Thomson’s job was to plan and execute operations. Electronic communications proved invaluable.

“We did a lot of coordinating in chat rooms. I never experienced that way of operating before. Each area of operations had a chat room. So I would pull up about four to six chat rooms and watch as the operation’s logistics unfolded in near real time,” he said.

Although not useful for developing battle plans, chat rooms proved highly effective for executing operations “because it allowed a large volume of information to pass easily and quickly and bypass rigid command structure. Information just went out,” he said.

Electronic communication also allowed Thomson to keep up with his family in San Diego. Through emails, Thomson learned how his wife Kinuko was doing. One day after taking Alex to therapy, Kinuko came home and found dinner on her doorstep. Ladies from their church supplied her with meals nearly every day during Thomson’s absence. One church member with a knack as a handyman consistently offered his services, which gave Kinuko peace of mind if something broke at the house.

However, even in a world brought closer through instant communication, snail mail brought some of the most soothing words of support.

“I received countless cards and letters from friends and relatives all over the world.”

What stood out to Thomson was how personal these letters were. He received cards and letters from relatives he hadn’t seen in years, members of their churches, and people he didn’t know. He received church bulletins with his name printed in them. People weren’t just promising to pray for the troops. They were praying for him by name.

“This was tremendously uplifting. I received an indescribable peace in the midst of the chaos of war knowing that thousands of people were praying for me by name. It was a comforting feeling knowing that all of those people were lifting me up to the Almighty God.”

Prayer:

Thank you for guiding me and embracing me by name. Direct me to the name of a service member so I may pray for them by name.

“He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” (Psalm 23:2–3)

January 17

FLOATING MINES

Cdr. Rob Thomson, United States Navy

When the invasion began, helicopters from the USS Boxer carried hundreds of Marines into Southern Iraq. Navy Commander Rob Thomson’s job was to oversee the planning and executing of operations, particularly supplies. Helicopters would fly food, water, and equipment from the ship to ever-expanding places on the ground in Iraq. While these operations unfolded in a relatively orderly manner, one intelligence report proved to be particularly disruptive.

“Shortly after the war started as we were bringing supplies from the waters of the Northern Arabian Gulf, we got word that small Iraqi patrol boats had been sighted sowing mines in the waters near us,” Thomson explained.

An inspection of these captured Iraqi patrol boats revealed disturbing information. Although many mines were on board these boats, there were also empty spaces, indicating missing mines. Most likely these mines had been dropped into the sea. Floating mines aren’t anchored and can go anywhere. Even if the captured Iraqis had been willing to tell where they had dropped the mines, they couldn’t possibly know where the mines had drifted.

Floating mines are spherical objects, about four to five feet in length, with little horns. When broken by making contact with an object, such as a ship, the horns set off a chemical reaction causing the sphere to explode. One mine could sink an entire ship. Mines can float in the water for years. A floating mine struck the USS Tripoli in the same waters in 1991.

“Even with all our modern technology, floating mines are virtually undetectable. So I knew from that point on, that my ship could strike a mine in the middle of the night and it could be my last night on earth.” The thought most pressing on Thomson’s mind was simply: “Who would take care of my family?”

Because the information was classified, Thomson couldn’t talk about it with his wife.

“Then it hit me. The One who was taking care of my family now during this present crisis would continue to take care of them whether I returned or not. God is faithful,” Thomson reflected.

Psalm 23 was particularly comforting to Thomson during this time. Knowing that he was walking “or sailing” through the valley of the shadow of death, he chose not to fear evil and turned to God’s rod and staff the Scriptures for guidance.

Prayer:

You are faithful. I need you to be my strength and comfort today.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4)

January 18

SMASH AND GRAB

Cdr. Rob Thomson, United States Navy

About one hundred, mostly senior leadership, of the 2,900 military personnel assigned to the USS Boxer were aware of the classified intelligence reports of the floating mines. Navy Commander Rob Thomson, however, soon found himself participating in a mission so secret, only a handful knew about it. Not even the ship’s admiral was aware of it until it was over. This operation was the rescue of Private Jessica Lynch.

Nineteen-year-old Jessica Lynch was a supply clerk with the United States Army’s 507th Maintenance Company. After making a wrong turn into enemy territory, her convoy was ambushed near Nasiriyah, northwest of Basra, on March 23, 2003. Eleven of the soldiers died, and five were later rescued. Iraqis captured the injured Lynch and took her to a nearby hospital.

Thomson first heard about the attack through intelligence reports. The whole world, however, soon learned about her captivity through video shown on Al Jazeera. Like many others, Thomson wondered what it would be like to be that young and alone in a hospital in a hostile country.

“I thought of that poor young woman, alone and afraid, and was glad that I got to participate in the planning and execution of her rescue. I imagined her losing hope as she lay there broken in body and spirit and prayed for God to be with her,” Thomson explained.

When Thomson learned they were going to plan the rescue operation, his sense of urgency increased for this dangerous “smash and grab” mission. The helicopters took off from the USS Boxer, picked up Special Forces on the ground, took them to the hospital, where the forces broke in, grabbed Lynch, and took her back to the helicopters and into safety.

Thomson noted the mission was done at night, which is always dangerous because of sandstorms and other visibility hazards. The helicopters had to fly low enough to stay under Iraqi radar but high enough to avoid deadly power lines.

“A few hours later on April 2, 2003, we got the word that the rescue had been successful. She was safe. There was a feeling of great joy and satisfaction among all of us who played a part.”

Although the mission started as a secret, the whole world soon learned Jessica Lynch was safe. Many cups were overflowing with joy that day.

Prayer:

Thank you for the abundant joy that comes with a victory and a successful mission.

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” (Psalm 23:5)

January 19

PERMANENCY OF GOD

Cdr. Rob Thomson, United States Navy

“The final event during the war that brought the presence of God close for me was in April 2003,” Commander Rob Thomson explained. “Our Marines had pushed through Southern Iraq and were now approaching Baghdad. It had become impossible to properly supply them with food, water, and ammunition from the sea, so we needed to set up a supply depot ashore. I flew by helicopter with a few others to a place called Jalibah that is in the desert west-northwest of Basrah.”

Because Jalibah was mostly just abandoned buildings, it was a good location for a supply depot. After surveying the area, Thomson and the others began to plan the logistics of getting supplies there and coordinating their dissemination. One of the most obvious challenges was the sand itself.

“There is a difference between the desert there and those here in the United States. The sand in Iraq is very fine. There’s always sand in the air, and at night the sky can be pitch black,” Thomson observed.

Because of the United States invasion, lights were out in Iraq and electricity was spotty. As Thomson took stock of the sand and the pitch-black horizon with only the stars and moon providing light, he realized how similar these primitive conditions must have been when Abraham lived in the same region.

“As I lay there at night on my cot in my tent, I thought to myself, ‘I wonder if Abraham slept here?’ We were very close to where archaeologists believe was once Ur of the Chaldeans, the original home of Abraham,” he said.

God’s omniscience and omnipresence took on a new meaning for Thomson in that moment. “It struck me that the same unchanging, all-powerful God who had watched over Abraham in this very spot 4,000 years before was now watching over me.”

And he slept soundly that night in the dark desert taking comfort in God’s permanent hand. A tent may have been his temporary shelter, but Thomson knew his ultimate dwelling was in the eternal house of the Lord.

Thomson left the Middle East in June 2003. He became a physics professor at the Naval Academy and retired in September 2007 after twenty years of service in the Navy.

Prayer:

May I dwell in you today. Your permanency throughout generations gives me hope for eternal life with you.

“Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” (Psalm 23:6)

January 20

GOING FORWARD

Lt. Sean McDougal, United States Navy

Lieutenant Sean McDougal started 2003 expecting to retire from the Navy. “I was up for PCS a permanent change of station and going into what we call retirement orders,” McDougal explained.

When he enlisted, McDougal began as a nuclear powered machinist mate working on a submarine nuclear power plant. He then went through an officer-training program to become a Surface Warfare Officer.

“I was a jack of all trades, master of none. We’re tasked with everything Intel, antisubmarine warfare, antiterrorism, pretty much everything,” he explained. He was in Hawaii directing a Navy Schoolhouse training program. In the summer of 2001, they enacted anti-terrorism and force protection courses, “the very thing we needed for the war in Iraq, so I knew a lot about that going into 2003,” he continued.

Operating under his orders to begin March 1, 2003, McDougal moved his family to Pensacola, Florida, in February. But at the last minute, during the final week of February, McDougal received new orders.

“It’s funny because orders, once you execute them, you have to get other orders to negate them. It all had to do with timing. I had volunteered for anything going forward. No one knew for sure if there was going to be a war (in Iraq), we just knew something was coming up,” McDougal said.

Then he received new, overriding orders to go to Tampa, the location of United States Central Command, which was led by General Tommy Franks. McDougal arrived in Tampa on March 1, 2003.

“From there I was immediately told that I was going forward. I had no idea at the time what ‘forward’ was. What they meant was that I was going to Qatar to be part of the Central Command (CENTCOM) unit that was going to physically fight the war. But I didn’t know that at the time. All I knew was that I was going forward.”

He was only in Tampa a few days.

“And I got more shots, more vaccinations than anyone could imagine. Eight in one day. Anthrax, really hurt the most. Three days later, and I was on an airplane going to Qatar going forward finally had a destination. It wasn’t time for me to end my Navy career. God had another plan.”

Prayer:

May I develop a flexible heart, one that is able to nimbly adjust to changes in timing and seasons and new directions.

“He changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them.” (Daniel 2:21a)

January 21

AMERICAN FREEDOMS

Lt. Sean McDougal, United States Navy

“I arrived in Qatar March 11, 2003,” Navy Lieutenant Sean McDougal noted. His job there at CENTCOM was to take night watch at the Navy desk, which meant anything dealing with Navy assets and friendly forces.

“Someone would turn to me and say ‘Navy desk, tell this country to send this ship here,’ or ‘what is the status of that ship there?’ That sort of thing,” he said.

McDougal became friends with Major Randolph Winge called “Troll,” who had the same job at the Air Force desk. And because they shared the same twelve hour shifts, they spent a lot of time together, especially mealtime. They had something in common; both prayed before eating.

“Didn’t make a big deal of it,” McDougal said of his low-key approach. He simply bowed head and said grace silently.

“I noticed that when Troll and I would start praying, other people who sat down with us, they would pray also.”

The habit caught on, an unexpected leading by example. But the custom also brought out cultural differences with America’s allies. A British captain told McDougal he would never fit into the British Army because they “don’t display such things in public.”

The openness of Americans verses the privacy of Britons was soon strikingly apparent. At the beginning of the war, an American reporter gave away a location of troops on LIVE television. Something similar happened with a British reporter regarding an amphibious landing.

“The British put that reporter in a fighter jet and flew him out. They told their newspapers they couldn’t print some stuff,” McDougal said, noting that the Brits don’t truly have freedom of speech and press the way Americans do.

“If a helicopter goes down, we (United States military) are trained to give away information immediately. If we don’t know the answer, we say we’re working on it. The Brits won’t tell you anything until they have the whole story. They hold everything until they have all the facts,” McDougal said.

McDougal learned from a British watch officer that because Britain is so small in landmass, that one newspaper in Britain can reach a tenth of the population there. “That was the beauty of working with foreign governments and foreign people on what we call a deck plate or grass roots level. I now understand why other countries do what they do.”

Little did he know that taking stock of these seemingly small cultural differences praying before meals and freedom of speech was preparing him for a moment requiring courage. He was building crucial relationships with the Brits that would enable him to stand firm in the future.

Prayer:

Keep me from being so self absorbed today that I miss discerning the needs of those around me.

“He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning.” (Daniel 2:21b)

January 22

BAD NEWS

Lt. Sean McDougal, United States Navy

Navy Lieutenant Sean McDougal was serving as a United States liaison officer as part of the British version of the Joint Operations Center at CENTCOM in Qatar on March 23, 2003. McDougal was watching the overhead 52-inch television screen when he and numerous Britons in the room saw a news report of an American service member who killed his commanding officer with a grenade. The incident took place at Camp Pennsylvania that was set up in Kuwait in a triangle formation with Camps New York and New Jersey.

Colonel Snider, the guy in charge of British forces, turned to me and said, “Sean, where is the camp’s location?” Colonel Snider sat at the corner of the room with his back to the wall so that no one could read his computer screen.

“I had the authority and training to know what I could and could not declassify to a foreign military such as Britain. I disclosed what I could.”

Five minutes later, a British air operations officer announced that a Tornado, a British jet, was missing. It was flying from Camp New York to Camp New Jersey.

McDougal put the pieces together. He had just viewed classified information that indicated the firing of a patriot missile from Camp New Jersey toward Camp New York, the opposite direction of the Tornado.

“I wrote a buddy of mine and asked, ‘Can the patriot shoot down an airplane?’” McDougal relayed that the answer was “yes.”

“I’ll never forget calling over the British colonel. ‘I hate saying this, but I think we shot down your plane,’” McDougal recounted.

“That was heinous. That was the worst day of the war for me,” McDougal said, “but, looking back, I’ve concluded that God gave me wisdom to put together what seemed to be two totally unrelated acts and figure out the truth about their missing plane. I was scared to death that I would say something wrong or embarrass our nation but I knew our ally had to know.”

The information was soon confirmed and relayed in the official briefing later that day. Further investigation revealed mistakes on both sides.

“Although I can’t prove it I know God was grooming me for other situations where I would have to give bad information to large groups and then stand fast.”

Prayer:

God, you are might in power and wisdom. You give courage in the most trying times, when we need it most.

“Praise be to the name of God forever and ever; wisdom and power are his.” (Daniel 2:20)

January 23

FROM FISHING VILLAGES TO PALACES

Lt. Sean McDougal, United States Navy

When the invasion phase of the war in Iraq ended in May 2003, many with CENTCOM returned to the United States. Others, such as Navy Lieutenant Sean McDougal and Air Force Major Randolph Winge (Troll) were given different tasks.

“My job was to help the Third Infantry Division take over the Navy portion of Iraq that is the port of Umm Qsar,” McDougal said. Umm Qsar is a fishing village that served as Iraq’s main naval base under Saddam Hussein’s regime.

When internal military politics prevented that plan from going as expected, McDougal decided to keep busy and productive by doing what he could. He employed his engineering and electrical skills. His diligence soon caught the attention of those in suits.

“What I ended up doing was sleeping in this giant building that needed a lot of repairs. I went around fixing swamp coolers giant five-foot diameter fans that rely on garden hoses to moisten and cool the air,” he explained.

“One night at 2 a.m. this gentleman came up to me. He wasn’t wearing a uniform, but a business suit. He asked me what I was doing,” McDougal said, explaining that he was fixing refrigerators that weren’t cooling properly.

“How do you know that?” the man asked.

“Sir, I’m in the Navy; my job is to do damage control.”

“Well, what’s that?”

“Sir, for example, if a bomb were to hit the corner of this building, my job would be to reroute the electricity, plumbing, air conditioning, and everything, put in temporary fixes, and then fix everything back up to normal specifications,” McDougal explained.

The next day, McDougal saw the man in the business suit walking and talking with his skipper at chow time. They spoke again.

The next day his skipper gave McDougal the news, “Sean, you and Troll are going to Baghdad.”

“Excuse me, what do you mean?” McDougal asked.

“Well, the ambassador asked for you.”

“What ambassador and what are you talking about?”

“Well, the ambassador you spoke with last night and today.”

The ambassador was Walter Slocum and he wanted McDougal and his buddy Troll to go into Baghdad and help fix up the palaces.

“The whole reason I went to Baghdad was because I was bored late one night and decided to help out the guys in the Third ID by fixing a refrigerator that wasn’t cooling their water bottles,” McDougal explained.

Diligence and hard work opened the door for McDougal to a new opportunity. He became part of the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, led by Slocum.

Prayer:

Thank you for the blessing you provide as the result of diligence and hard work.

“Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will serve before kings; he will not serve before obscure men.” (Proverbs 22:29)

January 24

Palaces and Mass Graves

Lt. Sean McDougal, United States Navy

“My collateral duties ended up being the major part of my job,” Navy Lieutenant Sean McDougal explained about his work in Baghdad in 2003.

McDougal’s Iraq experience was common. Often collateral or “side jobs” took precedence over designated responsibilities. McDougal described collateral duties this way: “If your main duty is to be a dad, your collateral duty might be taking out garbage.”

“My job was to fix up Uday Hussein’s palaces, mansions,” McDougal noted. However, because he had LIVE weapons training and had set up antiterrorism force protection for the Navy as the director for Schoolhouse training in Hawaii, he took on hefty collateral duties. He provided security for teams that “went out of the wire” and into Baghdad searching for evidence of embargo violations by Saddam Hussein. They were seeking proof that he had misused oil money.

One of McDougal’s collateral duties took him to a site he never imagined he would ever see: mass graves. They were looking for evidence of abuses.

What made these graves so secret was not the style of burying. These weren’t deep holes with mounds of bodies covered by several feet of dirt. Saddam chose distance, not depth, to bury evidence of his dastardly deeds. He picked remote locations in the desert, such as the site that McDougal visited about an hour outside of Bagdad, to hide his evil. Saddam had Iraqi soldiers buried in mass graves to hide the number of casualties in Iraq’s war with Iran. He or his sons also ordered thousands of Iraqis killed.

These graves were very shallow. Sand thinly covers the skulls and bones that remain. From a distance, these graves look like dimpled sand dunes against an otherwise smooth terrain.

Small signs, as crude as a typical handmade yard sale sign in America, mark the graves. With Saddam dead, Iraqis felt free to the mass graves. They hoped to find even just a remnant such as the sole of shoe of their loved one, and carry it home as a reminder of the one lost.

The uncovering of these mass graves revealed that in the end, Saddam’s evil could not be kept a secret. The evidence was obvious to all who visited these remote desert dunes.

Prayer:

Thank you that you are a God of justice who knows all things.

“He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him.” (Daniel 2:22)

January 25

BRICKS AND LIONS

Lt. Sean McDougal, United States Navy

“I took thousands of pictures in Iraq, especially of my tour of Babylon. I have very visible proof that there are four ages of Babylon. The wear and tear on the bricks show all four ages perfectly,” Navy Lieutenant Sean McDougal noted.

McDougal also took pictures of the Saddam Hussein bricks. Saddam ordered workers to reconstruct King Nebuchadnezzar II’s massive palace. One brick in the center of each wall was inscribed with praises of Nebuchadnezzar. Saddam also had a brick placed in the center of each wall. These bricks proclaimed him as the fourth emperor of Babylon and a descendant of Nebuchadnezzar. By some accounts Saddam used as many as sixty million bricks to rebuild Babylon.

“Saddam saw himself as the fourth person to rebuild Babylon. All that made me see Daniel Chapter 2 in a whole new light.”

Daniel interprets a dream for Nebuchadnezzar and details the four emperors of Babylon. The fourth kingdom had feet made of iron mixed with clay. “As iron is strong but brittle and does not mix with clay, the fourth emperor will fall quickly and the nation of Babylon will not be united and will split up.”

That is exactly what Saddam tried to do and he fell quickly. McDougal visited Basra’s underground prison, which many Iraqis claim as the lion’s den where Daniel was held.

“The tour guide told us of the story of Babylon and how the Nazis came in WWII, and took everything. The only statue left was what they call the Lion of Babylon, or to some, the Lion of Daniel,” McDougal said. The guide’s account seemed ripped from an Indiana Jones movie.

The tour guide claimed that the statue is the only statue of a human and lion in which one is not trying to kill the other. “The Lion of Daniel” shows a lion standing over a man as if protecting him.

Whether or not the Basra prison was the site of Daniel’s imprisonment, there’s no doubt that this prison was a dark, dark place under Saddam’s rule. Many service members have taken pictures and heard stories that document the maze of evil.

The Bible refers to lions nearly 120 times, proving the presence of lions in the ancient Middle East. Lions are now extinct in Iraq. And thanks to the bravery of United States service members such as Sean McDougal Saddam Hussein’s evil reign is also extinct.

Prayer:

Father, thank you for breaking the chains of evil.

“The king was overjoyed and gave orders to lift Daniel out of the den. And when Daniel was lifted from the den, no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.” (Daniel 6:23)

January 26

WHATEVER PROVIDENCE BRINGS

Lt. Daniel Nichols, United States Navy Chaplain

(A reservist goodbye email to his United States Department of Labor colleagues before joining Operation Iraqi Freedom in March 2003)

Whatever providence brings, I can claim to have found such meaning and satisfaction in my employ among all of you.

I am one of thousands. Just one among tens of thousands (reservists) called-up in the past weeks and months, and one of countless thousands for whom the oath we swore, to protect the United States Constitution from enemies foreign and domestic, takes on harsh new reality.

I follow in the steps of far greater men men and women sent from these shores to carry freedom’s torch to places where liberty’s light wanes dim. And when I return, I will bear a title I shall cherish more than any other I have yet attained: United States Veteran.

I suppose it is the right of those afforded such honor to offer a departing word, and if not, your forbearance is requested. You should know that we who go, and those who’ve gone before, are ordinary people. We do not share a single color of skin, an ethnic origin, or a common creed save that of leaving no fallen behind.

Beneath each helmet and uniform stands a brother, a sister, a father, a mother, a son, a daughter, or a friend. As a chaplain, I have shared in their common stories and walked beyond the thin line of bravado to see the human being beneath. But though these are ordinary people, they are not common. In my experience, I have seen no hereditary trait that presupposes a person toward bravery. And these are courageous people, not for staring death in the face, but for embracing duty when called and struggling forward against all odds for the sake of a few intangible values. Values such as liberty and human dignity, values without which life on earth would bear no worth at all.

I know that all of you will strive with diligence and dignity in your various tasks. There is but one thing I would request before trading my coat and tie for boots and a pack: honor the veterans among you and among the people you serve. Honor them not simply with a smile or a clap on the back, but with sensible policy and mindful execution of your duties. The cost of service to country is often very high and with lasting consequences for those who go and loved ones who remain.

I wish all of you tremendous success and look forward with hope to the privilege of serving with you again.

Prayer:

Thank you for those veterans who have served this nation.

“You will increase my honor and comfort me once again.” (Psalm 71:21)

January 27

KEEP IT SIMPLE

Lt. Daniel Nichols, United States Navy Chaplain

(A devotional given to members of the Navy and Marine Corps in June 2003, during Operation Iraqi Freedom.)

Jesus of Nazareth understood people, and he certainly understood me very well: I need things to be plain and simple. Mind you, this doesn’t make a person any less of an intellectual. Indeed, many intellectuals have a suspicious habit of convoluting their discussion with wise sounding phrases and fancy words.

But there is a difference between polish and power.

We in this Navy and Marine Corps team have our moments of polish and shine; but not without having earned it first. Indeed, there is something to be said for our shared habit of being succinct that surpasses concepts like efficiency and finds itself rooted in the example set by Jesus so many centuries ago.

That is the difference between polish and power.

Think back, if you will, to the days preceding your coming here, preceding the war. Apart from the jitter in your gut, most likely there was a sense of tradition, of history, of feeling part of something larger than yourself. If I’m wrong just try to follow me, but I’m thinking many of you had visions of yourselves accomplishing heroic deeds and winning much acclaim for family, God, country, and corps for the majority of Marines out there.

Those imaginings were not based upon arrogant presumptions. They were based upon discipline, training, and courage all enhanced by experience. My guess is, you weren’t thinking about accomplishing whatever tasks might be set before you using complex formulas or grand schemes.

You kept it plain and simple.

Pilots would fly. Gunners would shoot. Mechanics would fix. Docs would heal. All of the years of training, dreaming, sweating, studying, thinking, hoping, and praying were summarized with the same succinct, but informed assurance with which Jesus answered those who questioned him.

When you know what you are about, when you know where you are from, when you take hold of those virtues which are greater than yourself, when you focus your abilities upon the task at hand, and act, THEN regardless of your success you surpass the impotent polish of childishness and begin to live in the power that springs from maturity.

All of you have grown through this experience and will continue to grow and mature as this mission presses forward. Not because of polish, but because of perseverance.

Continue to keep it simple Marines and Sailors, by handling one task at a time and one day as it comes to you. Let us, together, weave yet another red stripe on Old Glory.

Prayer:

Eternal God, thank you for the simplicity of handling life one day at a time. Amen

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37–40)

January 28

JESUS LOVES THE LITTLE CHILDREN…

Lt. Daniel Nichols, United States Navy Chaplain

It was late June, 2003, my first opportunity to walk among the people of Iraq. The children especially swarmed around our small group as we made our way through the ancient pathways of a small village just south of Babylon. Dark haired, bright-eyed faces swarmed all around, waving, clapping, and sticking their hands out for a handshake, and it was all accompanied by little voices vying for attention.

“Meestar meestar!” was the frequent call that came to my ear. Perhaps it was my six-foot-five frame, or that I was wearing the garb of a chaplain a different uniform than those with whom I traveled, but it was more than likely the fact that I was not carrying a weapon of any kind. A few begged, for money, some begged for food, or for shoes to wear on their calloused feet as they jogged along the hot tile-paved alleyways. But more than that they wanted to be around the excitement and to be touched by these strangers in their midst.

My gaze shifted frequently from this boisterous throng to the adults, who paused in their shops or as they traveled, staring at us in uncomfortable silence. Yet, many of these offered a smile and a wave, likely those who had returned to gainful employment.

One thought still echoes through my mind as I reflect upon that experience. For many of these children, their first memory of life will be clapping and cheering for American soldiers as endless convoys drive past their agrarian homes. I wonder what their next memory will be. I hope it will be one of freedom, of joy, of hope.

As people of faith, ours is the burden, not only to hope for good, but to do it. Likewise, as heirs to a heavenly and eternal inheritance, as children of the living God, it is not enough for us to speak of prayer and how prayer changes lives. We are to be people of prayer, people who communicate with the Creator and Redeemer of all people.

Prayer:

Thank you for prayer and the privilege to pray for others around the world.

“Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them.” (Matthew 19:13)

January 29

ALL THE CHILDREN OF THE WORLD…

Lt. Daniel Nichols, United States Navy Chaplain

The time passed quickly that day, my first walk outside of the confines of a protective convoy in a village just south of Baghdad in early July, 2003. And our business finished, we were about to depart when a young boy appeared before me, standing quietly and looking up at me through large bright eyes. His red shirt was tattered and dirty, but his smile and his countenance were as untarnished as a cloudless sky. Another boy who had been harrying me for money and attention received a quick elbow to the ribs in the way that young boys do, and moved off to other interests.

Thus, this young child, a boy of perhaps ten years of age watched me for a moment before saying in strongly accented English, “Thank you for freedom.” “America, I thank you.” “Mr. Bush” he kissed his curled finger in a sign meaning prayer and blessing and lifted it upward. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” I replied and held out my hand to shake his. He had a strong grip for a small child. For a moment we simply studied one another as smiles blossomed on our faces. He pointed to the nametag on my uniform, which had my English name written in Arabic script.

“Schlonek,” he said, curiously, not sure what to make of my name.

Apparently the seamstress had sewn the letters from left to right as we read them in English. He read right to left.

“Nichols,” I corrected him and patted my chest. He then pointed again to the insignia below my name and read off the English letters one by one.

“LT, CHC, USNR United States it means. You are of United States,” he said, grinning at his newfound comprehension.

He smiled broad and wide. “Yes,” I smiled in return, reminded of my four children and wife back at home.

Again he repeated, “Thank you for freedom.”

And then I am whisked away, my mind fogging with the images, the smells, the poverty, and yet some small tangible sense that hope has been seeded into the next generation. These children represent the future of Iraq. They will grow up remembering the great changes brought to their nation. I shall pray for that hope, and I shall pray for the Iraqi people.

Prayer:

Thank you for the precious gift of children and the hope you give through them and for them.

“But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” (Luke 18:16)

January 30

GREETINGS MARINES

Lt. Daniel Nichols, United States Navy Chaplain

Have you stopped recently to consider what it is that you’ve accomplished? I’m not certain if many of you have been able to witness new-born liberty, but just a few miles north of us, hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of people are experiencing what we take for granted every day for the very first time. Let me relate an experience shared with me only a few weeks ago. I’ll do my best to give the telling it’s due.

A corporal with Division had been on a routine soda run, and like other times, a small crowd of children gathered around to watch. As was his normal routine, the young marine offered candy to the delight of those gathering nearby. Upon completing his purchases, the marine turned to find an older Iraqi man standing before him holding a broken cross. Puzzled, the corporal asked if he needed some help, all the time mindful and somewhat intimidated by the growing numbers around them.

“I am a Christian,” said the man, holding up the broken cross, trying to connect with the young man. The marine smiled, nodded, and moved to the side to be on his way, but the man insisted in his broken English. “I am a Christian, you are American; I thank you.”

The marine turned, puzzled by the exchange, offered another smile. “I could probably fix that cross for you if you like,” he replied.

The older man smiled, clearly not understanding. “Never could I carry such a thing before, not in public, would kill me.” He made a distinct motion with his hand, crossing it over his throat. “You, American Marine, saved me, wife, and children.”

Again, the marine nodded. “You’re welcome,” he managed after a long pause. Then he turned, climbed back in his truck, and looked back one last time at the man.

“I pray for you… for Marines!” shouted the man over the din of the motor.

Then he lifted the cross and declared, “Freedom!”

Marines, no matter how tedious your tasks may seem, you have brought freedom to a people long oppressed, and their gratitude to you will last for generations. Perhaps you will never know exactly how it is that you have changed the lives of these people, but you have and continue to do so every day, with every flight hour, every shift, every turned bolt, every floor swept, every report printed. Few else can claim the same.

Prayer:

Eternal God, give us courage to labor as your servant people, healing broken people and rebuilding devastated communities, providing safety for the weak and hope to those who have none. Position us among the poor with words and deeds of freedom.

“A generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor.” (Proverbs 22:9)

January 31

WHEN HE WAKES UP

Maj. Janis Dashner, Chaplain, United States Air Force

After a convoy on a reconnaissance mission was ambushed, the injured soldiers came to the emergency medical unit in Baghdad where Dashner was serving as an Air Force chaplain. Chaplain Janis Dashner wrote in her journal about the night of December 4, 2003: “Dr. K did all he could to save Bruce’s leg but it was too badly damaged. Only a few hours have passed and he is already on the plane heading for Germany.”

Bruce’s platoon Sergeant, Tommy, was also injured. He had several shrapnel wounds in his legs plus three gunshot wounds one in his upper arm and two in his chest. Unlike Bruce, he was stable enough to wait until the next day for an airlift to the United States military hospital in Germany. Dashner quickly realized that Tommy was more concerned about Bruce than himself.

“Tommy is extremely worried about Bruce’s ability to cope with the loss of his leg. Bruce was orphaned at age seven, grew up in foster homes, doesn’t have a girl friend, and makes friends with great difficulty. He considers the Army unit he is assigned to as his family. Tommy told me that Bruce begged him while they were on the side of the road not to let ‘them’ which is actually ‘us’ take his leg off. He said he would rather die than to have that happen,” she wrote.

Dashner waited all night with Tommy. When Dr. K came and talked to him about his own injuries, Tommy made an interesting request.

“Now Tommy is in a race to get to Germany before Bruce wakes up too much. He wants to be with him when he has to learn this news,” Dashner wrote.

The medical team called the hospital in Germany. The staff there made sure Tommy would occupy the space next to Bruce.

The Sergeant’s concern for Bruce revealed true servant leadership. Despite suffering from three gunshot wounds, Tommy wanted to continue to be a leader and friend to Bruce.

Four years later, Dashner watched the State of the Union Address on TV. When President George W. Bush introduced a young soldier sitting with Mrs. Bush in the gallery, Dashner began to cry.

“The young, tall, healthy Tommy stood up to acknowledge the applause. My tears are ones of joy,” Dashner journaled that night.

Army Sergeant Tommy Rieman of Independence, Kentucky, was awarded the Silver Star for his bravery in Iraq in December 2003.

Prayer:

Father, thank you for using friendship in such a powerful way. Open my eyes to the needs of my friends. May I be a friend who sticks closer to a brother.

“A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24)

February 1

HOPE OF SPRING

Maj. Janis Dashner, Chaplain, United States Air Force

“The news tells us of the cold weather that is coming over the United States. We on the other hand are having some spring time experiences. After all the rain from last week, we have grass! It is growing in and around cracks and in between the C wire. It is soft bright green grass. I know it is soft because I stopped to pet it, it’s a simple pleasure,” Chaplain Janis Dashner wrote in her journal on December 12, 2003.

The moment reminded her of Song of Solomon 2:11–12 “For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth.” And in this case, grass.

“I’m sure our winter isn’t over just yet. But it is nice to have a preview of the spring to come. I’m sure the winter for the Iraqi people isn’t over either… but spring will come,” she continued.

Dashner served at a Mobile Aeromedical Staging Facility in Baghdad. The television show, M*A*S*H, depicted doctors and nurses rushing to helicopters to retrieve wounded patients. MASFs are a modern version but with a key difference. Military medical staff stabilize wounded patients at a MASF and then load them onto a plane that takes them to a hospital. The MASF is mobile and usually used at the beginning of a war. When the situation is stabilized, a Contingency Aeromedical Staging Facility takes over. Dashner witnessed this transformation.

“The MASF has grown into a CASF which is a larger facility with the capability to hold patients for longer periods of time. This is the place where patients are ‘collected’ from various treatment areas, field hospitals, and surgical hospitals; they stay with us until airlift is ready to fly them, usually to Germany,” she wrote in her journal, noting that loading patients onto planes is often heavy work.

And while spring had not fully come to the people of Iraq, the transformation of the MASF to a CASF was a hopeful indicator of a more stable Iraq, a little green grass growing under the barbed wire. The day after Dashner wrote about the hopeful signs of spring, United States soldiers captured Sadaam Hussein. Hope was on the horizon.

Prayer:

Father, thank you for the hopeful signs you give of new life to come, of the change of seasons that electrify the earth. I pray for continued hope for the people of Iraq.

“See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land.” (Song of Solomon 2:11–12)

February 2

MAY I SEE A MIRROR?

Maj. Janis Dashner, Chaplain, United States Air Force

Four patients wounded from the same building explosion arrived at the CASF where Chaplain Janis Dashner served. One of them was named Chuck. He had lost one eye and had extensive shrapnel facial wounds. The morphine left him confused.

“While in the convoy from the hospital in the Green Zone to us he got disoriented. He shared that ride with a soldier from Pakistan. Hearing the foreign language confused Chuck; I don’t think he realized he was in United States hands,” she wrote on December 12, 2003.

The medical staff asked Dashner to watch him.

“When I took his hand to introduce myself, he held on and didn’t let go. His ‘good’ eye was swollen shut and he couldn’t see. My ministry last night was to talk with Chuck, to calm him down, to wash his arms and legs off so we could see what wounds needed dressings and what were just scratches from crawling through the debris,” she wrote, noting he soon fell asleep.

Chuck woke up two hours later.

“I noticed him as he reached up to touch his face. He was feeling the stitches that had been put in place to piece together his face. Then he asked the question I don’t think any of us expected. Chuck asked if he could have a mirror. As his nurse found one for him, I told him what he was going to see. When he looked at himself, through one blurred eye, he asked me. ‘Do you think my children will kiss me when they see me?’”

As a chaplain, Dashner knew her job was not to have magic answers but provide hope. And although she gave an apt reply, the moment pulled on her heart.

“Wow. Try to stay upbeat and reassuring with that question,” she wrote of the difficulty.

While they loaded Chuck and the others onto the plane, bombs exploded nearby.

“All I could think was how scary it would be to be blind, tied to a litter, and then, on top of all that, hear explosions going off not too far away. Tonight this group will be in Germany, safe from further harm,” she wrote.

As she journaled about Chuck, a mortuary staffer called, asking her to conduct a memorial service.

“In the midst of this job, I am doing all stuff other normal pastors around the world are doing (preaching on Sunday, preparing Bible studies). I am reminded of my seminary professor’s words: ‘that Sunday mornings come with amazing regularity.’”

Prayer:

Remove callousness from my heart. Give me the tenderness of a chaplain and the courage to speak reassuring words to those in need.

“A man finds joy in giving an apt reply and how good is a timely word!” (Proverbs 15:23)

February 3

BUDDIES

Maj. Janis Dashner, Chaplain, United States Air Force

“‘Is he going to be alright?’ That was the first question Joe asked when I walked up to his bed side,” Chaplain Janis Dashner wrote in her journal on March 3, 2004.

He had been watching me as I stood at the bedside of a patient directly across from him. Both of them had just come by helicopter to the CASF, and both had been injured in the same mortar attack, though they didn’t know each other. Now, a common experience bonded Joe to the guy across the aisle from him,

Joe had serious injuries to both of his legs, which were held together with pins. As he wiggled his toes, he couldn’t believe that he still had his legs. The guy in the other bed was worse. Shrapnel had torn apart his body armor and helmet. The equipment had saved his life, but a piece of shrapnel got in, up under the front of the Kevlar helmet.”

The man had undergone head surgery but was very confused. Joe was touched by the other man’s condition.

“Joe told me that they had been put in the same vehicle after the attack, but didn’t know what to do for him. Joe kept talking to him ‘Hang on buddy, we’ve got you. You’re going to be alright.’ Now, as Joe was talking to me, that life affirming declaration became a question. ‘Is he going to be alright?’” Dashner recorded.

Although she had heard similar questions over the years, she never quite got used to them. Her heart remained tender.

“I never know the answers to these questions, none of us do, not the doctors, nor nurses, nor the medical technicians who work tirelessly to save lives. God knows that answer,” Chaplain Dashner wrote.

Dashner’s experience had taught that friendship was essential in the recovery process. She focused on this truth as she concluded her journal that night.

“I know that Joe and his buddy are alive and heading to Germany tonight. I know that Joe is still watching over a friend who has been through a life-altering event with him. I know they both have a chance to live beyond these events, a chance that others do not have. I know that without a buddy like Joe it would be a hard and lonely recovery for one soldier.”

Prayer:

Thank you for the strength that friendship provides. Enable me to be a better friend to someone today.

“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” (Proverbs 17:17)

February 4

ARE WE SURE?

Gina Elliott Kim, daughter of Larry and Jean Elliott, missionaries to Iraq, 2004

“After much prayer, we now knew where the Lord wanted to lead us, so we accepted a position in Baghdad, Iraq,” was the sentiment if not the exact words of that astounding email my parents sent about their decision.

“Whew!” I said, sitting at my computer in my home in Houston, Texas. My two brothers and I had witnessed my parents, missionaries for twenty-six years in Honduras, daily read the word of God, pray, and diligently seek his will for their lives.

Knowing they were wholly yielded to the Lord, I could only put my faith into action as I replied to their email. I assured them I trusted God.

For years my dad had built water purification systems. In fact, he had made eighty water wells available to Hondurans, along with starting twelve Baptist churches, and establishing ninety-two mission points there. He wanted to take this system to Iraq and give people clean water to drink, build relationships with them, and ultimately share Christ with them in a friendship-way. The missionary guideline for the Muslim world is not to engage in direct pulpit evangelism but to share the Christian faith when asked about it directly and, above all, show love through service.

When my parents came through Houston on their way to Iraq, they shared this story with my Sunday School class at church. Mom had asked Dad if they were sure the only reason they were going to Iraq was because the Lord was leading them and not for any other reason. My father reassured her and offered to pray, asking God to speak to them.

They got on their knees, letting their Bible fall on their bed. It opened to Psalm 139:7–10: “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”

And to the Elliotts, the far side of the sea meant Iraq and it was confirmation that they were indeed to go to the far side of the sea.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for your promise to be with me today wherever my path may take me.

“If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.” (Psalm 139:9–10)

February 5

LIFE GIVEN IN LOVE

Gina Elliott Kim, daughter of Larry and Jean Elliott, missionaries to Iraq, 2004

My parents, Larry and Jean Elliott, were killed March 15, 2004, in a drive-by shooting in Mosul, Iraq, where they were scouting sites for a water purification plant. Gunmen fired AK-47 assault weapons on their vehicle. Their coworkers, Karen Watson and David McDonnall, also died. Carrie McDonnall survived. My parents were fully aware of the dangers of Iraq and with their whole hearts they knew they were in the center of God’s will.

A young Christian Kurd, who had survived a chemical weapons attack ordered by Saddam Hussein, traveled with my parents. He noticed that Mom and Dad meticulously documented the names of each village they visited and listed ways they could help meet needs. My dad repeated, “I love this project; this is what I’ve lived my life for.”

My mom emailed me that she was determined to learn the Arabic language and then teach Dad. How she loved these people and wanted to tell them about the love of Jesus. In an email she told me she had asked their driver to share with her numerous Arabic phrases and expressions. Then she wrote them down twice phonetically and with the right spelling.

When the FBI returned their belongings to us, we discovered a sheet of paper folded up with all those words written down in her own handwriting, just as she had emailed me. It was only an 8½ × 11 inch sheet of white paper folded in two and then in two again and again. There was one bullet hole through the middle. When we unfolded it, the paper resembled one of those snowflakes that you cut out in kindergarten. One bullet had made eight holes.

This unique, bullet-created snowflake on paper decorated with handwritten Arabic phrases was such a literal example of how my parents lived their lives. They were wholly committed to sharing God’s love even at the risk of their own lives. Like that paper snowflake, their lives were unique. When their legacy is full opened in heaven, their snowflake will be something beautiful and intricate, decorated with stories of the lives they touched and the light they shared.

“Years ago Larry and Jean died to self. They lived for the needs of others and the glory of God. Larry and Jean discovered long ago there was a cause worth living for and a cause worth dying for,” said Jerry Rankin, International Mission Board President.

Prayer:

God I thank you that your cause is worth dying for, because Christ first died on the cross for me.

“They did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.” (Revelation 12:11b)

February 6

DOES MY HELP COME FROM?

Gina Elliott Kim, daughter of Larry and Jean Elliott, missionaries to Iraq, 2004

I was not ready to attend another funeral. Mom and Dad had died only five months earlier. But my good friend’s brother died tragically. She had helped me so much through my grief, and I needed to go. With a few other friends, I flew to Oklahoma. When we got to the church, they could tell I needed a few moments alone. I sat in the car with my cell phone in one hand and a small Bible in the other.

With tears streaming, I cried out, saying, “Lord, now is the time I would call Mom and Dad and say, ‘Please pray for me right now. I am having a difficult time.’ But I can’t do that! I need you to talk to me, to be REAL to me. I am going to open up my Bible and ask you to please speak to me!”

I opened up my Bible to Psalm 121:1–2, “I lift up my eyes to the hills where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”

I wondered why he didn’t reveal something more “profound”, but I thanked him for being my helper, trusting that passage was what he wanted me to read. I regained my composure, went inside, and greeted the family. As I waited in the pew, I wondered what the pastor would say, praying for God to give him the right words.

“You know, I didn’t know what I would say today,” the pastor confessed as he addressed the congregation. “What do you say to the family when a tragedy like this happens to a loved one? I asked the Lord and He showed me. I want to read to you a passage from Psalm 121:1–2.”

I sat back with such awe as he read that SAME passage. It was as if the Lord reached down from Heaven, put his loving arms around me and said, “I am your Helper! Look to me and I will take care of you! I will never leave you!” I thanked him for being so REAL to me! To maintain my composure, I focused on the cross hanging behind the pastor. On reflection, I realized the only way my family and I would get through this difficult time was to focus on the cross and let him be our Helper.

Prayer:

Lord, please help me to lift my eyes to YOU and to realize that my help indeed comes from you, the maker of heaven and earth!

“I lift up my eyes to the hills where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:1–2)

February 7

DADDY’S LAST WORDS

Gina Elliott Kim, daughter of Larry and Jean Elliott, missionaries to Iraq, 2004

“Mom, what were the last words your Daddy said to you before he died?” my daughter asked out of the blue.

We were driving one morning a few years after my parents’ death. Her question caught me off guard. I pondered a minute to think about my answer. I had thought about so many things since my parents’ tragic death in Iraq in March 2004 my father’s hearty laugh, my mother’s radiant smile, their fearless commitment to their faith, and simply that people wanted to follow them. For some reason, I had never thought about that one specific question. It only took me a second to remember, though.

“Love you!” Dad had written in his last email to me.

It was a short, sweet one-sentence email that he wrote to me after sending a group email to the rest of our family. They had written they were happy to be in Iraq and believed that no matter what happened, they were in God’s hands. They were where they should be.

“Hey Sweetheart, we are fine, just have not had access to the internet. Love you! Dad.”

I know my Daddy did not know those would be the last words he’d ever say to his only daughter this side of Heaven. Once more, I thought how God had blessed me even in this difficult time by taking care of so many details just like this one. I thanked the Lord for letting the last words from my father be that he loves me, especially since my “love language” is words of encouragement above the other languages of time, gifts, service, or affection defined by relationship expert Gary Chapman.

But then I realized that my father could have died at almost any time and his last words to me would have been ones of love and encouragement. You see, my Dad was so good about using words to encourage people. During this time of indescribable grief and pain, I have remembered the numerous times he put his hand on my shoulder and said things like, “Do you know how proud I am of you?” and then, repeating, “Do you really know?”

I have wondered what my last words will be to those I love. I want to live each day, blessing others with my words, for like my Dad, I will never know when my last words will be.

Prayer:

Lord, may my words bring you glory each and every day. May I be a blessing to those with whom I come into contact every day. Make my mouth a vessel of your love.

“A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” (Proverbs 25:11)

February 8

PRIMER 1: THE QUARTERMASTER

Capt. Mark Braswell, United States Army

Of the three J’s behind this book John, Jocelyn, and Jane (me), I’m the one without military experience. Dr. John Croushorn is author of A Walk in the Sand an army doctor who served in Iraq.

Jocelyn Green has first-hand experience on the front lines of military family life and has written Faith Deployed: Daily Encouragement for Military Wives.

Working for President George W. Bush in the White House for two years has given me insight into government and political perspectives. My previous books, including one in this Battlefields and Blessings series, Stories of Faith and Courage from the Revolutionary War, have given me a strong historical perspective. Good stuff, but not a substitute for military know-how.

But what I do bring are questions, because I’m not totally familiar with military terms, such as, “When you say the net do you mean communications network?”

“Yes,” the Marine replied.

What I needed was a military primer, and that’s what I received in April 2008, when I traveled to San Antonio for a speaking engagement. While checking my luggage to fly back, I suddenly realized I was surrounded by Army Reservists. I told one of them about this book, and he pointed to an Army Captain.

“See the patch on his arm? He’s been to Iraq. Talk to him.”

When I got to the gate, I introduced myself, explaining my mission of seeking stories for this book. Our plane was delayed an hour. Perfect timing. He suggested we get coffee. As we sat down, I got to know Captain Mark Braswell. As it turns out, we are the same age. Although we attended different Texas universities, we had a few friends in common. He gave me a primer on Iraq. He defined terms and even drew me a map, explaining locations and the challenges he and his company faced during their service there.

Capt. Braswell’s job was infrastructure, which made him the perfect person to issue an impromptu primer. He commanded the 340th Quartermaster Company in the United States Army Reserve, based out of Fort Sam Houston. Their mission was to provide shower, laundry, and clothing renovation services to soldiers. One can’t get more basic than showers and clothing.

Sometimes you have to turn to the basics in life to get started on a new path, to learn something new. God gave me a primer through someone well equipped in equipping. The meeting was a reminder to me of God’s provision for this book.

Prayer:

Thank you for your provision of wisdom and knowledge at just the right time.

“Our barns will be filled with every kind of provision.” (Psalm 133:13a)

February 9

PRIMER 2: MOS AND FLEXICUTE

Capt. Mark Braswell, United States Army

I had the opportunity to talk with Captain Mark Braswell at the San Antonio airport in April 2008. He commanded the 340th Quartermaster Company, under the United States Army Reserve Command from January 2004 to October 2006, including a one year deployment for Operation Iraqi Freedom from October 2004 to October 2005. Captain Braswell gave me a primer on Iraq and the military to explain some of the basics.

One term he discussed is the MOS, Military Occupational Specialty. The Army and Marine Corps use the MOS to classify general and specific jobs for military personnel. One of the challenges Iraq presented was job expectations in contrast to job realities. Soldiers were trained for a specialty, but because of the changing needs and harsh conditions in Iraq, they often ended up doing something else.

Braswell deployed to Iraq in October 2004. His job was to lead 127 men and women who helped establish shower, laundry, and clothing renovation services at various locations across Iraq. However, a government contractor was in place and already doing much of the work they were trained to do. Seventy-seven of them ended up doing something else providing security for the contractors. They learned to conduct “gun truck” missions in a combat zone. Gun trucks are armored vehicles with crews who escort and protect supply convoys from insurgent attacks.

“They operated .50 caliber machine guns and Mark-19 automatic grenade launchers. They learned to use frequency hopping radios and a Movement Tracking System to call-in and email Casualty Evacuation and Improvised Explosive Device reports. They navigated across Iraq on rugged back roads or alternate supply routes,” Braswell explained.

These soldiers became technically and tactically proficient combat soldiers, eventually mentoring active component units. The 340th lived-up to two mottos, their own motto: Proud and Ready and the Army Reserve’s motto: Twice the citizen Twice the soldier.

Hence, their MOS didn’t hold up as expected. That’s when Braswell told me the real mode of operation in Iraq is flexicuting. “You have to flexicute, that is, execute but remain flexible.”

Braswell’s explanation fit right in with an interview I had recently conducted with a lieutenant. He also found that most of his work in Iraq had little to do with his MOS and more to do with what was needed.

Braswell explained that the diversity of Army Reserve soldiers came in handy for such sliding job descriptions. Army Reserve soldiers have additional skills and know-how thanks to their civilian jobs. Because he’s an attorney, Braswell was accustomed to holding another job. Being an Army Reservist had an added benefit of being flexible in the field.

Flexicute applies no matter the job. For whatever the work of our hands, God calls us to employ a flexible attitude as well.

Prayer:

May I work with diligence and might at whatever work you bring to my hands and may my heart maintain a flexible attitude to the changes around me.

“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.” (Ecclesiastes 9:10a)

February 10

PRIMER 3: FROM BASE TO OUTPOST

Capt. Mark Braswell, United States Army

Captain Mark Braswell provided me with a primer on base structures, from the well-developed Air Base and Camp to the rough and tumble Forward Operating Base (FOB) and Combat Outpost (COP). Air Bases have sophisticated buildings, amenities, and fortifications.

“For example, air bases are developed with paved roads, reliable electricity, hard buildings, multiple dining facilities operated by Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR) with televisions and next-day laundry service by KBR, shower trailers, and flushing toilets. Sometimes they are isolated from urban areas,” Braswell explained.

Camps are the next step down from an Air Base. Rudimentary Combat Outposts are located in insecure territory with no services provided by KBR, fewer life support services and facilities, no showers, and only burn-out latrines like those used in the Vietnam War.

“There are no fixed buildings or Hesco barriers, which are folding mesh-metal barriers that are set-up and filled with sand for protection, or concrete T-walls,” Braswell said. Outposts move with the battle.

Led by Braswell, the 340th Quartermaster Company established field services for six FOBs in Iraq, mostly stretching in the dangerous western Al Anbar Province. Built in secured locations, FOBs had an aid station rather than a hospital and a helicopter landing zone rather than an airstrip. Soldiers prepare and serve only two meals a day without a luxurious KBR dining facility. FOBs support tactical operations of COPs. FOBs are highly beneficial because they reduce reaction time for medics treating injured soldiers and for Quick Reaction Forces to respond to soldiers in combat.

In its most basic form, FOBs include triple strands of concertina wire surrounding them, interlocking fields of fire for crew served weapons, guard posts, and heavily guarded entry control points.

“More advanced FOBs feature additional protections such as Hesco barriers and amenities such as telephone and Internet cafes, porta-johns, and perhaps a Hajji store where soldiers can shop,” Braswell added.

Many life changes take us out of our comfort zone and into a “forward operating base.” College students rely on the support of home while the university gives them a semi-permanent stop on the road of life. Getting a new job and moving to a new town requires new infrastructures, such as new doctors and schools. While not the same as combat, life’s transitions rely on everyday courage until the forward operating position becomes a permanent home base.

Prayer:

Father, thank you for carrying me through life’s transitions, for those forward operating bases that give me enough support and security to get to the next stage in life.

“May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels.” (Psalm 122:7)

February 11

PRIMER 4: METT-TC

Capt. Mark Braswell, United States Army

The 340th Quartermaster Company found itself serving during one of the most difficult phases of the war. They came to Iraq in October 2004, months after the successful 2003 invasion but years before the successful surge.

“Anti-Coalition forces attacked the 340th with mortars, rockets, rocket propelled grenades, Improvised Explosive Devices (IED), daisy-chained IEDs that the 340th called ‘convoy killers,’ snipers, and small arms fire. Incoming mortars came so close that they hit the shower and laundry tents at Camp Habbiniyah and FOB Corrigedor in Ar Ramadi,” recounted Captain Mark Braswell, commander of the 340th Quartermaster Company that provided crew members with gun trucks, and provided supplies as they outfitted Forward Operating Bases.

What they faced was an ever smarter enemy. Braswell shared about a battlefield formula known as METT-TC: Mission, Enemy, Time, Terrain, Troops available and Civilians on the battlefields. This formula was crucial to making decisions about fighting an ever smarter enemy. Evaluating the elements of METT-TC led to changes in daily operations, such as timing.

“The mission of providing Shower, Laundry and Clothing Renovation (SLCR) services was often affected by enemy activity. During major offensive operations, the soldiers closed down the shower tent in order to guard detainees in Ramadi. Also, the hours of the day or night (when the SLCR services were provided) changed based on missions and enemy activity.”

The greatest threat to the gun truckers of the 340th Quartermaster Company was traveling in combat logistics patrols. Early on, the enemy figured out how to create IEDs that are often made with high explosive artillery shells. They placed IEDs on road curbs or other hidden locations and waited to detonate them until vehicles or pedestrians passed by. Then the enemy expanded on IEDs by using EFPs or explosively formed projectiles. EFOs are mortar or artillery rounds and rockets that aim and propel the explosion into vehicles. They are designed to penetrate armor from a distance. The METT-TC gave decision makers a guideline for evaluating dangerous terrain.

“Sometimes, roads were closed due to attacks. Soldiers had to wait for Route Clearance teams to clear roads of any IEDs before traveling on the road,” Braswell noted. When main roads were blocked because of combat, soldiers were forced to take back roads and alternate routes and travel at unexpected times. That’s what good guidelines do: provide principles and boundaries to live by.

Prayer:

Thank you for providing practical operating guidelines in your word, and wisdom to keep my path straight.

“I’m giving you thirty sterling principles tested guidelines to live by. Believe me these are truths that work, and will keep you accountable to those who sent you.” (Proverbs 22:17)

February 12

PRIMER 5: MEDALS

Capt. Mark Braswell, United States Army

Captain Mark Braswell went into Iraq in 2004 with two main prayers: that all 127 men and women under his leadership would come home alive. He also prayed that he would come home to be a husband to his wife and a dad to his two newly adopted daughters.

After spending a year providing shower, laundry, and clothing renovation services at Forward Operating Bases in some of the most remote and dangerous places in Iraq and performing gun truck missions supplying and supporting military bases, the soldiers in the 340th lived up to their mottos: Proud and Ready! and Twice the citizen Twice the soldier!

Several of the 127 soldiers serving in the 340th Quartermaster Company were wounded and two had serious head or neck injuries from IEDs. “These two were very close calls. One soldier received an emergency field tracheotomy from a Navy Corpsman that saved his life,” Braswell explained. “Some returned by medevac and all the rest returned in October 2005. All came home alive.”

Braswell was proud of the medals his company earned. Ten of the wounded soldiers earned Purple Heart Medals and seven received Bronze Star Medals. One of the 340th soldiers rescued some Marines who were injured by double stacked landmines in an IED kill-zone for which he was awarded an Army Commendation Medal with “V” device for Valor and thanked by the Commandant of the United States Marine Corps.

Some soldiers earned the new coveted Combat Action Badge for their experience in combat. “Every soldier earned a distinguishing shoulder sleeve insignia for their wartime service, or as soldiers simply call it a ‘combat patch’ that they proudly wear on their right shoulder,” Braswell proudly reported.

No mission was too tough. The soldiers got the job done. Every time, they adapted and overcame the challenges. For their service in Iraq, all of the soldiers in the 340th also received the Armed Forces Reserve Medal with the “M” Mobilization device, the Iraq Campaign Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, and the Overseas Training ribbon.

Although medals and recognition are important, the greater satisfaction for Braswell was knowing that every soldier came home alive; and that he had the opportunity to continue being a father to his daughters and a husband to his wife.

Prayer:

Thank you for the medals and rewards that recognize achievement. Thank you also for the greater blessing of family and friendships.

“Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.” (Matthew 7:20)

February 13

HEART OF A CHILD

Col. Mark Troutman and Sandy Troutman, United States Army

Going to the United States Army War College is an honorable and desirable assignment. Located in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, the War College has a one-year master’s program that is setup in two semesters. The students and their families arrive in the summer for a year of get-togethers and classroom learning.

“During Mark’s first semester, the Senior Leadership Branch contacted him (along with eight others) about going to Iraq in December. It is unheard of to pull students from the War College. So this was a big deal,” Sandy Troutman explained of her husband’s one-year deployment to Iraq. The students would finish the following year.

Some children “keep their own counsel.” One day Sandy took her children, Anna and Nathan, to Boyds Bears near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. There they could build bears by stuffing them with meaningful colored beans: yellow for laughter, green for imagination, blue for friendship, red for love, and purple for bravery.

“I was helping Nathan fill the bear, thinking he might want a full rainbow of beans,” Sandy said. Nathan only wanted two colors: red and purple.

“Mom, this bear is for Dad. I want it filled with love so that Dad is filled with love. So he knows God loves him, we love him and that he has all the love he needs. Dad needs a lot of courage right now, so the rest is for courage,” Nathan said quietly with earnest eyes.

“I managed to choke out something along the lines of ‘his bear being just perfect.’ Needless to say, we did not fill the bear with many of the other colors.”

“As I carry this story in my heart, I realized that for all of my expertise in the human heart, Nathan knew with the simplicity of a child what was needful and really counted. His words expressed a love so pure that it hurt in its blinding brilliance.”

Nathan named the bear Mark Bear. It stayed with him for a long time, quietly going where we went, and in Nathan’s arms every night. Anna and Nathan also sent a tiny bear to Mark from Boyds Bears that day as a symbol of the bears waiting at home for him. When Mark returned in October 2005, Mark Bear faded onto the shelf of beloved but no longer necessary toys. The bears took Mark and Nathan to the other side of a very long year.

Prayer:

Thank you for speaking to the heart in remarkable ways.

“For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45b)

February 14

LETTING GO

Capt. Amy Malugani, United States Marine Corps

One of the hardest moments for Captain Amy Malugani was the day she had to let her Marines go forward to their assigned units. Her public affairs team separated and spread throughout two Marine infantry regiments in November 2004 to clear the booby-trapped city of Fallujah that had been under complete insurgent control after the first attempt to take the city had stalled in April 2004.

“We had synergy. Our personalities matched our work ethics and motivations. It was an amazing team,” Malugani explained.

In the early months of her first tour (August 2004 to March 2005) Malugani served as the public affairs officer for the 1st Force Service Support Group (1st FSSG), which provided logistical support for more than 25,000 Marines and Sailors in al Anbar province. The job of Malugani’s team was to tell their story: internally through documentation and externally through reporters.

In October 2004 Malugani received the call from higher headquarters. Her team would push with the infantry unit into Fallujah. They spread throughout Regimental Combat Team 7 (RCT-7) and RCT-1 to assist about forty embedded reporters covering the battle. The insurgents had grossly inflated the number of civilian casualties during the stalled April push. Getting an accurate story out to the Iraqis and the rest of the world was even more important the second time around.

“I wanted to go and be with those Marines, my team, but I had to let them go and trust, all would be well,” Malugani said, noting that she watched battalion and unit movements from RCT-7 headquarters on the skirts of the city. And while she kept her eye closely on the situation reports that documented the names of casualties, Malugani stayed focus on doing her job with excellence.

“I admired how well the public affairs team seamlessly integrated into all these different facets of the Marine Corps ground, aviation, logistics operating with generals in one moment and then with little notice operating on the front lines with infantry lance corporals.”

The battle was block-by-block fighting Marines kicking in doors. One block might be filled with smoke from a full-scale battle while at the same time another might be calm, filled with Marines distributing food. Although it was hard letting her team go, the situation was beyond her control. She had to trust.

“You do your part and there’s just a higher power, a divine order. There is enough grace to deal with whatever comes next.”

Prayer:

Thank you for giving us the measure of grace we need, moment by moment.

“But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.” (Ephesians 4:7)

February 15

REALITIES

Capt. Amy Malugani, United States Marine Corps

One of the greatest challenges for Captain Amy Malugani was mentally preparing for high alert situations. “Knowing that I had the capacity to do whatever it took to keep myself and someone else alive was difficult. I did have to provide security, but I didn’t have to fire my weapon personally, even though there were some close calls. Everyone has that instinct to protect themselves and those around them. Your defense mechanism kicks in,” she noted.

Battlefield realities reveal humanity’s primal state. Everyone wants to get out alive. Surprisingly, reality was sometimes better than expectations. “As my vehicle moved deeper into the city, I expected the stench to be overwhelming based on the death totals but to my dismay it was bearable.”

Sometimes reality was simply a matter of logistics and innovation. When the Marines raised the Iraqi and American flags in the city of Fallujah, there wasn’t a single investigative reporter around to capture the significant moment. A lieutenant used his mini DVD camera to film it. Unit by unit, they handed the recording back through the city in a wrapper from a ready-made-meal.

“Marines moved it from the center of the city to the logistics channel; I got it from the edge of the city and into headquarters. They used it in the press conference that night, and media outlets broadcasted it around the world.”

Sometimes the news media was abuzz with a different reality. A Los Angeles Times photographer captured a striking close-up of a Marine smoking a cigarette reminiscent of the Marlboro man commercials from decades past. Everyone wanted to know his name.

“This was a big deal back in the states. I was getting called to put a name with the famous face. It may appear simple; however reality proved otherwise in the midst of a battle with Marines on the move.”

“At other times reality was worse than expectations. Your brain doesn’t allow you to prepare for some things, such as suddenly being overwhelmed by a swarm of flies or a dog gnawing on a dead insurgent’s remains.

“You don’t allow yourself to imagine some of the sites you’re going to see. I’m a believer in being in the moment, being in the present. There’s always enough grace in the moment. It’s when I go into the past or into the future that anxiety or fear sets in. The grace is in the moment. I tapped into that a lot for strength and peace.”

Prayer:

Father, renew my heart. Help me to live in the present tense, trusting you for strength for whatever comes my way today.

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16)

February 16

SCARED WHEN YOU LEAST EXPECTED IT

Capt. Amy Malugani, United States Marine Corps

“The times I was scared they were the times I didn’t think I would be. The times I was relaxed were times people would think that I’d be scared.” These were the upside-down expectations that Captain Malugani had during the Battle of Fallujah in 2004.

She expected to be scared when she went on jump teams into Fallujah during the taking of the city, but she found calmness instead. “If I had to be any place, I would want to be with an infantry regiment. I was surrounded by a regimental combat team, hundreds of Marines. I felt very safe, protected. I felt surrendered to their expertise.” She also found strength in the experience of those around her.

“My colonel had more than twenty years in the military. I was with a gunner that had more than twenty years and a sergeant major who had more than twenty years. I had sixty years of experience with me every single day. With all that was going on in Iraq, it was not a safe place to be. But now with these three experienced Marines, I was in the safest place I could be.

“Early in my deployment, my mom asked me, ‘Are you safe?’”

“Well, it’s kind of relative, Mom. I’m in Iraq.”

During the Battle of Fallujah, Malugani found that she felt less safe during times of isolation in a tent that the Marines used for transient needs. “They put me in there because I was the only female with them. They were concerned for me, making sure I had space in a secure area. With no electricity and often rain beating down on the fifty-man tent, being alone was accompanied by irrefutable fear.”

She often longed to talk with her father, who had served as an Air Force paratroop rescuer in Vietnam because he would understand the things she was going through. Her grandfather served in the Army during World War II. Their service inspired Amy to join the military. Although she couldn’t always talk to her earthly fathers, she knew she could instantly turn to her heavenly father.

“When I would see things that were really challenging, I would remind myself that this is the now. I knew I would have an opportunity later, when there was time, to process what I was seeing as well as pray. I would remind myself that my expectations weren’t matching my reality and that was okay.”

Prayer:

Thank you for being a Father who is available to listen 24-7.

“About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray.” (Acts 10:9)

February 17

SURRENDER AND FREEDOM

Capt. Amy Malugani, United States Marine Corps

During the Battle of Fallujah in November 2004, Captain Malugani’s lieutenant had moved through with an infantry battalion. On a day-trip into the city with her commanding officer, unexpectedly she was within walking distance to the lieutenant’s operation’s center.

“A reporter came up to me and said, ‘I want to tell you, I wouldn’t have gone through this city if it hadn’t been for your lieutenant. We were all scared to death, but his bravery convinced us to go with him.’”

The battlefield is a primal place. Everyone wants to get out alive, yet so much is beyond one’s control, such as incoming fire. News of casualties hit hard, such as the death of Sergeant Peralta who, while mortally injured, grabbed a grenade thrown by insurgents and saved the lives of the four Marines with him.

“The reporters who went in with us had to trust that we were going to take care of them. Everybody at some point has to surrender, to trust something bigger than self: the person next to them, the equipment, or God. But each individual had to learn to trust.”

“In my own life I just felt so free and surrendered. It’s like the serenity prayer: Change the things I can and accept the things I can’t. I tried to the best of my ability to change the things I could by overseeing public affairs in the very best way. Surrendering to the divine order, I’m doing my part, and the outcome is not really up to me.”

Captain Malugani found freedom in surrender. “Free in the sense of free to not free from. I was free to choose the way I was going to look at it, whether I was going to see grace, chaos, or both. I was free to be present or to shut down and suppress.”

“What I did witness out there was those who believed in a divine order and surrendered to it, had a calmness and contentment about them. Those who didn’t have a belief in a heavenly being tended to be upset. Many days I missed my family and wanted to go home; however, when I chose to put my trust in the divine order, I had the openness to process what I was seeing and experiencing.”

Prayer:

Thank you for the gift of brotherly love that is willing to make the greatest of sacrifices.

“If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:3)

February 18

PREPARATION

Capt. Amy Malugani, United States Marine Corps

“In the midst of chaos there is also tremendous grace each moment. That is what I took with me into Fallujah. Serving with RCT-7, was one of the greatest experiences in my life,” Captain Amy Malugani explained.

Malugani came home from her first Iraq deployment in March 2005. She returned for her second deployment in July 2005. “God is always preparing us for something.”

Two years earlier Malugani was sent to the Philippines for an exercise that prepared her for Iraq. “While in the Philippines, I served with an infantry battalion thirteen hundred guys and two women. I was the only female officer. I couldn’t figure out why I was selected to accompany the unit at the time, but concluded that God was preparing me for something.

“That’s something I love about the Marine Corps. Unexpected situations and circumstances challenge an officer, we grow sometimes seamlessly and sometimes unwillingly with each experience. Each incident came in a different light allowing me to experience something new or to share my knowledge with someone in need.

“During my second tour in Iraq, my Marines went out west, while I remained at the headquarters with the commanding officer. The command element anxiously watched the operations unfold, praying our battalion would come back intact. This was not the case. I was devastated to learn that we had lost nine Marines. One casualty was a fellow officer, a great man with a smile that inspired everyone,” Malugani explained, noting that her faith upheld her when her friend was killed.

Throughout her deployments, Malugani took religious education courses for confirmation in her church. Her faith proved a safe place for her to be, even allowing her to cry during the time of loss. The Marines under Malugani turned to her for strength. She wondered if they felt more comfortable to let their guard down and cry in front of her because she was a female.

When the Marines came back from operations in western Iraq, they said “Hey, Ma’am, can I see you outside?” Many opened up to her. Maybe they thought that she had it, and thus, they could talk to her. Often words weren’t spoken.

Chaos and grace coexist. “These are opportunities to see that faith is enough. I get so easily distracted; sometimes I forget that faith is enough.”

Prayer:

Thank you for using my past experiences for a good purpose in the future.

“For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” (1 Timothy 4:8)

February 19

IT IS WHAT IT WAS

Capt. Amy Malugani, United States Marine Corps

(Excerpt from an email Malugani sent January 1, 2006)

It is what it is. Some laugh when I say this, some look like they are going to smack me, and some simply wonder if life can really be that simple. I say it because I need to hear it. It’s a good reminder that asking why is usually just a waste of time. The real question is how. This short little phrase is about acceptance and the precursor to action.

Recently I incorporated this little phrase back into my life. I forgot how much peace and simplicity it brought me. Perhaps it’s because I am on my way home and craving the simple life so much. Or perhaps after two combat tours in one year I have learned what’s trivial and what’s important.

Last night a friend and I discussed the book I am reading, The Great Divorce, by C. S. Lewis. The book is mostly about decisions and surrender. As the conversation progressed, it led to stories and analogies about letting go and letting God. We both kept coming back to the same point: it has to be a decision we make every day. Surrender is something that is done one day a time; the more we let go the more freedom we experience.

Towards the end of our conversation, my friend looked at me and said, “Amy, it was what it was.” The exchange was a moment of clarity for me.

What a simple phrase yet such a profound effect, well at least on this girl. Sometimes we hold onto old habits, people, places, and things because at some point in our life we needed them or so we thought to survive or succeed. However, there comes a point at which the spirit can no longer grow because there is not room for it to stretch out and expand. We have to make a decision to make room for the new; we have to make a decision to let go of the old. The simplest way to let go is to know and accept that it “was what it was” and now my life “is what it is.”

Change isn’t bad. Sometimes it’s not good but most of the time it just “is.” My hope for all of you is that you will live life one day at a time and embrace the blessings God has for you each day.

Prayer:

Father, thank you for the new life I can have in you each day.

“We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Romans 6:4)

February 20

MARINE CLUB

Todd Akin, United States Congressman, Missouri and father of Lt. Perry Akin, United States Marine Corps

“God put in Perry’s heart the service of the Marine Corps,” Congressman Todd Akin (R-Missouri) explained of his son’s life-long desire to be a Marine.

Akin passed down a principle found in Ephesians 2:10 to his six children. “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

“What most people know intuitively is that God made us unique. That’s a very common thought. But the other part of this verse says ‘from the beginning of time, before the ages, God had a job that every single one of us are called and prepared to do for him,’” Akin explained.

That desire to find a purpose in life begins early. Adults often ask children what they want to do when they grow up. Children may answer “be a fireman” or “be a doctor” but they often aren’t sure. What children do know is this: they want to do something.

“Most people don’t really know what they want to do at an early age but there’s something inside that’s guiding and pulling them in certain directions, so they try this or that. My belief is that every one of us has a sort of a destiny something we were created to do for the Lord.”

Akin witnessed this guiding and pulling in his son. As a boy, Perry started a Marine club with his brothers and friends. They bought used uniforms and little wooden rifles from an army surplus store to use in their club.

“They stood at attention in line. They raised the American flag on the flag pole. They tied pieces of clothes line to the top of trees. They took big steel pulleys and slid down the line, crashing into the ground. But they were tough and didn’t cry because the Marines don’t cry,” he reflected with a laugh.

It was no surprise to Akin when Perry entered the Naval Academy. Perry’s decision to become a Marine was the workmanship of God, manifested in childhood.

“And so it takes courage, a great deal of courage to chase the dream that God puts in your heart. Yet you can do it because you know the Lord is with you. And so that’s something that I taught to my children,” Akin explained.

It’s never too late to seek God’s purpose for your life. It simply takes faith to ask God for direction and courage to follow where he leads.

Prayer:

Lord, give me the courage to pursue the dreams you have put in my heart.

“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10)

February 21

CHALLENGE TO TRUST IN GOD

Todd Akin, United States Congressman, Missouri and father of Lt. Perry Akin, United States Marine Corps

While at the Naval Academy, Perry Akin followed the dreams God placed in his heart. His senior year and subsequent training brought a few news-worthy moments to his dad, Congressman Todd Akin.

“Father I would like to have permission to enter into courtship with your scheduler,” Perry requested. The young scheduler was Amanda, a member of Akin’s staff.

“Not my scheduler?” the stunned congressman replied. “She’s seven years older than you are.”

“Well, Dad, she’s a godly woman, and she’d make a really good wife even though she’s seven years older,” Perry responded.

Congressman Akin agreed. His scheduler eventually became his daughter-in-law. After finishing the Naval Academy, Perry entered the United States Marine Corps.

“He went through basic training, contracted mononucleosis somehow, was sicker than a dog, and finished his training in spite of it. He was still recovering from mono when he went to Camp Lejeune. Even being under the weather, Perry succeeded in passing the Marine life-saving training. (Because this experience is so hard, a small percentage of people ever pass the test.) He’s very self-disciplined,” Akin described with fatherly pride.

As the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, Congressman Akin was well-briefed on Iraq. “Then in January 2005 came the biggest news of all: Perry was being shipped to Fallujah. His mother and I were concerned because we kept reading in the newspaper about Marines who had died while there.”

Perry’s maturity was evident as he reassured his parents of his faith in God and reminded them to acknowledge the Lord in all circumstances. “You know, my days on this earth are exactly as long as the Lord allows them to be. Nothing I can do can make them grow shorter or longer. It is all in the Lord’s hands.”

“So we put our trust in God. Perry reminded his mother and me of the Lord’s direction as he went to serve,” Akin said of his resolution to trust God while his son was in Iraq.

From the choices we make to the uncontrollable conditions we face, God reminds us to trust in him and not in our own understanding.

Prayer:

Thank you for reminding me to turn to you in trust and faith, especially when life brings surprising news.

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5–6)

February 22

WORK LEFT TO DO

Todd Akin, United States Congressman, Missouri, and father of Lt. Perry Akin, United States Marine Corps

Lt. Perry Akin’s first great challenge came within days of arriving in Fallujah in January 2005. One responsibility was looking for IEDs. Perry just about found one in a puddle on a road in the rainy season, but he looked at it and concluded that it wasn’t an IED. A short time later, a Humvee drove over the road, and to the dismay of Perry, there was an IED in that puddle. It destroyed the Humvee, but fortunately, did not kill the driver.

“It was a place where an enemy was sitting with a detonator; he could have easily pushed the button when he saw Perry standing and looking at that puddle,” Akin noted of the close call.

The next great challenge came a few months later when Perry was promoted from second lieutenant to first lieutenant. About this time Congressman Akin was part of a Congressional delegation to Baghdad. Akin received permission to meet with Perry while in Fallujah, his gunny sergeant, the major and lieutenant colonel in charge.

Less than twenty hours later, Akin was on a plane returning to the United States. About the same time, Perry and his men were constructing a roadside guard station. Suddenly mortar rounds started coming in; numerous troops were struck with shrapnel. Perry ran for cover with his gunny when a 120mm mortar round landed ten feet from them. That mortar was the size of a cantaloupe, Akin said, using his hands to illustrate the size by making a circle.

“If it had gone off, I would have been in tiny little pieces, but the round was a dud,” Perry said. Perry’s own words “that his days on earth were exactly as long as the Lord allows them to be” brought comfort. They allowed Congressman Akin to make sense of the miracle.

“It wasn’t God’s time to take Perry. My son had a sense that God had a purpose and a time for all things,” Akin said, reflecting on Ephesians 2:10.

Survival is a mystery. Why do some die while others survive? It’s the question and mystery of the ages. Yet God reminds the living that he has work for them yet to do.

Prayer:

I praise you for those miracles, the blessings of the battlefield. May they remind me of my own purpose, the one you have given especially to me.

“Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’S purpose that prevails.” (Proverbs 19:21)

February 23

A CONGRESSMAN’S QUESTION

Todd Akin, United States Congressman, Missouri and father of Lt. Perry Akin, United States Marine Corps

When Congressman Akin visited his son, Lt. Perry Akin, in Fallujah in March 2005, he asked many questions about the leadership in Iraq. One answer shocked him.

When I talked to the major in Fallujah I asked, “Now, if there were one or two things that I could do to help you, what would they be?”

“I’d like more up-armored Humvees,” the major replied.

“You got to be kidding me? We’ve had this controversy for two years. We are shipping up-armored Humvees into this place (Iraq) like it’s going to sink,” Akin said in disbelief.

“What do you mean you need up-armored Humvees?” Akin asked, astonished.

“Well, we don’t have enough, Sir. We don’t have as many as we need,” the major replied.

As the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, Akin was quite familiar with the up-armored Humvee controversy. Because of the enemy’s increasing use of IEDs and mortar attacks, Humvees needed additional armored protection.

“So I go back here (Washington, D.C.) and have the staffers do some digging. We discover that the up-armored Humvees are going to areas around Iraq where there’s almost no violence, but the Marines in Fallujah were getting a limited amount of the up-armored Humvees. So we changed where the up-armored Humvees were going. Within a month or two, up-armored Humvees were flowing into Fallujah,” Akin said.

Akin didn’t know at the time that his “good work” would soon affect someone close to his son. Congressman Akin was visiting Perry at Camp Lejeune about a year after he’d been in Fallujah. Perry’s best friend from the Naval Academy walked out the front door of this little bungalow where second lieutenants live at Camp Lejeune and greeted Congressman Akin.

“Congressman Akin thank you for saving my life. I was driving one of those up-armored Humvees and hit an IED. It totally destroyed the Humvee but I walked away from it,” the Marine explained.

“That was one of those special moments for me when the Lord made this connection and ended up saving the life of this young man,” Akin said.

Whether serving in Congress or the community center, you are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus in advance to do good works (see Eph. 2:10). Even when you don’t see the fruits of your labor, you can trust in God’s might and firmness in his purpose for your life.

Prayer:

Bring to me confirmation of the work you have for me. Remind me of what is truly important today.

“God is mighty, but does not despise men; he is mighty, and firm in his purpose.” (Job 36:5)

February 24

WHY WE FIGHT

Todd Akin, United States Congressman, Missouri and father of Lt. Perry Akin, United States Marine Corps

A question that reporters often ask Congressman Akin is this: How did having a son in Iraq impact your decisions as a lawmaker?

“It would be nice if I had a flashy story to relate. I grew up in the Vietnam era. I saw the Mel Gibson movie We Were Soldiers that accurately summarized my sense that there wasn’t good civilian leadership when our troops were at war (in Vietnam),” Akin said.

“So as a member of Congress I have a passionate belief that it’s not a light matter to send people to war. When we send men and women to war, we must tell them to win. Don’t send them into a no-win situation. Give them the best equipment possible. Make sure they can whip whoever they face, and get it done.”

“Having my own children in the military didn’t change my mind about anything, because I always felt like all those kids were my kids. You put a name on them, it’s more personal. It’s scarier.”

Akin’s foundations and principles are set. His beliefs in liberty are well grounded.

“I believe there are some principles you are willing to die for. I’ll die for my Creator. I will also die fighting to protect the liberties and freedoms that we inherited in this country. That’s what generations of Americans have been willing to do when their nation called. Their sons and daughters have responded throughout history because we have a creed we believe in,” he said of the principles found in the Declaration of Independence. “We hold these truths to be self evident…”

“There’s a God who gives basic rights to people. The job of government is to protect those rights. To boil it down to a formula: God gives basic rights to people. The job of the government is to be a servant, a protector of those God-given rights,” Akin said.

“So what’s the big deal about us fighting terrorists? Terrorists kill innocent people to make a political statement. Terrorists want to terrorize you and me to take away our liberty. We believe life is a gift from God the exact opposite point of view. We’ve always fought people who are polar opposites of ourselves. That’s what my children were brought up to believe. That’s what I believe. That’s what I do. My work is that I fight the war of ideas rather than bullets,” Congressman Akin explained.

Life is a gift from an everlasting God who created each human heart with a desire for freedom.

Prayer:

Thank you for creating me, for giving me liberty and basic rights. I pray for our government leaders, for their commitment to protect the rights you have given me.

“God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (Genesis 1:28)

February 25

CONGRESSMAN’S HAT

Todd Akin, United States Congressman, Missouri and father of Lt. Perry Akin, United States Marine Corps

“I look at my job in a number of different ways. Sometimes I think God loaned me a hat that says United States Congress. My job is to think how many innovative ways can I find to use my hat today,” Congressman Akin expressed about his governmental role.

“Our lives in Congress are not too much different than anybody else’s. We have just a certain number of people that we talk to, circulate around, and do things. We don’t have much power. Because there are four hundred and thirty-five of us, it’s difficult to get an agreement. Unless there’s a pretty good consensus, many things just don’t happen.”

“Part of wearing my hat means I must take other ways of looking at my job. After graduating from engineering school, I began selling computers for IBM. Now God has called me to sell something else the principles of Scripture that make people free and prosperous. I look for opportunities to sell his ideas.”

Akin spoke to 250 international students who were visiting Washington, D.C. to study American government in the spring of 2008. They were curious.

“What type of government do we have in America and how was it founded?” Akin relayed. He asked them where the idea of separation of church and state came from. They weren’t sure. “The founders got the idea from the Bible.”

He explained the influence of a 1580s-era Scotch theologian, who saw a pattern in the Old Testament of separating civil government from church government. Adopting this idea, the Pilgrims founded America based on the new principle of separating these two governments.

“The Supreme Court has incorrectly understood the First Amendment. It was never the founders’ intent to take God out of civil government, because we believe God is the source of all human rights. How can you take God out of government if you believe he is the source of inalienable rights?” Akin asked.

Akin sees his role as explaining the founding principles of our nation to others. He feels that that’s part of his job to sell God’s ideas.

“I have no power of enforcement. But I have the power to persuade, and that’s how I look at it.”

Regardless of what hat you wear or what skills you possess, God is the source of your inalienable rights, a reason to celebrate life and share your freedom with others.

Prayer:

Thank you for the founding principles of our nation and those who came to the United States to establish a new nation built on the idea that you designed both civil and church government.

“Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:1–2)

February 26

BLUEPRINT

Todd Akin, United States Congressman, Missouri and Father of Lt. Perry Akin, United States Marine Corps

“The thing that makes me tick is 2 Timothy 3:16–17: ‘So that the man of God may be fully equipped for every good work,’” Congressman Todd Akin said, explaining that the Bible provides a blueprint for anything believers need in order to fulfill the tasks God has given them to do.

“You won’t find the details of calculus or some scientific thing in the Bible, but you will find all the principles for life. Now if I were to make a statement to the majority of evangelical churches: ‘the Bible is the blueprint for all of life,’ they would say ‘of course we believe that,’ but their actions suggest that they don’t believe that at all.”

The Bible, the way the founders looked at it, was much more of a blueprint for all aspects of society. As they read it, they discovered the idea of establishing a civil government based on a covenant between groups of people as found in the New Testament church. As a result, the founders replaced the idea of the divine right of kings with a covenantal view of civil government.

“This was a completely new technology built on biblical principles. They believed that if they followed the principles in Scripture, they could build a better civilization. They had the optimism and zeal to go forward and build a new country because they didn’t believe the world was getting worse. By using the principles of God’s Word they believed they could build the “shining city on a hill, a light to the nations.”

“So with this perspective when a person goes to Sunday School class, it’s not ‘if you have enough faith, you can pray for a Cadillac?’ but rather, ‘what does the Bible say about socialism? What does the Bible say about the use of firearms for defending your family? What does the Bible have to say about government?’” Akin asked.

“We should be taking the Bible seriously and applying it to all practical issues, but we’re just not doing that. God has laid this on my heart to see what the Bible has to say about everyday practical matters. The founders viewed the Bible as a gold mine of truth. They believed that society could continue to improve their conditions by building on the blueprint. Today’s populace has barely scratched the surface of what’s there to find,” he said.

Prayer:

Thank you for the blueprint of your word, your Scripture that is my map, my foundation for understanding your plan for life.

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16–17)

February 27

WORK ETHIC

Todd Akin, United States Congressman, Missouri and Father of Lt. Perry Akin, United States Marine Corps

Maintaining a strong work ethic, no matter the job or challenges, was the prevailing view among the nation’s founders.

“The Puritans believed people had a job to do with their lives. Why should one person look down on another if they were doing what God prepared them to do? So how can I look down at another person for their occupation?” Congressman Akin expressed when it came to his viewpoint of work.

“The one person the Puritans looked down on was the individual who wouldn’t work at all, because he wasn’t doing what God called him to do. They developed what is called the Puritan work ethic, which included the idea of a classless society because every person is a child of God doing his work,” Akin elaborated.

“In ancient Judaism, work was expected of even the highest ranking in a home. A wealthy woman was expected to at least spin wool, even if she had servants. For Americans of the founding era, labor was a reflection of one’s calling, benefiting both the individual and society. All of these concepts have contributed to America’s prosperity over the years.

“One of the things that a soldier runs into in Iraq, particularly as it gets to be summertime, is that it’s not a very pleasant environment. Lots of sand, but not enough beaches to go with it. He wears heavy equipment and armor that contributes to his continuous sweating condition because of the high temperatures,” Akin noted.

The men and women serving in Iraq work round the clock, often 24/7 under strenuous and unimaginable conditions.

Although he’s not worked in the uncomfortable conditions found in Iraq, Akin understands the challenge of thankfulness.

“All of us have unpleasant circumstances in our lives. I got cancer seven years ago and that’s not something I would have chosen on my own, but we’re supposed to be thankful in all circumstances regardless,” he continued, explaining how music, particularly songs of praise, uplifts him. Akin continually referred to the challenge of Philippians 4:4, “which calls us to rejoice in the Lord always.”

A strong work ethic combined with a joyful heart and a gracious, thankful, attitude honors God, blesses others, and even prospers a nation.

Prayer:

Thank you for the blessing of work. No matter my circumstance, may I find ways to praise you and rejoice in you.

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4)

Lt. Perry Akin and his father, Congressman Todd Akin, Missouri

February 28

FOLLOW THROUGH

Chaplain (LTC) Gary Hensley was the Command Chaplain, Combined Joint Task Force 101, Regional Command East, BAF, Afghanistan 2008-2009

In 2 Timothy 3, Paul provides encouragement to his young disciple. He instructs Timothy to continue in what he had learned, was convinced of (firmly persuaded and assured of), knowing who he had learned it from (his teachers) and the sacred writings (the teachings found in the ‘Old Testament’) from an early age (young in Christ). Paul told him this would prepare him for the present (obedience, wisdom, knowledge) and ultimate Paul’s example of “follow-through” is an important principle. In sports the “follow-through” is the concluding part of one’s stroke. In any given sport, it is defined as the continuation of the movement of an arm or leg past the point of contact or of release after hitting, throwing, or kicking a ball or other object. This is the final part of the stroke; the continuing of a process or activity, to completion. Without “follow-through” the action is incomplete.

Who your coach is and how you have been coached makes a difference! Consider these examples:

• Little League Baseball: follow-through enables pitchers to throw, and batters to hit.

• Football: follow-through with kicks, passing, and punts enables distance and precision.

• Golfing: follow-through enables a golfer to perform straight drives on the fairway and accurate putting to the hole, and the ability to wedge shots in sand traps to get out of a deep hole.

• College courses require more than registration and syllabi. Students attend lectures, study, write papers and endure testing to reach graduation.

• Special military training for Special Forces, Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape (SERE), Ranger School, and others require coaching and determination.

Our actions in this life are the continuation and completion of our faith. When we are committed to Christ, our trust and confidence in him is strengthened when we focus on his Word and thoughtful mentoring, coaching and discipleship of others.

Prayer:

Thank you so much, Lord, for giving me an understanding of the salvation that comes through faith in Jesus Christ. May I never doubt you or your Word or your presence in my life. Instead, please use me to share your good news with others.

“But as for you, continue to hold to the things that you have learned and of which you are convinced, knowing from whom you learned [them], and how from your childhood you have had a knowledge of and been acquainted with the sacred Writings.…” (Ephesians 5:1–2, Amplified Bible)

March 1

THE BLESSING

Todd Akin, United States Congressman, Missouri and Father of Lt. Perry Akin, United States Marine Corps

“Perry was in Fallujah because his nation called him to defend what he believed in. He was convinced that God gave basic rights to people. Where do those rights come from? Is that something the founders just invented or is there a biblical basis for the fact that God gave us life?” Congressman Akin asked, referring to the principles for which his son, Lt. Perry Akin, fought for in Iraq.

“I now ask people to picture this. Adam and Eve are standing in the garden. They’ve been created by God in the image of God. There’s no sin yet. They’re hardwired with all the things that we feel as human beings. Adam is looking out. He sees his gorgeous wife looking at the garden. He’s shaking with anticipation,” Akin describes of the scene.

“What does God say to him? He says, ‘Adam the way you feel is the way I made you. It’s okay. Be fruitful and multiply. Build a bridge. Put the barn and the orchard over there. It’s okay. That’s what I made you to do: to work the soil, to love your wife, and to make children that the earth can be filled,’” Akin continued.

“You see God called Adam to do what was in his heart to do all along. This was more than a creation mandate; it was the gift of freedom. The Bible says it was a blessing,”

Dictionaries define a mandate as command, but blessings are different, something prosperous, glorifying, and honoring.

The Declaration of Independence reflects the blessing of Genesis. “Creator” signals the origin of the blessing when God gave humanity freedom. “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.”

“It was at that point that humans received their freedom under God. That’s why we fight to protect our God-given freedom,” Akin said. “What is the blessing? Isn’t that what we’ve been fighting for? Isn’t that what the terrorists want to undue?”

And indeed, many have fought for the blessing of life over the years and are defending it today. The blessing is God’s gift to us.

Prayer:

God, what a blessing you have given me, the blessing of freedom, the gift of prosperity and hope for the future.

“God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.” (Genesis 1:28a)

March 2

LIKELIHOODS

Sgt. Michael Huntley, United States Marine Corps

“You guys are the next on the list,” recalled Sergeant Michael Huntley of his deployment to Iraq in 2005. Huntley, a Marine canine handler, had begun training his new dog, Keve, the previous February. “In November 2005, it came time for us to go. Of course my family and friends were worried. People put me on their prayer list. My father told everybody at McLean Bible Church in Virginia, and they were really supportive through their thoughts and prayers.”

Huntley wasn’t too worried. From what he knew, he would likely be stationed at a well-protected, sizable air base such as Al Asad. The worries began when he and the other teams joined up at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, two weeks before deploying.

“As we were arriving, we learned a dog team was coming home from Iraq because the handler had been shot through the arm. He wasn’t hurt too bad, but he was still coming home,” Huntley said.

Because the dogs are so effective at detecting IEDs, insurgents put a higher bounty on dogs and their handlers than other soldiers and Marines. Snipers were on the hunt. When the injured handler arrived at Camp Lejeune, the deploying handlers peppered him with questions.

“He was at this place called combat outpost. It’s not really a working base, just a large post. It was called the wild west because all this stuff was breaking out there,” Huntley recalled. “If you liked to be in gun fights, get blown up, or get shot at, then combat outpost was the place to go.”

As he anticipated his assignment, Huntley took comfort in what he knew. (The dogs and their handlers normally rotate in and out of Iraq with each originating from different bases.) The Marine Corps was now sending dogs and their handlers for only two-week rotations into combat outposts because it was so dangerous.

When he arrived at Al Asad, he got his assignment. “Huntley, you’re going to combat outpost.”

That was not the only shock. The military had stopped the two-week rotation. Huntley was going to be there for seven months.

Huntley was thinking, Okay, we just had a handler leave there because he was shot and now things are blowing up there. Suddenly the likelihoods had changed. He was going to need more courage than he ever expected.

Prayer:

You are the source of courage when life takes an unexpected turn.

“I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.” (Philippians 1:20)

March 3

WILD WEST

Sgt. Michael Huntley, United States Marine Corps

“I didn’t tell my parents,” Marine Sergeant Huntley said of his assignment to the combat outpost. “I tried to make it as comfortable as possible for them.”

The United States Army had just taken over an agricultural college in Ramadi after a fierce firefight when Huntley arrived there in November 2005. They had turned the college grounds into a combat outpost. The place was a web of generators and strung out power lines. A village with many boarded up windows surrounded the outpost. Because the buildings sat above the outpost, insurgents could just take pot shots into the post from different buildings.

I arrived during a blackout at 4 a.m. The other dog handlers came out and grabbed me and said. “Hey, follow us.” They had us sit down.

“We just got attacked yesterday; gun fights are here and there.” And within the hour they were attacked again.

“The enemy launched about seven or eight mortars, large rockets, into the base. Then they just started shooting,” Huntley recalled. “This was the first night I was there. I was already firing back at random things and shooting large machines guns, something I hadn’t done since target training. Now all of a sudden I’m shooting at people, shadows, or silhouettes of where I think the fire is coming from.” The firefight lasted about thirty minutes.

Huntley soon learned why this place was so hot. They were in the enemy’s backyard.

“Ramadi was where all these fighters lived. They would travel to Fallujah and Al Asad to fight. Then they’d go home at the end of the day to Ramadi. So we were fighting pretty much in their backyard. That’s the reason they were so aggressive and why it was so dangerous at that point in time,” Huntley explained.

Fighting the enemy in his own backyard was not was Huntley expected, but like the others, he responded the best way possible: with prudence and practicality.

“We had to wear our Kevlar vests and helmets at all times,” he said.

Prayer:

Thank you for providing protection in practical ways, from seat belts to bullet proof vests. I pray for those in the military, men and women who need your protection today.

“Then he gave the commanders of units of a hundred the spears and the large and small shields that had belonged to King David and that were in the temple of God.” (2 Chronicles 23:9)

March 4

SURPRISES IN THE ROUGHNESS

Sgt. Michael Huntley, United States Marine Corps

“The first three months, we got mortared four or five times a week. You could set your watches by it. Because the enemy knew there would be a large gathering of people at the chow hall, that’s when they’d launch their mortars, at breakfast, lunch, or dinner,” Marine Sergeant Huntley recounted about the combat outpost in Ramadi in late 2005.

The enemy used religion as a cover. “They often launched an attack after their prayers; the biggest time was right before sundown. They’d go to their mosque and get preached at with hate towards the Americans. Once the prayer and preaching ended, they would attack,” he explained, noting that not everyone in Iraq was the enemy.)

“I saw that religion was the only saving grace they had over there. If you were to go into their mosques, they’re very beautiful with granite walls, very holy and sacred. Their religious beliefs are extremely strong. It’s one of the things that they hold on to. But if you were to go into their houses, they’re very dirty, third world country-ish like mud huts,” he said.

Despite the fighting, Huntley and others went on peacekeeping excursions. Every couple of weeks they’d go on peacekeeping missions where they weren’t necessarily hunting for anybody. When they arrived at a house, they’d say, “Hey we’re not here to hurt you guys, we’re trying to help.”

It was surprising that most people were trying to help get their country back to some sort of civilized structure. Huntley was under the impression that when they went out on a peacekeeping mission that they would meet heavy resistance. Instead, people welcomed them into their homes. They gave them food and drink, and then let them rest for the time being. They also knew that if the extremists found out, they would be killed.

Keve stood out on these peacekeeping visits. Dog are not pets in Iraq but dirty pack animals. Most people looked at Huntley in a strange way, because he had a dog that was very pristine, on a leash, and was there to help. They were intrigued. Most had never seen a trained dog, so he showed them some funny little tricks, making her sit, lie down.

In the midst of extremist warfare, these peacekeeping moments were among the most surprising. They were smooth places along the roughest terrain.

Prayer:

Thank you for life’s surprising moments, where something or someone turns out much better than I expected.

“I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.” (Isaiah 42:16)

March 5

KEVE

Sgt. Michael Huntley, United States Marine Corps

The attacks at the combat outpost in Ramadi didn’t stop Sergeant Huntley or his dog, Keve, from fulfilling their mission of detecting explosives.

“I would have the dog out searching for explosives. It would be my determination whether or not Keve was on to something based on her cues,” Huntley said.

By the time he went to Iraq, Huntley had trained thirteen dogs for the Marines in seven years. Dog training requires a lot of time and attention with the dog. One can’t just get anybody to go and look at a dog and say, “You know what? That dog is taking a lot of interesting in something. It’s all about their body, what they do, and their reaction to different things. I’m just there to determine if this dog is on to something or not,” he explained.

Huntley and Keve went on numerous raids and cache sweeps. They’d go along the Euphrates River, that’s where the enemy liked to hide a lot of their stuff. Keve’s biggest find was an acetylene torch tank packed with approximately 250 pounds of high explosives. The terrorists would ignite the container allowing it to shoot large molten steel able to penetrate any kind of military armor and kill anything in sight. Keve ‘s important find was able to get that explosive off the street.”

Keve was also able to find explosives in unsuspecting places. “We were doing a scouting mission, and she started pulling me. It looked like a rock with bushes around it. Turns out it was an actual IED, what is called a daisy chain. It was a 155mm mortar that was rigged seven more times in daisy chains along the road. The engineers dug it up and saw one line going to another rock and then another and so on,” he explained.

Dogs like Keve begin their training when they are about a year old. The United States military often procures German Shepherds or Belgium Malinois as working dogs. They spend three months training in patrol work, such as fighting and chasing after bad guys and three months in the detection field learning how to detect either explosives or narcotics. The dogs emerge as dual purpose attack and detection.

During her deployment Keve found quite a few pounds of raw explosives, several thousand rounds of ammunition, and numerous rifles and rocket launchers.

“She should take all the credit, she’s the one who found all the stuff, I was just the one holding the leash at the time,” Huntley said.

Prayer:

Thank you for giving dogs amazing senses and for using them in such a remarkable way, to detect the plans of evil and make roadways safe and clear.

“I guide you in the way of wisdom and lead you along straight paths.” (Proverbs 4:11)

March 6

MOTIVATION

Sgt. Michael Huntley, United States Marine Corps

Motivation is the primary tool in working with explosive-detecting canines. “Everything in their training is considered a game to them. It all depends on their reward, whether they’re going to work for it or not. What’s their drive like? One dog might like a squeaky toy, and another dog might like a rubber kong Keve’s favorite,” Huntley explained.

“The hardest thing about training a dog is the way you approach the training. Not every dog is the same. Some learn quickly, some don’t. So you have to look at this dog and figure out if the dog is responding to your first method of training. If not, you’ve got to go to something else, sometimes to the point where you want to pull your hair out. Finally you stop and try something totally off the wall and all of sudden it starts working and you say ‘WOW,’” Huntley said, noting that Keve was a difficult dog to train.

The reward of a rubber kong may motivate a dog, but it usually takes something deeper to motivate humans. Complexity and new challenges are what drive humans to work and gives them hope for the future.

“It’s the greatest job I’ve ever done. I never have the same day twice. In dog training there’s always something different that I’ll learn or see every single day. I guarantee that if I pull my dog out one day and do some sorts of training with him or her, and then the next day I do the exact same training scenario, the dog will respond differently.”

Motivation alone is not nearly enough to get me through days of intense mortar attacks and the risks associated with detecting explosives. Sergeant Huntley found that his faith strengthened his courage: “It made me a stronger believer in God in his master plan. That brought me a lot of comfort. If something was going to happen to me, it was going to happen to me, and there was nothing I could do about it. I wasn’t as scared anymore.”

Although he was definitely nervous at times, his faith helped him to block out the jitters. “My faith helped me to stay focused on the mission at hand; I wasn’t focused on being scared,” Huntley reflected.

After serving in Iraq for seven months, an uninjured Huntley safely returned to the United States.

Prayer:

Father: Thank you for giving us inner strength for the times we need it the most.

“My God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation. He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior from violent men you save me.” (2 Samuel 22:3)

March 7

CLEANING THINGS UP

Maj. Jim Lively, United States Marine Corps

“I think every piece of trash in this neighborhood is dumped on the street. Some piles are higher than the homes!” I stated curiously to an Iraqi Army officer during my initial patrol through Ramadi.

The sight and smell of hundreds of trash piles spread throughout Ramadi was one of the most overwhelming things I’d ever experienced. Years of fighting had forced the city government to shut down trash collection services and prevented citizens from safely moving the garbage to local dumps outside the city. The people literally lived among the trash. They would collect it in their homes, walk outside, and dump it on the street. Some neighborhoods did become large collection sites. The worst was a twenty-foot high wall of trash that lined the outside of a school. During our first several months there, the fighting was too intense to initiate cleanup projects.

The trash piles remained ever present reminders of the insurgency. The enemy loved the trash pile. They were experts at hiding the infamous improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, among the trash. Iraqi soldiers, Marines and often Iraqi citizens were attacked by these hidden dangers, which became symbolic of the evils of Al Qaeda.

The Iraqi citizens obviously did not like the trash piles, but they could do little to correct the situation. Any local leader who protested was often harshly dealt with by insurgent forces. The enemy liked it dirty, because when people saw the oppression and filth, they figured they would taunt us saying, “See, your government and the American Forces are weak. They can’t even pick up the trash! How can they possibly fight us?”

Those trash piles have made me think about how often I’ve let trash pile up in my “spiritual neighborhood” cluttering my life, testimony, and spiritual growth. Satan, like the insurgents, loves trash the places where I hide my deceit, pride, arrogance, lust and selfishness. If I ignore my time with the Lord through prayer and scripture reading (which is my daily garbage clean up), it’s then that I find trash piling up in my life. Only God’s grace, through the power of the Holy Spirit, can provide a routine clean up.

For the Iraqi people, we were finally able to organize huge cleanup efforts that created jobs and returned some normalcy to Ramadi. The Iraqi soldiers found large dump trucks and bulldozers hidden by the enemy and subsequently used them to clean up the neighborhoods. The trucks became something to cheer, not to fear. Hundreds of Iraqi men accepted clean-up jobs. The entire project grew into a phenomenal cleanup effort that brought much joy and pride back to the Iraqi citizens.

Routine cleanups are a good path to peace in life.

Prayer:

God, thank you for the joy and peace that comes when my heart and spiritual life are clean.

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23–24)

March 8

A SIMPLE PRAYER

Maj. Jim Lively, United States Marine Corps

There were no congratulations when my close friend took command of a rifle company in Iraq. This is unusual because taking command is the premier goal of every Marine infantry officer. Unfortunately, his move into that billet didn’t come with normal fanfare or military formations, but rather with the specter of loss, frustration, and battlefield confusion. My friend’s new role came suddenly. An IED had struck the military vehicle of the previous company commander, killing him instantly.

When I saw my friend’s solemn countenance, I knew he had just been given the unwelcome task of both taking command of a company who’d just lost its commander and leading a recovery effort to locate his remains. The emotional, physical, and spiritual challenges of this assignment are among the most difficult a Marine can ever experience. In a period of two hours he went from standing as the battalion’s watch officer at a relatively benign post to leading a company that was still in contact with the enemy. As he was packing and preparing for the unwelcome task, I asked him if he needed anything before he left. He chuckled and said, “Yea, I think I might need a map!”

We had a rare moment of levity. I grabbed a map I didn’t use often, and then asked if I could pray with him. As we prayed, I felt the Lord’s hand on us both. He went out that day and did a phenomenal job in a very challenging situation. Looking back, I’m so thankful the Lord gave me a chance to lift my friend up in prayer and encourage him.

The opportunity to minister to others is an important responsibility for Christians. In this case, a fellow Marine needed encouragement and hope. He was visibly calmer after we prayed and earnestly thanked me for it. I believe I could have offered him a million tidbits of advice about taking command, but none of them would have meant as much to him as that simple prayer. I’ve done this several times during my career, including praying with a family member of a wounded soldier.

Sometimes in life you don’t know what to say, which is a good signal that maybe it’s time to get on your knees and pray. The act of yielding a situation to God is a simple roadmap to bring encouragement, express faith, and share the gospel. Prayer goes a long way to restore hope.

Prayer:

Father, give me an opportunity to offer to pray with someone who needs encouragement. May the words of the Holy Spirit fill my voice as I lift them up. Lord hear my prayer.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” (Colossians 4:6)

March 9

BEING READY TO SERVE

Maj. Jim Lively, United States Marine Corps

Our headquarters radio buzzed an amazing message one night in Ramadi: “An Iraqi Army medic just helped deliver a baby!”

The only response I could muster was, “Say again!” This was our procedural response meaning, “Are you kidding me?”

Incredibly enough it was true. Although the birth of a baby is common place, this delivery was astonishing for several reasons. First, Ramadi was still a dangerous place in December 2006. Any movement by civilians at night was completely unauthorized because insurgents would often attack our forces under the cover of darkness. Consequently, the Iraqi was unable to take his wife to the hospital to deliver her baby that night. The family managed to get word to the nearest Iraqi Army unit. That’s when this amazing Iraqi Army medic made himself available.

Second, childbirth in Muslim countries is completely the purview of females. Men are not involved at all. To circumvent strong cultural taboos, the Iraqi medic stood outside the make-shift delivery room and shouted instructions to the women who were with the pregnant woman. He coached them through the process to safely deliver a healthy baby boy.

This surreal event occurred at the height of the fighting in Ramadi. Not only did the birth bring joy to the family but it also gave the Iraqi soldiers and our advisory team, who were so frequently exposed to death and destruction, an opportunity to celebrate a life-giving moment. This simple act of compassion also earned the Iraqi Army a great deal of respect from the locals, who for decades had viewed them only as a treacherous arm of an evil dictator.

What’s most amazing to me is that in spite of several understandable reasons to decline the request, the Iraqi medic simply made himself available. He accepted the risk of attack and left his base to answer the family’s call. He then used creativity to avoid cultural taboos. His story has made me wonder how often do I extend myself this way? God calls me to consider others first to be available and poured out. The risks may be different, but to make myself completely available I have to put the needs of others ahead of my own. I may never know the full measure of what my simple acts of service accomplish, but that’s irrelevant in light of God’s call for my obedience.

For one Ramadi family, an Iraqi soldier’s unselfish act in a precarious, war-torn neighborhood resulted in a precious addition to their family and a great source of hope.

Prayer:

Lord hear my prayer, that I may not look out for my own interests, but will make myself available to answer the call of service you ask of me today.

“I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 2:19–21)

March 10

THE WEDDING

Maj. Jim Lively, United States Marine Corps

“Wow, God’s certainly going to have to work a miracle here.”

Those were my fiancée’s words on June 9, 2006, after I told her I was deploying to Iraq three months earlier than expected. We had planned on getting married at the end of August with the idea of having a few months together as a married couple before I deployed. Faced with this new timeline, we decided to move the wedding date. And move it, we did. We married three weeks later.

The twenty days in between June 9 and July 1 were a blur of phone calls, emails, and some incredible support from our friends and family. Originally the wedding was going to be in Dallas, Texas. The new location was Norfolk, Virginia, on the very busy July 4th weekend. The first thing my wife and I did was pray and commit our decision to God. Our primary goal was to not let anxiety about any single aspect of the wedding cause friction between us or our families. We wanted the event to be a celebration. We also pledged to not try to replicate in twenty days what we had initially planned for the Texas wedding.

God answered our prayers abundantly. The wedding was amazing. There was not a single detail that did not work our perfectly. All of the original wedding party was able to attend. Even our close family members made it to Virginia. The result was a wedding that honored God, a true demonstration of his love. God reminded us that no matter where a wedding takes place or the details of which bakery bakes the cake, the purpose of a wedding is to celebrate the love God gives between man and woman. We honestly believe that we did not miss a thing by not having a larger wedding in Texas and we certainly saved some money.

God also taught us a great deal about our faith and each other as we worked to pull all of the details together without any anxiety and frustration. His early blessing of our marriage under those circumstances was a foreshadowing of how he would get us through my twelve-month deployment to Iraq. I learned that my wife was a mighty prayer warrior, unflappable in the face of the pressures of planning a wedding in twenty days. Even though it was not the wedding we had originally planned, God did an incredible work, and the wedding was a precious celebration. Our wedding will always be a reminder to us of the sovereignty of his timing and his plan not our own. He showed us that a change in plans resulted in a more abundant celebration of his love.

Prayer:

Thank you for the plans you have for me, plans to prosper me and give me hope. Thank you for times you give us to celebrate life in abundance.

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” (Jeremiah 29:11)

March 11

THE SEPARATION

Maj. Jim Lively, United States Marine Corps

September 29, 2006, was one of the hardest days of my life, one I’ll never forget. I watched my wife of just three months standing in the driveway alone as I drove away to catch my flight to Iraq. Even as a ten-year veteran of the Marine Corps with a previous deployment to Iraq under my belt, I was completely unprepared for the emotions I felt that day. The idea of leaving my new wife while I entered a war zone was gut-wrenching. The entire day was really quite miserable. As we laughed, cried, and prayed throughout the day, it was very difficult to find much joy in the situation. We both were struggling with accepting this long separation.

As a newlywed couple who had barely had time to experience married life, we were suddenly faced with a year-long separation with me in near constant threat of physical injury. These were abnormal circumstances for the first year of marriage, to say the least. Normally we should have been figuring out how each other prefers to squeeze the toothpaste tube. Instead, she was going to sleep while I was waking up. The time zone difference alone made communication difficult.

While I faced the uncertainties of a war zone, she faced the challenges of making decisions about our future. During that year she would have to sell our house, move us to our next duty station, and attend to a myriad of issues that normally we would have accomplished together. Needless to say, the situation was ripe for doubt, fear, frustration, and disobedience.

As the deployment progressed, my wife and I learned a great deal about each other. We learned the importance of communicating in whatever form available. By God’s grace alone, she and I were able to encourage and nurture each other through prayer, letters, emails, and phone calls. We found amazing strength that God brought to each of us as we lived our lives with our hearts united, but our physical beings separated by oceans, continents, and time zones.

In a situation cultivated for struggle, God gave us an enormous peace. We learned how to trust our relationship to him. Only his divine control over our lives helped us endure the long, trying separation. We returned to each other with an emotional and spiritual strength that will benefit our marriage petitioning God through prayer for years to come because we submitted to his will and trusted in him. We learned that no matter the circumstance, whether it’s the emotions of loneliness or the practicalities of renting an apartment, we bridged our separation and strengthened our hearts by petitioning God through prayer.

Prayer:

Thank you for the ability to petition you no matter what time zone I live in or what zone of life I’m in.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6)

March 12

COURAGE IN THE NIGHT

Debbie Lee, Gold Star Mother of Marc Alan Lee, First Navy SEAL Killed in Iraq

It was a warm August evening in Surprise, Arizona and my Bible study was gathered, as we celebrated my birthday. One of my friends had given me one of the Willow Tree Angels named “Courage.” She told me that it reminded her of me. To her I was a Woman of Courage.

None of us knew at that moment just how much courage would be required for me to survive what was about to happen, which would change my life forever.

As we were finishing cake and ice cream I received what would be the most devastating phone call of my life. My oldest son, Kristofer, called asking where I was and how long it would take me to get home. When I questioned why he said, “You just need to come home.” I had a sick feeling in my stomach, and I knew what faced me ahead. I knew that when I arrived home I would be informed that my youngest son Marc had died the first Navy SEAL killed in Iraq.

Something inside of me knew when Marc left my home in March of 2006 that he wouldn’t be returning and that would be the last time I would see him. I’m not a fearful, worrisome type of person, and I didn’t dwell on that while he was deployed, but somehow I knew. I immediately left and asked my friends to pray. As I drove home a song came to me.

I put my hope in you, Oh Lord, trusting you I will not be shaken, knowing that you will see me through I put my hope in you. I sang it over and over as I drove home.

I expected to see a black sedan sitting in front of my house, but there wasn’t one. I guess I’ve seen too many movies. Instead I saw Kris pacing in the street.

“Mom, the Navy’s here,” he said, confirming the news Marc was dead.

My friends, prayed, cried, and comforted me. God provided friends that night and insights on courage to prepare me, knowing how much I would need to trust him to face the days ahead.

Prayer:

Thank you for the gift of courage.

“Be strong and very courageous.” (Joshua 1:7)

March 13

A HERO’S COURAGE

Debbie Lee, Mother of Marc Alan Lee, First Navy SEAL Killed in Iraq

In the early morning hours my house had emptied after receiving the tragic news my son had died. I wondered how I would survive. I knew where my strength would come from so I opened my Bible to Psalm 27 (NKJV). “The LORD is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; Of whom shall I be afraid? When the wicked came against me to eat up my flesh, my enemies and foes, they stumbled and fell.”

Through this passage, God confirmed to me Marc wasn’t afraid. I learned more about Marc’s final act of courage in the following days. On August 2, 2006, in Ramadi in 120-degree temperature, Marc carried the additional weight of a 150 pound M60 without a sling. His teammates were absolutely amazed at his strength.

It was the biggest battle since the war began. They had been in a firefight for two hours when Marc single handedly stood in the direct line of fire and shot off more than one hundred rounds of ammunition. Three times that day Marc would stand in the direct line of fire to defend his buddies, for you, for me, and for this nation.

Marc was a young man who selflessly gave his life because he valued other lives as more important than his own.

That evening God comforted me with Psalm 27 and I knew I needed to read it at Marc’s funeral to encourage others and give them hope.

“Lord, how can I do that? I’m sure I’ll be weeping and who knows, I might faint.” Again I felt God nudging me.

I read Psalms 27 at Marc’s funeral without crying or breaking down. God gave me amazing strength as I applied each verse to our hearts. I had no clue where God would “deploy me” in the days to come, but I had hope and was confident he would see me through.

Prayer:

Thank you for providing strength during extraordinary circumstances. Thank you for the courage of Marc Alan Lee and others who have sacrificed their lives for me.

“Though an army may encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war may rise against me, in this I will be confident.” (Psalm 27:3, NKJV)

March 14

FATHER TO THE FATHERLESS

Debbie Lee, Mother of Marc Alan Lee, First Navy SEAL Killed in Iraq

When Marc left my home in March of 2006, somehow I knew it would be the last time I would see him. I’m not a worrier, not a fretter, that’s just not who I am. But I sensed God preparing my heart.

When my second husband died twelve years earlier, the same thing happened. We had just buried my grandmother, and I remember sitting in church when a thought crossed my mind: you’re going to need to prepare for another funeral. Days later I received the news my husband had died tragically.

After his death, I remember reading “God’s a husband to the widow and a father the fatherless.” Realistically, how does that work?

Try me, I sensed God saying.

So I tried him. I discussed an important decision I was facing and waited for his response. Nothing. I started to cry, facing the reality There’s nobody there. I’m all alone. I’ve got to make all of these decisions myself.

Then I remembered I hadn’t had my quiet time. My scheduled reading for the day was 2 Kings 20:5, “I have seen your tears, and I have heard your prayers and I will answer.”

I realized that’s exactly how a husband would respond to his wife: validating her concern, comforting her, and telling her he would take care of it.

“Lord you’re serious,” I realized about his promise. That was just the beginning. God proved himself over and over developing in me a deep and confidence in who he is. When my children would come to me seeking answers they would often hear me tell them “Go ask your Daddy.” They knew I meant to be in God’s word, praying, and asking for his wisdom.

So it’s no surprise that Marc followed in his Daddy’s footsteps and laid down his life. Marc knew who is true father was. God laid down his life for us in Christ for our freedom in eternity. Marc laid down his life for our freedoms on earth. I’m so very proud of him.

Prayer:

Thank you for being a father to the fatherless and a husband to the widow, for the practical provisions of life and drawing me closer to you.

“A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.” (Psalm 68:5)

March 15

LETTER TO THE PRESIDENT

Debbie Lee, Mother of Marc Alan Lee, First Navy SEAL Killed in Iraq

I met Congressman Greg Walden at Marc’s memorial service in Hood River. Even though I had lost my son, I explained how much I still believed in what we’re doing in Iraq, and how proud I was of President Bush, and maybe one day I could thank him.

On September 11, Congressman Walden called and said, “I’m having dinner with President Bush on Wednesday, and I will hand deliver your letter if you have it to me in an hour.”

At the beginning stages of grief, I was numb. I couldn’t even write a letter to my best friend, yet alone the President of the United States.

I had stayed in Hood River to repair an empty rental. I had no computer and no paper. I had found Marc’s writing tablet the day before under the house. As I wrote the date September 11, memories from 2001 flooded my heart. I had two sons and a son-in-law serving in the military. I knew then this was going to be a personal war, but I had no idea just how personal.

The letter that followed was inspired by God!

Hours after the President received my letter he hand-wrote me an amazing letter saying he would be honored to meet me. Arrangements were made to meet in October.

President Bush walked into the room with tears in his eyes and hugged me and said, “I’m so sorry, mom.” He picked up his big chair that had been set about eight feet from mine and set it down two inches from mine and said, “This is where I want to sit, next to a hero’s mother.”

He held my hand and said, “How you doing mama? You’re going to need to rely on the Lord.”

He was sincere, so compassionate. I knew he had a plane to catch, a bill to sign, yet people would have thought I was the only person in the world for that thirty-five minutes.

God’s creativity never ceases to amaze me those he uses, his timing, and the tools he provides. His favor fell on me in my greatest time of need, and he provided me an opportunity to meet President Bush.

Prayer:

Thank you for using ordinary things to orchestrate your favor and blessings in life.

“But I pray to you, O LORD, in the time of your favor; in your great love, O God, answer me with your sure salvation.” (Psalm 69:13)

March 16

COURAGE

Debbie Lee, Mother of Marc Alan Lee, First Navy SEAL Killed in Iraq

I envision every morning, in heaven, a briefing between God and Marc, “Okay, where are we going to put mom today?”

Iraq. Eighteen months after my son’s death.

My third tour with “Move America Forward” ended with the news I would be able to deliver 226,000 Christmas Cards to the troops in Iraq.

It took courage to decide to travel to the war zone where my son gave his life courage God gave me.

Courage was my companion the night I boarded the C-130 bound for Baghdad. My flight made the craziest cork-screw landing that I could imagine to avoid being shot down by terrorists. Courage dressed me in body armor and Kevlar to go out on patrol in Baghdad and walk the streets with the 1-4 Cavalry. Courage to board the Blackhawk in the middle of the night on a secret flight to Camp Marc Lee, the base in western Iraq named in my son’s memory. Courage to walk where Marc walked his last steps, spent his last night, to smell what he smelled, and embrace what he embraced.

Yet that night at Camp Marc Lee, I was reminded of what real courage is. Real courage is what our troops, my heroes face every day. Real courage is being willing to give up your right to everything you want for your future to make a better place for others. Real courage is facing the enemy and being willing to pay the ultimate price with your life because you value others’ lives more than your own. Real courage is using your voice and actions to make a difference in the world. Real courage is selfless, noble, true, humble, right, and honorable. That is the description of our men and women serving in Iraq.

My Angel of Courage sits on my desk, her arms lifted high and fists clenched in victory, as if to say, YES! As a nation founded on God’s principles we need to raise our hands high and thank the one who created us and blessed us to be born in America.

Prayer:

Thank you for this amazing nation. Thank you for the courage you have given the members of the military. May I show courage to them by saying thank you with my voice, pocketbook, and voting.

“Be strong, take heart all you who hope in the Lord.” (Psalm 31:24)

March 17

FLY ON THE COMMANDING GENERAL’S WALL

Multinational Force-Iraq Command Chaplain, (Col.) Mike Hoyt, United States Army

A command chaplain enjoys a special relationship with his commanding general. Multinational Force-Iraq Command Chaplain, CH Colonel Mike Hoyt was one of a few colonels who attended meetings led by General George Casey and then, General David Petraeus.

“We have access that most other colonels don’t have because of that relationship,” Hoyt said. “I saw my role not as a religious expert, because we had a lot of Ph.D’s and political advisers, but I was the top credentialed clergyman on the staff. I was the only one who could interpret religion as a doer of religion,” said Hoyt, who didn’t talk statistics, comparing the percentages of Shi’i to Sunni. “Part of my role was to talk about the religious lifestyle decision-making that people would use to interpret coalition actions such as a curfew during Ramadan.”

These “fly on the wall” moments included daily briefings and the “meeting of the wizards” as Hoyt called the Effects Assessment Synchronization Board that met every six weeks. All general officers from the theater along with coalition commanders, the ambassador, and embassy staff attended this day-long meeting to review the strategic campaign plan the document approved by the president and implemented by MNFI and the ambassador.

Hoyt was one of three listening “flies on the wall.” They didn’t record the meetings but watched, listened, and offered “what if” questions. They analyzed who said what and to whom as well as the high points and off track moments.

It was Hoyt’s job to try to interpret the spiritual psyche as he saw it as a clergyman. And hopefully through a restatement of that, he could offer the leadership an approach to a solution that would make it more inclusive of the Iraqi civilian on the ground who was trying to practice his faith in the midst of a violent environment, fifty percent of which we were creating.

If Hoyt heard something he was apprehensive about in a meeting, he would write it on a 3 x 5 card and pass it to a nearby general. Sometimes Hoyt was asked to share his concern with the group or sometimes they would discuss it later. Either way, this listening method proved an effective leadership tool.

“When I presented myself as a leader who was willing to learn from everybody and anybody, then I was able to uncover ideas that people would never have brought up,” Hoyt stated.

Prayer:

Thank you, Father, for the gift of listening, for the gift of wise counsel. May I listen today, and if I speak, may I speak with wisdom.

“Men listened to me expectantly, waiting in silence for my counsel. After I had spoken, they spoke no more; my words fell gently on their ears.” (Job 29:21–22)

March 18

RISK

Multinational Force-Iraq Command Chaplain, (Col.) Mike Hoyt, United States Army

Courage doesn’t disappear with responsibility, it rises with rank. The soldier on the ground routinely reveals raw courage, while generals continually muster moral courage. As Multinational Force-Iraq Command Chaplain, Hoyt had the opportunity to observe such moral leadership first hand.

One of the things that’s always going around in the back of their minds (general officers) is “what is the appropriate level of risk?” It’s not risk to their careers as some people would like to say. For the four star billets, it’s the risk to the country. And they are obsessed with getting it right for the sake of America.

“My two MNF-I CGs are men of incredible intellect, valor, and purpose. It is an honor to pray for them” Hoyt said.

Generals must keep open the broadest number of options for America. A general officer is exercising the military might of the United States. That’s serious business. That’s life and death. If you make a strategic decision to clean up Ramadi, then that decision will get people killed. That’s all there is to it. It can’t be done nicely.

With 3,500 civilian deaths a month, Iraq was peaking in “Iraqi on Iraqi violence” in 2006. Violent Iraqis justified their crimes through the idea that someone had it coming to them because of their sense of loss. Revenge often stemmed from centuries-old conflicts. Hoyt saw similarities with his deployment to Bosnia.

The difference in Iraq was that it was being manipulated by Al Qaeda and covered with religious verbiage that created a mirage for the poor and disenfranchised that said, “If you really want to be religious, this is what you have to do.” So they took advantage of chaos and leveraged it to their side.

To respond, the generals had to weigh the right thing to do given the risk involved. They knew that extending tours of duty or increasing the number of troops through a surge would increase risk.

“The problem when you get up into the higher echelons of decision-making is that black and white is rarely available. You often have to choose between bad choices in an ambiguous environment. Then you choose as wisely as possible. War rarely presents a lot of good choices. Implementing national policy on foreign soil and conducting theater level war is volatile and unpredictable,” Hoyt said.

Rising in the ranks requires moral courage and risks for the right reasons.

Prayer:

God, thank you for the courage it takes to be a leader. I pray for those generals as they weigh the risk and costs to America. Give them wisdom.

“So the three mighty men… drew water from the well… and carried it back to David. But he refused to drink it; instead, he poured it out before the LORD. ‘Far be it from me, O LORD, to do this!’ he said. ‘Is it not the blood of men who went at the risk of their lives?’ And David would not drink it.” (2 Samuel 23:16–17)

March 19

LISTENING TO THE TROOPS

Multinational Force-Iraq Command Chaplain, (Col.) Mike Hoyt, United States Army

“Once you’re empowered by the four star, you’re empowered. ‘Poof’ you go out and execute. If you stay within the commander’s intent then you don’t have anything to worry about,” Multinational Force-Iraq Command Chaplain Hoyt, United States Army explained.

When a command chaplain comes into the theater, he has thirty days to figure out and present his plan to the commanding general in the “sit down.” It’s the one chance to tell the CG what you can do for his organization, and how you plan to do it. Then you listen to what he thinks.

In his sit down with General Casey, and later with General Petraeus, Hoyt presented his plan. They responded the way general officers usually respond: “Get out there and be with the troops, tell me what they’re thinking, what they’re going through and what difference it makes.”

Commanding generals want their chaplains to be independent observers, whether at staff meetings or with troops in the field. They want feedback from someone who is going to tell them the way it is from the carefully guarded heart level of the soldier. Chaplains are not “command spies;” they are pastoral advocates for all.

“I’m the chaplain. I’m supposed to tell the truth. Commanders and soldiers are free to talk with the chaplain unencumbered with the concerns of climbing the ladder of success. The chaplain protects that honesty and communicates the feedback that the decision maker needs in order to understand the impacts of war planning and execution. I’m not going to tell the CG all the ‘raw raw whoop-ity whoop stuff,’” Hoyt explained. “I’m going to tell him what I see.”

For example: “These guys down here are sucking wind, boss. It’s tough. There are quality of life issues with isolation, water supplies, hot chow, and intermittent mail call. Sometimes there is a real slug fest going on for control of an area. Anxiety levels are high. Leadership is challenged. Perceptions of contributing and sacrifice and loss are an issue. Other times the worse it got, the more unbeatable the team became. The resilience of the force is truly amazing.’” Hoyt indicated. “I could always depend on the CG to decide how to deal with issues in the most positive of ways.”

Command chaplains become eyes and ears for all ranks. It’s an important part of mission.

Prayer:

Abba Father, thank you for leaders who listen to the needs of others.

“Even now my witness is in heaven; my advocate is on high.” (Job 16:19)

March 20

WELCOMED VISITS

Multinational Force-Iraq Command Chaplain, (Col.) Mike Hoyt, United States Army

“My primary objective in going out into the field was to communicate to the soldiers their part in the big scheme of what America was doing in Iraq,” explained Multinational Force-Iraq Command Chaplain Hoyt.

Hoyt traveled throughout Iraq several times a week. His mission was to encourage the force spiritually and deliver the theater commander’s message to the troops by telling them what they were up against. Hoyt traveled anyway he could: by helicopter or by Humvee; it didn’t matter. After having traveled in two hundred convoys, he stopped counting the number he’d been in.

“I’d travel out and talk with chaplains first. I would lay out for them the role of Multinational Force-Iraq and show them all the different players that were involved in making this great effort work,” he explained. “I would build that backwards down to their level, where they were at and where their division was their brigade and battalion. Sometimes I would consider what their company was doing. I’d try to work that all the way back up and how that affected the strategic outcomes of the country.”

Hoyt went as the direct representative of the theater commander. People would notice his patches, the cross on his right and the colonel’s eagle in middle. His visits were well received.

People were always willing to be engaged at a spiritual level. And that’s not a tribute just to Hoyt, but that’s a tribute to all the fine chaplains out there who are and were authentic in their faith.

Sometimes Hoyt arrived after a catastrophe occurred, even one affecting the convoy he was in.

“As mad as the guys were about the losses they’d sustained and as confused as they were about whether or not it was worth it, they were always willing for a chaplain to be with them. It was okay not to have the answer. It was okay not to know, and it was okay to be mad at the time. And to be all that in front of the chaplain, that was okay and, in fact, sometimes it was welcomed,” he said.

“Then when the body bag was zipped up and the dust was gone, stuff would get back to whatever was normal in an abnormal environment, then we’d work out the details,” Hoyt reflected. “I came across that a lot. That always was a sacred time for me, being able to be a minister in the mess of the moment.”

Prayer:

You are the great host, the one who welcomes all who come to you with over-flowing kindness even under challenging circumstances.

“The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold.” (Acts 28:2)

March 21

RELIGIOUS CONFERENCE

Multinational Force-Iraq Command Chaplain, (Col.) Mike Hoyt, United States Army

“Not every problem in Iraq is religious but every enduring solution requires a religious accommodation,” explained Multinational Force-Iraq Command Chaplain Hoyt of the signature event he’s most proud of: the Iraq Inter-Religious Conference.

This council brought together leading clerics for Sunni, Shi’i, Christian, and Yezdi on a national level for a dialogue on reconciliation.

The point was to interrupt this cycle of violence that was spinning out of control and destroying the fabric of Iraq along religious lines. This was an attempt to engage at the clergy level. The conflict in Iraq is religious. It’s criminal, mercenary, and Al Qaeda as well. It has an unmistakable religious quotient to it that when you don’t deal with it, it escalates out of control. That is exactly what happened in 2006.

It took sixteen months, but the first meeting took place in June 2007 with the approval of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki. The conference was the broadest representation of religious leaders (by sect and geography) held in Iraq in thirty-seven years. After intense discussions, the leaders signed a final statement denouncing violence and terrorism and demonstrating support for democratic principles and the Iraqi Constitution. They pledged to actively work to reduce violence as well as to protect and restore holy religious sites. Most importantly, the accord was the first religious document publicly renouncing Al Qaeda by name and declaring the spread of arms and unauthorized weapons as criminal acts.

Canon Andrew White was the central figure of the effort. Appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury as the Anglican Bishop for Baghdad in 1998, he is the best known Western minister in the Middle East. Although threatened and beaten near death, Canon White survived the Saddam Hussein regime. He founded the Foundation for Reconciliation in the Middle-East.

“Because of White’s tenacity in Iraq, he became the best connected Western cleric in the Middle East. The guy’s contacts were amazing. There isn’t any head of state in the Middle East that he doesn’t know. He is known and accepted by the senior religious leaders at the highest levels,” Hoyt said.

Andrew was saying all along this was a religious problem. If you don’t address the religious malfeasance that’s going on there, it’s just going to get worse.

The Iraq Inter-Religious Conference was a key to reducing violence that took place in the months following the meeting.

Prayer:

Father, you smile when humanity seeks to live in peace.

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18)

March 22

BUA PRAYER: WORD FROM THE CHAPLAIN

Multinational Force-Iraq Command Chaplain, (Col.) Mike Hoyt, United States Army

Soldiers on the ground are not the only ones who benefit from chaplain support. General officers do as well. In fact, because generals make high-stakes decisions, they need the ethical and spiritual encouragement a chaplain can provide.

From June 2006 to September 2007, CH Colonel Mike Hoyt served as command chaplain for the theater in Iraq, which meant he was the senior chaplain coordinating all religious support for all branches of the United States Armed Services in Iraq. He was also the personal staff chaplain to the commanding general for MNF-I, Multinational Forces-Iraq. He first served General George Casey and then, General David Petraeus.

“Often in recurring staff meetings like the BUA, the leadership looks to include a word from the chaplain. Generally, the chaplain’s role is to provide some level of refreshment for the audience either through humor, or through an uplifting verse or an ethical challenge,” Hoyt explained.

The Battle Update Assessment was one such meeting. This daily briefing provided an update on everything that had happened in the past twenty-four hours and projected operations over the next seventy-two to ninety-six hours for the commanding general’s staff. Usually coalition nation members, Embassy personnel, the Iraqi government representatives, and sometimes the Secretary of Defense or the CENTCOM commander participated in these meetings through video conferencing.

Hoyt or the Multinational Corps-Iraq Command Chaplain brought a sixty-second message of encouragement at the BUA each week.

It provided a spiritual and ethical outlook on soldiers, on lifestyle, on professional ethics, on the uplifting things of life so that you aren’t drug down in the monotony and the routine and the gore of what’s going on day to day. It’s that one moment to take a break and reflect.

After reading Lamentations 3:21–23, Hoyt offered up this prayer at the BUA on July 2, 2006.

“We thank You for the Mercy shown to us in delivering our forces through many missions. We appeal to Your loving Presence for those hurt by the thrust of evil. In this sad time of war, grant us a portion of Your strength of character and Spirit that we may not grow weary in well doing. Keep us humble in our successes, diligent in our duties, and bring forth the fruits of righteousness so that evil may be silenced and we may join the chorus of Your message Joy to the world, and on earth, Peace to all men of goodwill with whom You are pleased. Amen.”

Prayer:

Father, your loving kindnesses indeed never cease. Your compassions never fail, and you provide ways to encourage the great and the small.

“This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. The LORD’S loving-kindnesses indeed never cease. For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness!” (Lamentations 3:21–23 NASB)

March 23

BUA PRAYER: DO NOT LOSE HEART

Multinational Force-Iraq Command Chaplain, (Col.) Mike Hoyt, United States Army

The United States military leadership in Iraq had a responsibility to provide spiritual and ethical encouragement to the American military force and its leadership, who were making indescribable decisions. This proved delicate because America was leading a large coalition of religiously diverse nations and assisting a new government in Iraq, where religion influenced the conflict.

“We have to be true to our religious integrity as Americans. We are not a non-religious nation. Just because we don’t want to offend anybody doesn’t mean we need to reduce ourselves to no belief. That was one of the challenges,” Multinational Force-Iraq Command Chaplain, Colonel Mike Hoyt explained of the discussions he had with the commanding general’s chief of staff about how to approach the word from the chaplain at meetings such as the Battle Update Assessment or BUA.

They concluded that a weekly prayer was an appropriate measure of encouragement at these meetings. The prayer had to be as inclusive as possible. It couldn’t tick anybody off and had to also encourage our Iraqi and coalition audience from a variety of faiths or no faith. However, because prayer is a method all faiths share, these simple BUA prayers proved a welcomed path for encouraging the war weary hearts of people.

Here’s Hoyt’s BUA prayer from Nov. 19, 2006: “We thank You this day Lord, for leaving the windows of heaven open to us through the gift of prayer. We confess to You our world’s experience sometimes dwarfs our awareness of You and things appear insurmountable.

“But You have set eternity in our heart and planted wisdom in our innermost being and given understanding to the mind.

“We pray for insight into the illusive goals of peace so we may cease the perplexities of war. We pray for a graceful approach with each other so we may practice the lessons of love. We pray for Your enduring mercy and comfort so our wounded may be relieved from the suffering we cannot touch.

“And we pray to You, the God of our Universe, so our vision will exceed the horizon of the here and now and our heart will, in purpose and in faith, be lifted to hope in You. Keep us in prayer this week so we may hear Your voice of triumph in the tasks before us each day. Amen.”

Prayer:

Thank you for prayer and its power to encourage and keep us from losing heart.

“Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray, and to not lose heart.” (Luke 18:1)

March 24

BUA PRAYER: NOT BY MIGHT

Multinational Force-Iraq Command Chaplain, (Col.) Mike Hoyt, United States Army

The enemy often accused Americans of being religious crusaders. But such false rhetoric did not erase the need for people of all ranks to receive ethical and spiritual encouragement. The challenge of the commanding general’s chaplain was to find a way to provide that nourishment despite the enemy’s provocations.

Discussions about having a prayer at the BUA, the daily Battle Update Assessment, inevitably led to questions about whether or not America is a Christian nation. As plain as he could, Hoyt made the case that America was expecting the Iraqis to be what they are: Muslim. They expected America to be what America is, a place embracing freedom of worship.

“We at least espouse Christ-like principles. And we allow Christianity to occur unfettered and unbothered and their view of us (the Iraqi) is that we are a Christian nation. So I don’t think it’s wise for us to stop being Christian while we are the lead nation for this coalition. We ought not to deny our heritage or our history when we’re expecting everybody else to step up to the plate and be what they are. Let’s continue to be what we are,” Hoyt said, adding that he sought to be as inclusive as he could with the theology that he owned.

Here’s the BUA prayer Hoyt offered on July 28, 2007. “Lord God, we are in that most difficult of jobs to win a war without loving it. We do not shirk the battle. We ask wisdom to keep our balance. Teach us O Lord, to live both of these truths. We serve in Iraq leaving behind our ‘real life’ so we can work in the ‘real life’ mission we are trained to conduct. We pursue our craft with a genuine selfless attitude, yet we do not overlook Your ceaseless Grace.

“We reenlist with commitment to our job, but postpone reviving our hearts in relationship with You for the days ahead. We are consumed with what we do; and we are prone to forget what You have done. Thank You Lord for Your eternal patience and still, small voice that tells us life is not meant to be a series of trade offs, but a triumph of faith. Help us to exchange in faith that which we cannot keep in order to gain that which we cannot lose.”

Prayer:

Thank you for reminding me that above power and might, you move through the spirit.

“It is not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit says the Lord of hosts.” (Zechariah 4:6)

March 25

BUA PRAYER: THEY LOOKED FORWARD TO IT

Multinational Force-Iraq Command Chaplain, (Col.) Mike Hoyt, United States Army

We got many, many requests for the prayers and many compliments from other nations routinely asking for them. The couple of Sundays that the BUA prayer didn’t happen, the commanding general was personally asked by other members of the staff and coalition, “Where was the prayer today?” They looked forward to it.

Whatever the chaplain said at the BUA, he had to make it brief. Time was a factor. As a result, Hoyt composed only a few lines at time, something that could be read in less than a minute. Here’s the BUA prayer from April 7, 2007 with an introduction from Scripture:

“Pilate said to them, ‘You have a guard; go, make it as secure as you know how’ (Matthew 27:65) but “I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure’” (Isaiah 46:9–10).

“Thank You God we do not own the final solution. Even when we think we have all things carefully wrapped up in our plans and means, truly we are the ones shrouded in the mystery of life eternal under Your conditions. Nothing is final with You until You declare it so. Even at the consummation of the Age it is Your Holy and unstoppable purpose to make all things new.

“You make fresh Your mercies for us each day. You interfere upon our designs with a loving deliverance that remakes our hearts and redeems a soul even after we have long buried the idea of a second chance! Nothing unravels the weight of guilt and the sepulchers of excuses like Your Holy forgiveness. Nothing resurrects a new horizon to a lost vision like Your promise that all things are possible in faith. And nothing heals our wounded bodies, comrades, relationships like the bona fide example of a living God who makes death a by word, and suffering a benediction in the vocabulary of victory.

“Remind us of the strength of an unbreakable and immortal promise in You. Lead us in our worship to the rendezvous with your Almighty power. And bring to us this week those unexpected, unthought of appearances from You that sets our hearts aflame with the joyful news nothing is final until it is complete in You. Amen.”

Prayer:

Thank you for firmly establishing your purpose. Show your purpose for me today. May I live my life fully in your will.

“My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure.” (Isaiah 46:10)

March 26

BUA PRAYER: SEPTEMBER 11, 2006

Multinational Force-Iraq Command Chaplain, (Col.) Mike Hoyt, United States Army

The anniversary of September 11, 2006, brought an opportunity for Multinational Force-Iraq Command Chaplain, CH Colonel Mike Hoyt to deliver a special prayer during the commemorative ceremony in the Green Zone at the temporary U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

“Almighty and Everlasting God, We gather today in the shade of Your enduring love to mark terrible moments in our past and express convictions of hope for our future. We acknowledge Your Majesty holds all of our experience in the grip of Your Eternity. Nothing we remember or endeavor to achieve removes us from Your Sovereignty, even when events seem to distance us from Your Love. You do not change. We come in prayer relying upon Your constancy of character, eternal purpose, and abiding love to be our guide.”

“We will not and cannot forget the acts of terror thrust upon our world September 11, 2001. Neither will we become a part of terror’s bitter cycle. So we come, in the posture of prayer, humbling our hearts first as we remember the triumph of good over evil.

“We humbly ask You to carry our prayer of compassion towards those friends and families who face each day bereaved of a loved one killed in this battle against evil. Comfort them in Your Holy hug as the God of this Universe and help us to remember the outcomes of our labor keep sacred their loving sacrifice.

“We beseech Your miracles of healing upon the maimed and wounded bodies of those smashed in the vice of terror. Restore their confidence in the good works of humanity and grant them a zeal for life.

“We pray for our enemies… we do not know how. We cannot excuse their conduct or negotiate with their evil. We freely admit their actions are beyond our reach but well within Yours. Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream. Show us paths of reconciliation and guard us from the self made tyranny that fails to see the beam in our own eye so that we may walk the road of redemption with integrity.

“Inspire in us, through Your works of Grace, a forgiving spirit. Equip us in the duty of justice to remember mercy. Protect us from the deceptions of might and power so we may see Your works and hear Your still, small voice.

“Finally, Great and Merciful God You who exact the destinies of nations from the character of its citizens we pray for our future. Remove the stumbling blocks of international strife and bring to our leaders the strength and wisdom from above. So that one day we may ‘beat our swords into plowshares and each man may dwell in safety under his vine and his fig tree’. Amen.”

Prayer:

Thank you for sending your justice and righteousness like a flowing stream with consistency and power.

“Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” (Amos 5:24)

March 27

OPERATION BANDANAS

Mary Bass Gray, Operation Bandanas, www.operationbandanas.org

Mary Bass Gray of Fayetteville, North Carolina, did what many mothers of deployed soldiers do as her two sons made numerous trips to the Middle East. She prayed continuously. She also turned to Psalm 91, often known as the soldier’s Psalm, and prayed its inspiring verses for her sons.

“One of my sons did night missions. As I read the scripture ‘you shall not be afraid of the terror by night or the arrows that flies by day’ (Psalm 91:5), I pray courage for my son as well,” Gray explained.

When Gray found a website selling camouflage bandanas imprinted with Psalm 91 in November 2006, she knew immediately what she had to do. She decided to find a way to get a bandana into the hands of every soldier at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. As a result, Operation Bandanas for Fort Bragg was born.

Mary began collecting donations to buy the Psalm 91 bandanas, which cost three dollars each. Volunteers from her church began getting together to fold the bandanas and stuff them into plastic zip-lock bags along with printed notes. Cases of the folded bandanas were shipped to Fort Bragg soldiers. The effort grew beyond Fort Bragg as other churches and communities learned about the bandanas. Today, the bandanas are going to military personnel in a variety of places.

Verse 3 in Psalm 91 stood out to Mary, “Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare.”

“I think of our troops being under the attack of the enemy over there who is the fowler and the traps that are laid for them through these IEDs and roadside bombs. And I pray for each and every one of them that God will deliver them from the snare of the fowler. So it’s a beautiful Psalm that anyone can read but a soldier specifically will get encouragement from it,” Mary explained.

Bandanas serve a practical purpose. Soldiers use them for a variety of purposes, a face shield from sand storms, a sweat band, and even a tourniquet. Mary noted that God’s Word is an offensive weapon not a defensive weapon, in God’s armor.

“So I believe that as our soldiers suit up for battle, we should also be able to give them a piece of the armor of God to give them protection, deliverance, courage, encouragement, and comfort,” Mary said.

The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 ignited the war on terror. The coincidence of the numerical reference of Psalm 91:1 makes this passage of Scripture an even more comforting source of strength to military personnel and their families.

Prayer:

Almighty God, I pray your protection over our military members, that you will keep them from the fowler’s snare and that they may abide under your shadow.

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” (Psalm 91:1)

March 28

RECEIVING BANDANAS

Mary Bass Gray, Operation Bandanas, www.operationbandanas.org

When Mary Bass Gray of Fayetteville, North Carolina, began Operation Bandanas in November 2006, she turned to chaplains for help. As a result, chaplains became the primary distributors of these donated camouflage bandanas imprinted with Psalm 91. By June 2008, Operation Bandanas had provided more than 55,000 bandanas to members of the military. How did military personnel receive them? They received them with much appreciation!

Multinational Force-Iraq Command Chaplain, CH Colonel Mike Hoyt, who served as senior chaplain for all United States forces in Iraq (2006–07), explained the impact of these bandanas on Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines.

“The conversation stops when I pull one of these out. I tell that this is being presented to you by citizens of the United States of America, from Christians who specifically have you in mind in prayer. They have spent their money and their time to be sure these are delivered to you guys, to let you know that they support you and are behind your personal spiritual life,” he said.

Hoyt explained that when he pulled out the bandanas from their zip-lock bags and handed them to members of the military, many asked him pray over them right then and there.

“Everyone looks at me right in the eye and says thanks,” Hoyt noted. No one just stuffed a bandana into their pocket as if it were just another token.

“Man, what a powerful thing that is for soldiers. The bandana sort of becomes a hallowed relic right there,” Hoyt said.

The bandanas have been used in many ways. Some soldiers who received the bandanas before deploying had their children write a message on the back of the bandana, as a continual reminder of those back home. A sergeant suffered a severe leg wound from a rocket attack in Iraq. Those who were with him grabbed whatever they could find. They tied two of these bandanas together and wrapped them around his leg. The bandanas not only saved his leg, but possibly his life.

The bandanas have also played a role as men and women return home.

One tradition you may or may not be aware of that’s developed on the part of some soldiers is having their fellow soldiers/friends ‘sign’ these bandanas as a keepsake before heading home to remind them of God’s protection and those who shared it with them,” wrote Jeff Hawkins, 2nd Brigade Combat Team Chaplain, 82nd ABN, Camp Taji, Iraq.

These bandanas have become tactile, visible reminders of God’s Word and his divine attributes of comfort and protection.

Prayer:

Thank you for using a simple piece of cloth, something a little heavier than a feather, as a reminder of your shield and protection.

“He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.” (Psalm 91:4)

March 29

SWIFFER

Maj. Brad Head, United States Air Force

“One of the hottest commodities in the PX is a Swiffer. When a new shipment arrives, word spreads like wild fire and these mop-like wonders are gone in minutes,” Air Force Major Brad Head fired off in an email to his wife Meredith shortly after arriving in Taji, an air base twelve miles north of Bagdad, in February 2007.

Having developed policy and programs for the U.S. Air Force Academy while stationed at the Pentagon, Major Head volunteered to come to Iraq and develop curriculum for the Iraqi Air Force Training School. He and twelve other United States Air Force members from around the world were charged with the task of building the training pipeline necessary to resurrect the Iraqi Air Force which had been disbanded early in the war.

“Besides the fact that we are a very small island of Air Force blue in a very large sea of Army green, the best way to describe Taji is MUDDY. This place is ridiculous! There are literally hundreds of construction projects going on all over the place and the last thing they are worried about is using concrete for the roads.”

Head’s mission was a critical piece of President George W. Bush’s National Strategy for Victory in Iraq. The primary tenant of this new strategy was to get a large number of coalition troops out of Iraq in order to re-establish the Iraqi military.

It would take a lot more than a Swiffer, however, to clean up the mess threatening Head’s mission. Setting up his 10x10 feet room alone proved a challenge. Head and his roommate each received a wall locker, night stand, and mattress, and spent the better part of their first twenty-four hours trying to piece the IKEA-like furniture together with the help of a single leatherman hand tool. Realizing parts were missing from the furniture that they were to assemble, they bought used items from a contractor and searched for furniture in warehouses filled with old stuff from the Soviets and French. Worse than their personal living quarters, the twenty-seven buildings designated to house the new training school were in complete shambles. They were far from usable with less than two months to go before they were scheduled to be open for business.

“They haven’t even started construction, or secured funding on what should be a multi-million project,” Head explained after his initial tour of the school property.

“Needless to say, I seriously doubt we will be ready for students in April, but we’ll see. It doesn’t matter what we are all supposed to be doing here in the long term in the short term we’ll all be picking up hammers, brooms, and paint brushes and using some serious elbow grease to get this place going,” Head conveyed.

Prayer:

Father, give me the fortitude and tools I need to clean up the mud and messes facing my life or the life of someone close to me today.

“How broken and shattered is the hammer of the whole earth! How desolate is Babylon among the nations!” (Jeremiah 50:23)

March 30

STANDING UP SOMETHING FROM NOTHING

Maj. Brad Head, United States Air Force

“The big problem is that our headquarters is in Baghdad and most of the military leadership has no idea where we are working or what we are working with. They are driving a timeline to start on April 1, 2007, based on political and general officer demands, not the reality on the ground,” Major Brad Head explained of the challenges facing their mission to begin a training program for the Iraqi Air Force.

Air Force staff at headquarters in Baghdad thought the renovation of the designated Iraqi Air Force training buildings at Taji was complete. They were mistaken. The facilities were in shambles, with no electricity, functioning sewage, or water.

“It could take months to secure the funding and then who knows how long it will take the Iraqi contractor to actually renovate our facilities. In the meantime we don’t have a single vehicle, computer, printer, phone, or any office space to place equipment, if we did manage to get our hands on the tools we needed,” Head explained.

Because the United States Army was in control of Taji, Head and his team often took their supply requests to the Army. They found themselves navigating key differences between the Army and Air Force, such as the number of officers to enlisted men. The Army at Taji had thirty enlisted men/women to each officer. The Air Force had a smaller ratio, with six enlisted for every ten officers. When an Army colonel offered to supply Head, a Major, with one of his office chairs, he was surprised when Head picked up the chair himself instead of asking the Air Force Captain with him to move it.

The cultural differences between military branches were nothing compared with the cultural differences with the Iraqis. Iraqis think in terms of decades and centuries while Americans tend to think in terms of days and weeks. The Iraqis wanted a three-year program to commission their new officers; too long by U.S. military standards for standing up the Iraqi Air Force.

The U.S. military convinced the Iraqis to begin with a special fifteen-week senior term at the Iraqi Military Academy in Rustamiyah specifically tailored for cadets indentified to come into the Iraqi Air Force. However, these different approaches made it difficult to know how to guide the curriculum. What should an Iraqi Air Force lieutenant fresh out of the Academy know and be able to do?

“We literally have nothing,” Head explained.

Their true mission was to make something out of nothing. And that requires resourcefulness and faith.

Prayer:

Thank you for the abundant resources you have given me and for your faithfulness to make something out of the nothings in my life and in others.

“He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.” (Romans 4:17b)

March 31

THE CONFRONTATION

Maj. Brad Head, United States Air Force

“While the chaplain was preaching the one thing that kept popping into my mind was that the previous three weeks had been a test of my character, and I’d failed miserably,” Major Brad Head emailed his wife after attending a worship service at the base in Taji.

The battlefield is not immune to personnel conflicts. If anything, the increased life or death tension combined with scarce resources only worsens such problems. Head had observed that his commander was content to “sit back and let things unfold,” failing to be more proactive. Another was frustrated that he had not received the commander’s role. All of these threatened their mission of standing up the Iraqi Air Force. The chaplain’s message that day encouraged Head to boldly face these personnel challenges.

“I committed to myself that I would confront him and let him know. That night we were in the office trying to put the finishing touches on our request for funding and he was basically saying there was no need to keep my position on the books because he didn’t see what my replacement would be doing. I couldn’t swallow it any more and I expressed my frustration to him in pretty plain language,” Head explained, knowing such frankness normally wouldn’t go over so well when addressing a superior.

Their shared faith, however, played a role in resolving the conflict. “He is a Christian, also, and apologized for offending me. I apologized for not coming to him sooner. The commander joined in and apologized for not taking a more active leadership role and not addressing the brewing discontent earlier. He was convinced that God had sent him there for a reason,” Head indicated.

His commander then started crying, saying that when God grabs a hold of his heart it comes out of his eyes.

“Next thing you know, two hours later we were all praying together,” Head said. “I won’t say everything is now magically perfect in my life, but the air is clear and I’ve opened a channel of communication with both bosses.”

Head was thrilled at what clearing the air did. He was able to provide some guidance to the funding process for the renovations they so desperately needed to get the school going. The resolution also had a ripple effect on the other team members.

“People are starting to notice a difference and morale seems to be improving across the board.”

Prayer:

Thank you for the sweet relief that comes by resolving a conflict and setting paths straight.

“The speech of a good person clears the air; the words of the wicked pollute it.” (Proverbs 10:32; THE MESSAGE)

Chaplain (Capt.) Matt Hamrick (April 21) conducting a baptism service in Iraq

April 1

IRAQI AIR FORCE

Maj. Brad Head, United States Air Force

“When the Iraqi Air Force members are at work, they typically eat and sleep at the base because military members are regularly targeted for assassination,” Major Brad Head revealed in an email to his wife.

An Iraqi Air staff deputy director had been recently kidnapped and killed. Most Iraqi Air staff didn’t tell anyone they were in the Iraqi Air Force. As a result, members didn’t like to stay at work very long so they could “show up” in their neighborhood every few days to keep people from asking questions. The commander of one of the Iraqi flying bases went so far as to put up a taxi cab sign on his car to disguise his real job.

Despite facing overwhelming odds, Head and his teammates managed to start the Iraqi Air Force program with twenty-three students on schedule in April 2007. They solved their renovation woes by securing temporary digs in a building they labeled “the Alamo” until the renovation of their permanent facility known as the “White Castle” was complete.

Head and his team finalized the curriculum, customizing it to reflect the subtle nuances of Iraqi culture and taking into consideration the unique roles, mission, and equipment fielded by the new Iraqi Air Force.

“In spite of the complete failure of our staff to plan for our arrival, we are doing the best we can with what we’ve got. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that successes for the original team will be to lay a solid foundation for those who will follow in our footsteps,” Head explained, noting they were effectively re-creating the Iraqi Air Force from scratch.

“When I call headquarters in Baghdad for guidance, they respond that no one knows better than I do; so just do what I think makes the most sense. I regularly find myself creating policies that will drive the creation of the Iraqi Air Force for years to come,” Head noted.

Head identified disconnects between the number of Iraqi military personnel on the books and what the Iraqi military was supposed to look like by calendar year’s end. Taking space limitations into consideration, he mapped a plan that flowed the majority of people possible into the most critical career fields. As he made something out of nothing, he was doing general’s work well above his pay grade.

“In the U.S. Air Force, the person who makes those types of decisions is the four-star general in charge of Air Education and Training Command. Here I am a newly pinned Major sitting in a trailer in Taji (with little to no input from Iraqi military or anyone in the coalition) and effectively making that same level of decisions. Another Major is doing something similar. Surreal,” he wrote.

Head’s experience was about to become even more surreal. General Allardice, commander of the Coalition Air Force Transition Team (who also happened to be his boss from his time on the Air Staff in the Pentagon), asked Head to accept a new responsibility and move to headquarters in Bagdad. He was about to find himself doing work he never dreamed he would get to do.

Prayer:

Father, you are the giver of surreal moments in life, and I praise you for the gift of your Son, whose promise of eternal life will one day take me to Heaven, the greatest place beyond earthly reality.

“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” (1 John 5:13)

April 2

WATERMELON

Maj. Brad Head, United States Air Force

Could a watermelon mishap a seedy mistake take down plans for building up the Iraqi Air Force?

“I took a piece of watermelon and then froze as I pondered what the proper etiquette was for dealing with seeds in Iraq,” Major Brad Head emailed his wife.

The meeting was one of the most if not the most important meeting of Head’s deployment. He had come to Iraq with the mission of rebuilding the Iraqi Air Force by establishing their accessions and training pipeline. Scarce resources nearly killed the mission, but they had somehow managed to start the program on time. After moving from Taji to Baghdad, Head arranged several meetings with key players to obtain “buy in” for the long-term acceptance of one key element of the Iraqi Air Force training program. One important person not yet on board was the Iraqi Minister of Defense. Then the call came. Head was asked to grab his slides because he and General Allardice had been invited to brief the Iraqi defense minister.

When they arrived, the defense minister invited them to a traditional Iraqi lunch of roast lamb, rice, kabobs, and flat bread. Desert was watermelons and oranges. That’s when Head’s “near international incident” over watermelon took place. How do Iraqis handle the seeds?

“I fell back on some basic etiquette classes we received that said, ‘when in doubt just do what your host is doing.’ I looked down the enormous conference table (it could easily seat 25) just in time to see the minister lean forward and let several seeds dribble out of his mouth. Relieved that I wouldn’t cause an international incident, I chowed down on my piece of watermelon, happily spitting my seeds on the plate.”

After dinner the minister excused his other guests and settled down on one of his six leather couches to hear the Americans’ pitch for creating a new interim Iraqi Air Force Academy. The briefing was short and to the point. All of the prep work they had done, including a letter Head had helped to draft that was signed by General Dempsey (Commander of Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq) paid off. The minister approved the program and offered whatever support he could provide to help rebuild the Iraqi Air Force Academy.

“General Allardice was almost skipping as we left,” Head shared, “This was a huge victory for us!”

“I’ll say it again for the millionth time. This has been one of the most surreal experiences in my entire life. I never dreamed I would have the opportunity to engage at the level I’ve been working to accomplish some of the things we are getting done. We are building the Iraqi Air Force, as Gen. Allardice likes to say, ‘one brick at a time.’”

Prayer:

Thank you for the times in life when hard work brings a tangible reward.

“Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will serve before kings; he will not serve before obscure men.” (Proverbs 22:29)

April 3

A SWEATY RHINO

Maj. Brad Head, United States Air Force

“Before I left for this deployment, I swore up and down to my wife, Meredith, that I was going to ride in a helicopter one time from Baghdad to Taji; stay there the entire six months and take a helicopter ride back to the airport; and finally, fly home. By no means was I ever, ever, ever going to ride in a convoy. We had an understanding,” Major Brad Head emailed to his friends, noting things didn’t exactly work out as planned.

Gen. Allardice invited Major Head to take a new position at headquarters and then move to Bagdad. This assignment involved traveling regularly from his office at Phoenix Base in the International Zone to the Victory Base Complex across town. Unable to catch a helicopter one day, Head had to ride in a Rhino, part of a convoy or “carpool” as he told his wife.

For those who’ve never heard of a Rhino, it’s a heavily armored bus that looks like something out of a Mad Max movie. Several times a day a Rhino and several armored Humvees make the twelve mile trip from the safety and security of the IZ through the appropriately named ‘Red Zone’ then through the heart of downtown Baghdad and over to Victory.

It was very hot that day 116 degrees. “While the air conditioner was making noise, I think that was about all it was doing. The ‘sweatbox’ (as Rhinos are affectionately called) was living up to its name. Did I mention that when you ride you have to wear your body armor, helmet, and Nomex gloves (just in case it catches on fire)? Miserably hot as we were, we were at least making progress, that is, until just after we entered the IZ.”

Suddenly the Rhino died. All efforts to restart the vehicle failed. A lieutenant colonel’s loud coaching did more to frustrate the poor driver and flood the Rhino than to get it started again. The second lieutenant in charge of the convoy tried to jumpstart it by pushing it with his Humvee. Failure. Next option? Towing.

“Now these are up-armored Humvees that already have an extra two thousand pounds of armor plating on the doors. A Rhino weighs about thirteen tons. I’m not sure what towing capacity a Humvee has, but I’m pretty sure we were way over it. Did I mention it was hot? When the Rhino died so did the barely functioning air conditioner. My body began to sweat in places I’d never felt sweat before. (Did you ever feel sweat dripping off your shins?)” Head retorted sarcastically.

The crew eventually hooked the Rhino up to a Humvee for an inch-by-inch towing through the IZ. When the ordeal was finally over, Head noted that even the outside’s oven-warm breeze actually felt refreshing. He returned to his room, stripped off his drenched fatigues, and sat in his boxers to enjoy an ice-cold Dr. Pepper that never tasted so good.

But good humored Major Head made the most of the ordeal. He told his wife he loved her “more than all the sweat on all the soldiers in Iraq.”

Prayer:

Thank you God for humor, a gift to wipe away sweat and unpleasantness in life.

“True intelligence is a spring of fresh water, while fools sweat it out the hard way.” (Proverbs 16:22; THE MESSAGE)

April 4

MISSING PIECE

Maj. Brad Head, United States Air Force

A funny thing happened on a trip back to Taji. First of all, when Major Head got off the helicopter, all his old friends started giving him a hard time saying things like, “Didn’t we use to have a Major Head that worked here?” He related this of the quick return trip he made to Taji after taking a new role at headquarters with General. Allardice in Baghdad.

“I felt kind of like the guy on Survivor who chose to switch to the other tribe in the middle of game. I wasn’t fully accepted as a member of my new tribe yet (it doesn’t help that I worked for the General before and they all know it) but I was definitely not welcomed back with my old tribe,” Head commented.

The ribbing he received was only just the beginning. On the return flight to Baghdad, he carried a backpack and two other large bags transporting his belongings he had left behind in Taji. After landing, they headed over to the General’s vehicle when Head made a startling realization.

“As I loaded my bags in the car I caught my holster and it seemed a little light. That’s when I noticed my 9mm pistol was not there. I quickly scanned the ground and seeing nothing started running back to the helicopter pad. As I rounded the corner, the helicopters took off for their next mission. Not sure if this seems like a big to deal to the civilians out there, but in the Army you can get in some serious trouble for losing your weapon. It’s not like I can deny that it happened, my General and Colonel bosses were both standing there with me when I noticed it was missing,” Head explained.

He also noted it was dark. The helicopter was loud and he wore earplugs, so he couldn’t have heard the pistol drop.

“And I had on body amour and was carrying three heavy bags, so I wouldn’t have felt it drop. I scurried over to the passenger terminal and told them I thought I left my pistol onboard. After they stopped laughing, they got on the phone and called ahead to the helicopter’s destination. Sure enough it was back right where I’d been sitting,” Head relayed with relief.

“The General wants to see you ASAP,” General Allardice’s executive assistant barked at Head the next morning when he arrived at work.

“You obviously need this more than I do. You can give it back when you get your own,” Allardice said as he handed Head a pigtail, which is a lanyard soldiers sometimes use to keep guns attached to their belts in case it falls out of the harness.

“Everyone then had a good laugh at my expense,” Head said.

Major Brad Head has a great sense of humor. He knows when to laugh, especially at himself.

Prayer:

Father thank you for grace for those times in life when I misplace or lose something of value. Give me a clear mind and the ability to laugh at life’s minor foibles.

“Prepare your shields, both large and small, and march out for battle!” (Jeremiah 46:3)

April 5

RANK

Maj. Brad Head, United States Air Force

“As I walk around and eat in the chow hall, I’m very aware of the fact that I’m now a Major. I easily outrank at least 99 percent of the people I see every day. It’s polar opposite from being a lowly Captain at the Pentagon, where 99 percent of the people I saw everyday outranked me pretty surreal,” Major Brad Head emailed shortly after arriving in Iraq.

Head experienced what officers often face: silence.

“When I sit down at a table in the chow hall, conversation typically comes to an awkwardly abrupt halt. I try to convince the soldiers to carry on. Sometimes they’ll ask me a question about how I think things are going. It’s strange to have young soldiers stop to hear what the major is going to say.”

The questions gave him a reason to live up to his rank.

“I understood, for the first time in my career, the responsibility to give a positive but honest evaluation. I generally assure them that what they are doing is incredibly important. So many sources tell them every day that what they’re doing is wrong and inevitably doomed to failure. These assessments are based on lies so it’s hard to keep them from getting extremely cynical,” Head explained.

Head also discovered some hard realities. He met one soldier who occasionally was tasked with suicide watch. Head immediately thought the soldier meant guarding a post targeted by insurgents. Instead suicide watch was staying awake all night with a fellow soldier who was suicidal to prevent that person from injuring himself.

“When people at home say they support the troops, they just don’t support the war that is garbage. That is not a distinction you can make. That’s like saying, ‘I hate schools and everything they stand for but I support the teachers,’” Head continued.

All the political talk at chow time led Head to observe the reason they fight.

“Never fear, these soldiers aren’t fighting for the administration or even their military leadership. At the most basic level, they are fighting for each other. When bullets start flying, you can be assured no one is thinking about politics. They are fighting for the soldier on their right and left.

“Please say a quick prayer for the young soldiers, Marines, and Airmen out there on the front lines every day. They are doing a hard job much of their country doesn’t support, and losing their lives, limbs, friends, and innocence in the process,” Head concluded.

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, I pray for strength, encouragement, and discernment for the men and women serving in the United States military.

“Brothers, pray for us.” (1 Thessalonians 5:25)

April 6

PRAY FOR THE IRAQIS

Maj. Brad Head, United States Air Force

When Air Force Major Head met with his Iraqi interpreters for the first time in the spring of 2007, he got a first-hand telling of Iraq’s harsh realities, both past and present.

One interpreter’s brother had recently been murdered by insurgents. Another had lied his way through a checkpoint, telling the insurgents he was Sunni when he was really a Shiite. He made up family names, an indicator of tribal heritage, to stay alive. Each interpreter used a pretend name to protect his identity. Zero’s story was particularly heartfelt. He had joined the Army when Sadaam was in power, but left before completing basic training, staying only ten days.

“We’d only known this guy for thirty minutes. When we explained that we were going to be training Iraqi Air Force officers and enlisted Airmen, he passionately urged us to make sure we taught future officers to respect their enlisted troops. Apparently the reason he left Saddam’s Army is that enlisted men were routinely raped by their officers as a form of punishment for not following orders,” Head explained.

Despite his traumatic experiences, Zero had a great sense of humor.

“I asked if he had girlfriend and he assured me he was engaged to actress Angelina Jolie. He said they had talked about it last night and she agreed to leave Tom Cruise (he meant Brad Pitt) and move to Baghdad to be with him. He then winked and told me it was only a dream but a ‘good dream,’” Head wrote, noting if Iraq is going to succeed, it will be because people like Zero face their fears and do the right thing.

“Abraham Maslow’s psychological hierarchy of needs says that people first need food, clothing, shelter, and security before they can be concerned about higher order needs like self-actualization. The Iraqis have spent so much time struggling for the basic order needs that they have never dreamed of moving up to the higher levels we so often take for granted.

“Please join me in praying for these and the millions of Iraqis like them who want nothing more than what the average American wants: to get married, have a family, a stable job that pays well, food on the table, a couple of kids, and a lasting sense of security and stability for themselves and their country,” Head related.

Prayer:

Lord, I pray for Zero and the other interpreters in Iraq as they seek to rebuild their lives. Reveal yourself to them in remarkable ways.

“What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him?” (Deuteronomy 4:7)

April 7

Recreation & Reflection

Maj. Brad Head, United States Air Force

“I boarded an Iraqi C-130 for the worst ride I’ve had in my fourteen years in the Air Force. It was hot and bumpy, I was cold and sweaty, and half-way through I started looking for a barf-bag. One of the Iraqis in my direct line of sight had already located a bag and was regularly using. Fortunately it was a short trip, and I managed to make it without puking chewing gum and drinking lots of water help!” Major Brad Head wrote about flying to Ali base, where General Allardice had been invited as the guest speaker for a special celebration for the Airmen there, honoring the United States Air Force’s 60th anniversary.

After the festivities, Head did what many service members did while visiting Ali base tour two of Iraq’s most historical sites: The Ziggurat and the House of Abraham.

The Ali base is located on the site of the ancient Sumerian city of Ur, the one mentioned in the Biblical account of Abraham. Over 4,000 years earlier King Shulgi ordered the construction of the brick Ziggurat (similar to the Egyptian pyramids).

While touring Head saw the oldest example of a free-standing arch in the known world; the oldest example of indoor plumbing; and script written into bricks which were placed more than two thousand years before the Romans ever existed. The House of Abraham was the last stop on their tour. Although no one can verify that it’s actually Abraham’s house, the Iraqis have long made the claim.

“It was incredible to think about walking in the same area (even if it is not exactly right, it has to be close) where Abraham walked. Like Jerusalem, all of the world’s greatest religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) can trace their roots to this one place,” Head wrote, noting the Ziggurat is also supposedly perfectly aligned with the four corners pointing in the cardinal directions.

Touring these sites was a welcome break from Iraq’s severities, such as riding in full armor on a bus through Baghdad or experiencing the worst airplane ride ever. The sites were reminders of humanity’s roots, particularly God’s promise to Abraham to make his descendents more numerous than the stars.

One condition shared by the tourists with father Abraham was the heat. Head used his trademark humor to make the connection.

“The whole time we were walking around (in the 120 degree heat), all I could think of was that when God told Abraham to leave here and go to the place that I will show you, Abraham must have been thrilled!” Head observed with a grin.

Prayer:

Thank you for historical markers that show the greatness of the past and the promise you have made for our future.

“He also said to him, ‘I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.’” (Genesis 15:7)

April 8

MUDDY SEASON

Lt. Col. Greg Rosenmerkel, United States Air Force

The Iraq rainy season isn’t best defined by rainfall inches; it’s unofficially measured by how long the mud ponds last.

“We’re right in the middle of the rainy season,” Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Greg Rosenmerkel explained in a January 2007 email to his friends after only a few weeks into his six-month deployment. “From what I’ve seen so far, that statement may be a bit misleading. While it has rained four to five days this month, up to 1.5 inches in a day, it’s the lingering ponds that keep one thinking it’s a ‘season.’”

Rosenmerkel commanded an Air Force team whose mission was to oversee a number of engineering projects at the Logistics Support Area Anaconda, collocated with Balad Air Base, about thirty miles from Baghdad. Rosenmerkel’s team provided capabilities the Army needed but couldn’t provide from within.

“The base is flat. Storm sewer inlets are few and far between. The soil is impermeable silt clay, and the Iraqi irrigation canals surrounding us are higher elevation. Even in wartime, we can’t make water flow uphill. Mud is everywhere,” Rosenmerkel observed.

“All the mud really just adds to the inconvenience. We’re obviously in uniform all the time, so when you gotta go in the middle of the night, you get dressed, schlep through the mud to the porta-potty, and try to get back in bed without bringing the mud with you,” he explained.

Mud clings to everything. It’s consistency is not normal mud either it’s slippery. It could be described as somewhere between a McDonald’s chocolate shake and baby poop. It’s got a remarkable ability to track one hundred feet down a hallway, then when it dries it just turns to dust and finds its way into your coffee cup.

Boot scrapers dot all doorsteps. These boot brushes are everywhere, but they really just serve to remove the big rocks and fling mud higher on your pant leg or your buddy’s.

The mud in Iraq is hard to get off because it’s fine and silt-like. Understanding Middle East mud sheds new light on the Biblical phrase “shaking the dust off your feet” a response to an insult or inhospitable gesture. Rosenmerkel’s observation literally shows how hard it can be to “shake the dust from your feet.”

Just as it’s sometimes necessary to clean mud off your feet, so it’s also important to let go of life’s insults. Like mud, it’s better to view them an inconvenience.

Prayer:

God, enable me to let go of the insults that sometimes come my way. Keep them from becoming grudges. Instead, help me to have the persistence to wash them off as mud from my feet.

“If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town.” (Matthew 10:14)

April 9

GRAVEL JOB CONDITIONS

Lt. Col. Greg Rosenmerkel, United States Air Force

To build roads, one needs asphalt. To make asphalt, one needs gravel. Sometimes getting gravel for engineering projects at Anaconda-Balad-Balad Air Base seemed as primitive as the cartoon celebrity, Fred Flinstone, operating a bronco crane at Bedrock’s Slate Rock and Gravel Company.

After eighteen years in the Air Force, Lt. Col. Greg Rosenmerkel was used to having some discretionary funding authority. The United States military process in Iraq was very different. No matter your rank, all expenditures went all the way to the “corps” for approval.

“One of our challenges has been getting construction work estimated, bid, and completed in an incredibly volatile market. In the past few weeks we’ve seen costs for gravel range between $200 and $400 per ton. For those of you that don’t buy much bulk rock that’s about a factor of ×10+ off market rates in the states, which makes it hard to come close on estimates when it takes forty-five days for work to get funded,” Rosenmerkel emailed his friends.

Gravel woes went beyond paperwork pushing and market drivers. They were gravely serious.

“The story goes that this week the quarry operator was taken hostage and the family had to pay a $500,000 ransom,” Rosenmerkel wrote, adding the driver was beaten or worse. “Further, a passage fee must be paid to the village sheiks to use the roads, so in an industry where profit margins are generally around 3 percent, there ain’t much left.”

Getting gravel delivered also created security problems, which slowed the process. Because a truckload of gravel is a great place to hide a bomb, and the U.S. military try to give work to local contractors and suppliers, and getting material on base is quite an operation. First, the local contractors line up at the gate, often as far as the eye can see. One by one, they come in and dump their load for dirty ops where the material is screened. Once that’s done, it’s loaded into other trucks that are permitted on base as clean ops. Camping overnight in a line is something Americans do for concert tickets, not paychecks. Not so in Iraq. If their gravel truck didn’t go through dirty ops early enough to ensure they would be out by 1700 hours, the Iraqi drivers would line outside the gate and camp overnight.

“It’s a good reminder of the blessing of having regular work hours as most Americans do,” Rosenmerkel concluded.

It’s also a good reminder to pray for those in need.

Prayer:

Thank you for reminding me of the blessings you have given America. I pray that the Iraqis will soon overcome the challenges they face just to get a paycheck.

“He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.” (Psalm 40:2)

April 10

BAPTISM AND COMMUNION

Lt. Col. Greg Rosenmerkel, United States Air Force

A muddy place in need of gravel for making asphalt no doubt had other rudimentary buildings. The Anaconda-Balad chapel was no exception. On the inside, this expandable shelter was lined with plywood. The outside had a traditional-looking bell tower topped with a pointy A-frame roof. However, the bells were far from traditional they were empty 105mm shells.

What proved to be time-honored, however, was the role friendship and faith played in giving Rosenmerkel perspective and inspiration in Iraq.

“Early in the deployment, my team and I all sat down and discussed our goals for the next six months. One of Captain ‘Donna’s’ goal was to get baptized. Yesterday at 1400 hours, we got to witness this great event, and it sure helped shift focus on the present and future,” Lt. Col. Greg Rosenmerkel emailed his friends.

The presiding chaplain offered this during the ceremony prep: “This is a historic region, especially for a Christian baptism. While Israel is the nation most often mentioned in the Bible, Iraq is mentioned second most often. The names used in the Bible are Babylon, Land of Shinar, and Mesopotamia. The word Mesopotamia means ‘between the two rivers’ more exactly between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. The name Iraq means ‘country with deep roots,’” Rosenmerkel expressed, noting that Iraq is home to the ancient land of Assyria, land of Eden, Tower of Babel, Nineveh, Babylon, and Ur, Abraham’s home.

“If you can mentally escape from the current situation, it’s truly awesome to be here. The Tigris is on our base map.”

Encouragement also came from casual conversations ending in poignancy.

Despite the chapel’s rudimentary conditions and makeshift bell tower, Lieutenant Colonel Rosenmerkel found that what most mattered in a church is not its appearance, but those relationships and friendships that direct a heart toward God.

“Friendships and a re-kindled participation in church really helped us keep perspective,” he observed.

Prayer:

Father: Thank you for those ceremonies, ministers, and people who direct me to your word and lead me to you.

“And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the LORD, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.’ “ Then the people bowed down and worshiped.” (Exodus 12:26–27)

April 11

FIELD TRIPS

Lt. Col. Greg Rosenmerkel, United States Air Force

“I think it’s important to get out, take a break, meet some people, learn something new, see things that most take for granted or don’t know exist,” Lt. Col. Greg Rosenmerkel wrote about the weekly field trips he arranged for his Air Force engineering team.

One trip was to the CRAM operation at Anaconda-Balad Air Base, known as Mortaritaville. “CRAM stands for Counter Rocket, Artillery, Mortar It’s loud, and not a favorite alarm clock. The ‘shooter’ is a phalanx 20mm gun off Navy ships,” he emailed. Rosenmerkel attached a photo showing their tour guide holding the rocket that had interrupted their physical training session earlier that morning. The mortar turned “our ‘push-ups’ into ‘get downs.’ CRAM system did its job. We were back at it in no time.”

His team visited a number of places, including the reverse-osmosis water purification plant. The people were always more impressive than the process. The boss of the whole water production program is Eloy. Greg’s favorite story of Eloy is from summer 2004. He was relaxing on the deck at 11 p.m., shirt off, cooling down, and watching the new X-Men movie in 3D when a mortar hit about fifteen feet away. Of course he was knocked out, woke up and thought, how cool is THAT technology. They pulled a chunk from his skull, left one in his shoulder, and he laughs about it. Incredible guy, loves his country, loves the military, and loves making water.

They also visited “Monster Garage Iraq,” the contractor shop that assembles IED detection equipment and repairs battle-damaged rigs so they can return to safe-clearing supply routes.

“While the equipment provides great protection, we’re still losing people as the bad guys figure out how to break stuff. Our technology is constantly improving, as is theirs. The repair shop guys are warriors, incredibly dedicated to keeping soldiers safe. Seeing the vehicles in the shop with holes in them where people used to sit is the most angering thing I’ve seen since we got here. I find it ironic how cowardly the insurgents are fighting the battle,” Rosenmerkel emailed.

Rather than just stimulating their intellect, these field trips strengthened his team’s resolve. Rosenmerkel’s email after watching the president’s State of the Union address summed up their determination. “I will say this: I believe we can fight here, or wait until they come back to the United States. It ain’t pretty, so let’s say we fight ‘em here.”

Prayer:

Thank you for using the stories of ordinary people who do difficult things to inspire others who are facing danger.

“I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me.” (Acts 20:23)

April 12

THINGS I’LL MISS

Lt. Col. Greg Rosenmerkel, United States Air Force

“Thursday was huge first, our replacements arrived, and second we are now making asphalt on base. I know for most of you this is humdrum news, but for us civil engineers, it is a banner day. More pavements faster and cheaper,” Lt. Col. Greg Rosenmerkel emailed his friends near the end of his deployment. His team celebrated with Mountain Dew.

As Rosenmerkel completed his six-month deployment to Iraq, he emailed his friends with a list of the things he would and wouldn’t miss about Iraq. In addition to dust, mud, wind, heat, cold showers in the winter, and warm showers in the summer, here are some others he wouldn’t miss:

Getting dressed in the middle of the night to walk outside to the porta-john, wearing 40 lbs. of body armor and Kevlar helmet after a morning run with a 40-year-old back, the nauseating smoke from the burn pit, showering in a small, hot, crowded, stinky, muddy trailer with a dozen other guys, and waking up to the CRAM shooting down a mortar.

He also wouldn’t miss the painful experience of attending memorial services, but all was not bad in Iraq. Rosenmerkel had a few things he would miss: bottled water everywhere and running into old friends from previous deployments and air bases. He’d also miss church in the expandable shelter because “everyone there wants to be there.”

“This was possibly my last opportunity to be a commander of my Airmen, a group at the level in which I see them all every day. They were a joy and an inspiration to strive to be the kind of leader they deserve. New Army friends, a totally different culture some of it I liked, most of it I respected. They were all deployed at least twelvemonths,” he wrote.

There were two things he’d miss watching: F-16s take off in the dark with full afterburner (the sound of freedom) on the way home from the office and the incredible dedication of so many people.

Most importantly he’d miss feeling like a day’s work will make someone’s life better. And as the author of Ecclesiastes concludes, such satisfaction in one’s work is from the hand of God.

Prayer:

Enable me to find inherent satisfaction in the work you have given me, knowing that the work of my hands comes from your hand.

“A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God.” (Ecclesiastes 2:24)

April 13

EMERGENCY ROOM

Mary Ebersole, wife of Lt. Dennis Ebersole

“Josh, Josh, wake up!” I screamed.

I couldn’t believe my eyes. My three-year-old son had lost consciousness.

It was July 4, 2007. Despite Dennis’ absence, I had been determined to celebrate Independence Day with our three children. The plan was to play in the morning, nap in the afternoon, and watch the fireworks that night.

After Josh’s nap, I noticed he was a little warm, but I didn’t think much of it. I decided to put him in bed with me and snuggled him close. Within minutes of lying down, his arms, and legs shook. His eyes rolled back, something he’d never done before. I was shocked and scared. I screamed out to my mom, who, by the grace of God, was visiting us that day. She’s an intensive care nurse. Her presence calmed me because I couldn’t believe what was happening. I hoped to God I wasn’t going to lose him.

We screamed his name over and over again. The seizure only lasted about thirty seconds, but it felt like hours. Joshua regained consciousness but moaned lethargically. I immediately called 911. An ambulance arrived within minutes. As they took us to the ER, I kept praying Josh would recover and for strength. I had to be strong. As the primary caretaker of three little ones, there was no room for crying. I cradled Josh in my arms, stroked his hair, and took in every detail of him, from the way he smelled to the feel of his hand in my hand, while we waited in the ER for the blood test results to come back.

Two hours later, we got the news. He had a febrile seizure, set off by the sudden temperature spike. They told me to keep an eye on him overnight and call the pediatrician for follow-up care such simple instructions compared to the myriad of problems he could have faced. Needless to say, we missed the fireworks, but thank God sweet Joshie was still with us.

“Am I really fit to do this?” I wondered for the thousandth time at my circumstances.

God reminded me that I was not alone. He provided my mom, the paramedics, and ER doctors. In that moment, he fulfilled my every need. For more than a decade, God had been growing and preparing me for Dennis’s deployment. God was my strength while my husband served his country.

Prayer:

Thank you God for your promise to be our strength when we are weak.

“For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10)

April 14

THE PHONE CALL

Mary Ebersole, wife of Lt. Dennis Ebersole

“RRRRIIIIIINNNGGG!”

The telephone’s sharp ringing interrupted a peaceful afternoon in 1999. Dennis and I were in the midst of planning our wedding that summer. On the phone was his commanding officer, who had called to notify Dennis of an involuntary deployment of Navy reservists for Kosovo. The news took my breath away.

Countless military families have dealt with a loved one’s mobilization, but not having been exposed to this before, I was frightened. A first generation American, I didn’t grow up in a military family. My parents left Taiwan for educational and employment opportunities in the United States. Although I grew up in Rockville and Bethesda, Maryland, neighbors to Washington D.C., I never knew anyone who had been deployed.

After that phone call, I wondered if I could live with such uncertainty. When Dennis and I started dating in 1997, he told me he was in the Naval Reserves, but had not been called up during his ten-year tenure. As a result, I hadn’t thought much about it. Ironically, if he hadn’t been in the reserves, we might not have met. I was pursuing my doctorate at the University of Virginia, and Dennis was working in Phoenix, Arizona, when he came to DC for a two-week Navy Reserves trip. We met randomly and unexpectedly one Friday night while playing volleyball with mutual friends.

He asked me to go sailing with him the next day. I was attracted to his confidence, strength, honesty, listening skills, and patience. It also helped that he was attractive and very tall six-foot-seven, especially compared to my petite height of five feet. We had a great date and maintained a long distance relationship until his day job transferred him to the East Coast.

But I will never forget that phone call in 1999. It was my first brush with the reality that Dennis could be called up. The thought of what he could face and what it could mean to our impending marriage was the most frightening possibility I had ever contemplated.

Thankfully, he was not involuntarily recalled then, giving me time to adjust my thinking. God was planting seeds for what was to come. Like Abraham, I had to move forward despite the uncertainty of mobilization in my marriage. Even though I didn’t know where the road would take us, I realized that faith was the best map for such an unknown journey as deployment.

Prayer:

Thank you for your promise to be with us where we or our loved ones may go.

“By faith Abraham… obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.” (Hebrews 11:8)

April 15

WHITE CROSSES

Mary Ebersole, wife of Lt. Dennis Ebersole

I had driven by them many times those orderly white crosses gracing the grounds of Arlington National Cemetery. I had never attended a funeral there. September 11, 2001 changed that.

Dennis knew three who died. Two were Boeing contractor colleagues who were on the plane that crashed into the Pentagon. His third colleague, Commander Dan Shanower, was killed while on duty at the Pentagon. Dennis had met Shanower during a naval exercise years earlier. His unit supported Shanower’s.

While attending Shanower’s funeral at Arlington Cemetery, I felt an immense sadness for his death, but also deep gratitude for his military service. I couldn’t help but wonder, “What if this was Dennis and I was the grieving widow?” As I saw those white crosses, my breath was taken away again, just like the day the telephone rang in 1999 about Kosovo deployments.

After September 11, I knew Dennis could be mobilized, along with waves heading to Afghanistan. Sure enough, we received our second involuntary mobilization notification. The thought of having Dennis sent away during our young marriage was difficult, but we knew we would follow God’s plan.

Those white cross have a different meaning for me now than when I first saw them years ago. They represent the sacrifice of life for country, and to me, they also represent Christ’s death on the cross. My parents, originally from Taiwan, didn’t practice any religion when I was growing up. We exchanged Christmas gifts, but didn’t embrace its religious meaning. I had some great high school friends who turned out to be Christians. They encouraged me to attend their church. As a result, I accepted Christ as my savior when I was seventeen. I didn’t understand everything then, but God planted seeds of faith in me.

Dennis and I had been married a little over a year at the time of the September 11 attacks. We had found an amazing church that spurred our faith, helping us understand what it means to be “Jesus with skin on,” as our pastor says.

We built friendships, studied the Bible, and led small groups with other young married couples. Although Dennis wasn’t mobilized after September 11, God was working in our lives, growing a community of support that would later be a huge lifeline. Life often brings seasons for planting. This was our time to cultivate friendships, learn God’s word, and sew love for him.

Prayer:

Thank you for the meaning behind the cross. Thank you for preparing us for the crosses we will bear in the future.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37)

April 16

FILIAL PIETY

Mary Ebersole, wife of Lt. Dennis Ebersole

“Dad, I’m over here!” I shouted for the third time to the elderly man descending from the plane. After living in Taiwan for two years, my father returned to the United States in December 2006. I barely recognized him. He walked with a slow gait. His stilted movements revealed his lost strength. His facial expressions were very limited. I knew that something was very, very wrong.

As he came toward me, I fought back tears. The Chinese virtue of filial piety has been passed on to me, and I knew I would one day care for my parents, but I never dreamed it would come this quickly.

Later that evening, my suspicions were confirmed. He was very weak and it was not just from the plane ride. Suddenly, the roles were reversed. I became the parent, helping him to undress, bathe, brush his teeth, and get into bed.

The floodgate of tears opened as Dennis and I talked about the situation. My parents were now divorced. My mother was balancing work and college courses and barely had time for herself. The rest of our extended family was out of town. We had three young children under the age of four, including a month-old baby. Plus, we had recently received a mobilization notification. Again, the possibility of deployment, especially in the throes of the Iraq war, took my breath away.

Dennis and I immediately agreed my father would stay with us. Within a few weeks, the situation proved to be even more challenging. After a crash course in Medicare, secondary health insurance, and prescription drug coverage, along with a humongous number of visits to doctors, specialists, and labs. We heard the dreadful diagnosis Prostate Cancer. Not just cancer now, but my father also had Parkinson’s Disease.

Then, it happened. After several brushes with deployment, Dennis was mobilized in March 2007. A patriotic man, Dennis was eager to do his duty for our country, but I was not eager to see him go. The timing couldn’t have been worse, so it seemed.

I didn’t know how I was going to care for three children and my ailing father alone. After wrestling in my heart, I realized the best way to face the days ahead was to take them one day at a time, and most importantly, one prayer at time. Sometimes when it seems all we can do is pray, that is the best thing to do.

Prayer:

Thank you for family and for the opportunity to care for them no matter the circumstance.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6)

April 17

COMMUNITY OF STRENGTH

Mary Ebersole, wife of Lt. Dennis Ebersole

When Dennis left for his tour of duty to an undisclosed location in March 2007 (I didn’t know where he was going), there was no choice for me but to jump in with both feet to care for my three children and father. Every incident, from the normal to the emergency, was ripe with opportunities to pray for strength.

Days were filled with driving my dad to medical appointments while also paying attention to my children’s needs. Sometimes the only moments I had to myself were in the car. Once the kids were strapped in and watching a movie, I would pray. Other times, it wasn’t until very late in the evening when I got on my knees to pray. The emergencies happened, too. We visited the ER three times. God gave me strength to make it through those stitches and close calls, including Josh’s febrile seizure.

God’s strength also came from the friends we made early in our marriage through our church. When word got around of Dennis’s mobilization, our community of Christian friends mobilized as well. They sustained us by preparing meals, sending us gift cards, and watching our children so I could take my father to the doctor.

God also showed me why he brought my father into my home during this inopportune time. Although ailing, my father was a source of strength by becoming a wonderful companion to my children. He entertained them, and they entertained him. My heart was also burdened for him spiritually. I discovered I didn’t have to debate him, but could best witness by quietly living out my faith. I continued hosting a ladies Bible study in my home. My children said grace at dinner. My father constantly asked me about the generous women who regularly delivered meals. He was amazed at their support and love.

Of course, I screamed, “Yahoooo!” when Dennis came home in October 2007. No one welcomes the refining fire of difficult circumstances that God had prepared for me. I had so much less responsibility no children when Dennis could have gone to Kosovo. Yet, God chose 2007 and not 1999. He had planted seeds of faith and friendship that grew over ten years to prepare me for Dennis’s deployment. They ripened at the right time, giving me strength while my husband served our country. God’s mobilization of sustaining grace was just what I needed during Dennis’s mobilization.

Prayer:

Father thank you for planting seeds in my life and ripening them at just the right time when I need them most.

“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast.” (1 Peter 5:10)

April 18

MUCH IS GIVEN

George W. Bush, Forty-third President of the United States

President George W. Bush is an avid athlete. He exercises daily and for many years, that meant a run, a good long jog. Then he took up cycling. He’s so fast; he outpaces the secret service agents riding with him.

As much as the drive to exercise motivates him personally, something greater also drives him. While maintaining high respect for other religions, Bush has not hidden his faith. In extensive interviews with Brett Baier for the Fox News Channel in January 2008, President Bush revealed his core belief about stewardship.

“I believe that to whom much is given much is required, and we’ve been given a lot,” President George W. Bush explained.

This idea comes from Luke 12:48: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” It’s a verse that guards against selfishness and complacency.

“It’s in our moral interest to help others. The enemy, those who kill the innocent to advance their political agenda, cannot recruit based upon their ideology. They can only recruit where there’s hopelessness,” Bush continued.

Bush believes that a key component in fighting terror is the need to combat poverty and diseases, such as AIDS, which affected 33 million globally. If a large portion of a nation’s work force is ill, then the economy can’t grow. Impoverished people are more apt to turn to an ideology of terror than those who have hope.

“Disease and hunger cause people to be hopeless. That’s why our foreign policy is to help others live healthy lives. To help others live in a free society. It’s the ultimate solution to protecting America,” Bush explained.

Six months later, in July 2008, President Bush signed legislation that tripled the United States funding to fight AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis around the world, particularly in Africa. Bush described the five-year, $48 billion program as “the largest commitment by any nation to combat a single disease in human history.”

For a president of the United States, “much is given” means a responsibility of stewardship and decision-making in leading a nation. But “much is given” doesn’t have to be measured on a continental scale. Much is given can mean many things. For a physician, “much is given” is about dispensing knowledge and prescriptions with mercy. For a mom, “much is given” is observing her children’s needs and responding with an abundance of love.

Prayer:

Show me today the “much” you have given me, whether it’s my time, talent, or treasure. Lead me to an opportunity to use my abundance selflessly.

“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (Luke 12:48b)

April 19

AUTHOR OF LIFE

George W. Bush, Forty-third President of the United States

“Don’t let shame keep you from getting tested or treated,” President George W. Bush said to those with AIDS after signing legislation authorizing a $48 billion program to fight AIDS globally. “Your life is treasured by the people who love you…. It matters to the people of the United States.”

Valuing life is one of President Bush’s core beliefs. Fox News Channel’s reporter Brett Baier interviewed President Bush in January 2008. Baier asked Bush whether he was an idealist or a realist. Bush’s reply revealed his perspective on the author of life and freedom.

“I consider myself a combination of idealist and realist. I am idealistic because I believe in this fundamental truth: There is an Almighty. And a gift of that Almighty to every man, woman, and child on the face of the earth is liberty is freedom. I believe that with the very essence of my being, and am therefore am willing to act on that,” he replied earnestly.

“Now if you believe, that (freedom is a gift from God) then it ought to make you an optimistic person because freedom yields peace. It’s also a realistic way to defend America because ultimately the ideology of freedom must trump the hatred of the ideologues that kill to achieve their objectives. In the long term the only way to protect America is to spread liberty. Some say that is hopelessly idealistic. I say that it is idealistic but it has worked,” Bush explained.

Baier asked Bush to size up whether he would be able to declare victory in Iraq before his term’s end. Bush gave a realistic but optimistic reply.

“Victory in Iraq is going to be gradual. The security situation has certainly improved. The political situation is getting better and the economy is beginning to improve. It takes awhile to recover from a tyrannical situation. I think when I get out of here, I will have put Iraq in a position so that my successor, whoever that is, will be able to deal with the situation on the ground there. And I believe (the next president) will understand the strategic consequences of the emergence of this free society,” he said.

Scripture explains that God took something lifeless dust and gave it life. No matter a person’s ethnicity, religious heritage, or nationality, the desire for freedom is as natural as the air we breathe.

Prayer:

O giver of life, thank you for this most precious gift you have given me.

“The LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7)

April 20

PRINCIPLES

George W. Bush, Forty-third President of the United States

The 2008 presidential campaign saw many moments where faith factored into the public discourse. Questions about candidates’ core beliefs, religious affiliations, and their pastors infused an interesting dynamic into the media madness swarming the primaries. In a January 2008 interview, Fox News Channel’s Brett Baier asked President George W. Bush about the “faith factor.”

“How much do you think faith factors in to the Oval Office?” Baier asked.

“Having sat in that office now for seven years, I know how important it is to have a set of principles from which one will not vary. And your faith helps to develop a set of principles by which decisions should be made,” Bush responded.

Among Bush’s beliefs are the ideas “to much is given, much is required” and that life and freedom are gifts from God. Another guiding principle is the premium that Bush places on trust. He understands that personal relationships matter, which is one reason he occasionally invited heads of state to his ranch in Crawford, Texas, a place where leaders could speak their mind in the open air.

“I think the best way to conduct foreign policy is to establish kind of a level of trust. In other words, when you sit down with a person, they have got to trust you in the sense that you’re going to tell them what’s on your mind, and you’ll do it in a way that is not judgmental necessarily and a not zero sum (for them), and a good place to start that is here on the ranch,” he said.

“Was your faith ever shaken over these seven years?” Baier also asked.

“It’s been strengthened. One’s walk is (number) one, very personal, and two, is not always on the smooth road. No question the president gets tested, there’s tests throughout all of life… that’s just part of life,” he explained.

No president makes decisions and enacts policies without experiencing criticism and opposition. In fact, historically, presidents usually have bumpy rides, especially in their second terms. And as revered as George Washington was in his day, his second term was more challenging than his first. As several before him, Bush found strength in his faith during the rocky times.

“And faith helps bring joy in moments of trouble. It brings light in moments of darkness. Faith, for me, has been a very important part of appreciating the job of the president,” he said.

Prayer:

Father, I thank you for bringing joy to my heart!

“Light is shed upon the righteous and joy on the upright in heart.” (Psalm 97:11)

April 21

“HONOR THE DEAD”

Chaplain (Capt.) Matt Hamrick, from Camp Liberty, Baghdad, Iraq

That was the toughest time I’d ever had as an Army chaplain, stretching me beyond limits. I agreed to “cover down” my buddy’s unit, which was part of the 2007 troop surge, while he went home on mid-tour leave. He had been in Iraq ten months and needed a break. He told me not to worry because the violence had subsided somewhat.

I was visiting some of my mechanics when my government cell phone did something it rarely does. It rang. Something was wrong. I learned some guys in my buddy’s unit had been hit, resulting as: both “killed in action” and “walking wounded.” I went to the Troop Medical Center immediately. Someone showed me the tent where the KIA would be placed a sobering sight.

The radio call soon announced the convoy’s arrival. As the hydraulic ramp lowered, I saw four body bags holding four brave warriors. They were taken one by one into the tent. Once the doctors and necessary personnel were present, I prayed over the soldiers. Mortuary affairs personnel unzipped the bags and located the soldiers’ identification cards. This was the first time I had seen a soldier killed in combat incredibly difficult. I kept imagining soldiers I knew being in the same situation. These brave warriors may not have been “my” soldiers, but because they were American soldiers, they were “my” soldiers.

After each was identified, I stood over them individually and prayed for their families, friends, and fellow soldiers who would walk through the valley of grief in the upcoming days, weeks, and years. Seeing these patriots made me truly realize the high price of freedom. I saw firsthand what freedom really costs. I don’t think I will ever look at our flag the same way again. When I see the stars and stripes I now see the great sacrifice made to defend it.

The Army Chaplain Corps is charged with “nurturing the living, caring for the wounded, and honoring the dead.” I always thought the only way for me to honor the dead was to lead a respectful memorial ceremony for fallen heroes. My opinion has changed. In that tent I honored those soldiers as best I could. I represented Christ in that moment and hope I represented him well. I am grateful I was able to do what I could to honor those brave warriors. They will forever be in my memory.

Prayer:

Lord, may I honor you today. Thank you for your sacrifice for me and for those who have given their all for the cause of freedom.

“My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge.” (Psalm 62:7)

April 22

HUMBLE LEADERS

Lt. Gen. Robert L. Van Antwerp, United States Army

Lt. Gen. Robert. L. Van Antwerp is taking the United States Army Corps of Engineers to a higher level using the framework of Jim Collins’ book, Good to Great. Greatness for the Corps “can be boiled down to four standards,” he explained. 1) They are “delivering superior performance every time; 2) setting the standards for our profession; 3) making a unique, positive contribution to our nation and other nations; 4) and building the Corps’ team to last.”

“You can’t go to great without exceptional leadership throughout the organization,” said Van Antwerp. “Good to Great details five levels of leadership based on Collins’ research of publicly traded companies. Many reach the fourth level, but few get to level five. The two distinguishing characteristics of level five leaders might surprise you humility and professional will. They are humble and have a burning desire for the organization to succeed.”

“Humility is a characteristic that God looks for in those he holds in high regard. Isaiah 66:2 says, ‘These are the ones I esteem, declares the Lord, those who are humble, contrite in spirit and tremble at my word.’ For me, it means placing my confidence in him and not in my own strength.”

Humility is not a quality often associated with leadership, but it is a distinctive characteristic of level five leaders. Godly principles work in a secular world. They’re uncommon, but they work.

The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren describes humility as “not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less. Level five leaders know it’s not about them.”

Van Antwerp is contrite in spirit with respect to handling criticism. Often the Corps plays a role of intermediary as it works with the federal government, regulatory bodies, local authorities, and others.

“This puts us right in the middle, at times. If we’ve done something wrong or not delivered, we want to admit it. We want to be ‘repentant’ about it, and we want to use that as a stepping-stone to something better,” he said, noting that trials and tribulations produce perseverance, which produces hope and proven character.

“If you want to grow your character, you’ve got to be in the hunt, I tell people ‘Don’t shy away from the tough tasks. If you are out there, if you’re swinging the bat, you’re going to get criticized. But you’ll learn from your mistakes, and you’ll grow as a result,’” he concluded.

Prayer:

Allow me to think of myself less without thinking less of myself. Show me how to have a contrite heart.

Lt. Gen. Robert L. Van Antwerp is the Commander of the United States Army Corps of Engineers. His agency is responsible for executing diverse engineering, designing, contracting and construction missions for civil and military projects around the globe, including Iraq and Afghanistan. The thoughts expressed by him are his alone and in no way reflect those of the United States Government, Department of Defense, or the United States Army.

“This is the one I esteem: He who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.” (Isaiah 66:2)

April 23

BUILDING STRONG

Lt. Gen. Robert L. Van Antwerp, United States Army

The United States Army’s motto “Army Strong” translates into “BUILDING STRONG” for the United States Army Corps of Engineers, which has about eight hundred civilians and two hundred military members deployed to the Middle East. In the Gulf Region Division, this framework has been further translated into “Building a Strong Foundation for Iraq.”

Lt. Gen. Van Antwerp, USACE commander, explained some characteristics behind “BUILDING STRONG.” He cited John Maxell’s book, Talent is Never Enough, that describes a number of successful qualities that are not considered talents. The book asserts that America’s sidewalks are filled with people who have talent, but many of them don’t succeed because they lack specific attributes, such as initiative.

“One attribute that I love is passion. I would take passion over skill, experience, and a lot of other things. Passion is what gets people up in the morning. Passion is what makes you want to stretch and go to the next level,” Van Antwerp said.

“Another attribute is teamwork. In using a sports analogy, great players with great talent win games, but great teams win championships. That’s the difference. We want to win a championship,” he continued. “It’s like iron sharpens iron. When you get a team together, you also receive better disciplined thoughts and accountability. These teams need team leaders, but it’s about a team effort.”

One USACE construction project is an example of passionate teamwork. “We’re building a state-of-the art children’s hospital in Basra,” Van Antwerp related. “Project Hope has raised funds for the medical equipment, major corporations have donated and contributed, and the Iraqis are responsible for hiring and training eight hundred staff members.”

“This is an example of something that can be done with incredible teamwork. Basra was a place where security was very, very challenging, making it difficult to get in and do the work. We’ve had a number of contractor personnel who were kidnapped and killed just trying to get to the worksite, but with teamwork we persevered for the greater good.”

The greater good is to make life better for those kids.

“If you walk into the resident office, you’ll find pictures of Iraqis kids on the wall with the statement underneath, ‘This is what it’s all about.’ It tugs at your heart. It isn’t about the Corps of Engineers or who built it. It’s about children having a chance at life as a result of this work. That will be reward enough for us.”

Prayer:

Thank you for reminding me of the value of teamwork and the passion needed to complete a challenging project. Enable me to “sharpen” someone else today.

“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17)

April 24

ADVOCATE

Lt. Gen. Robert L. Van Antwerp, United States Army

For a general officer, advocacy often requires moral courage.

“I’ve got people on the front lines everyday working construction projects in Iraq, Afghanistan, and more than thirty other countries. I visit our team in the Middle East every three to four months to encourage them and learn of their challenges so I can be a better advocate. I have to have their best interest in mind and stand up for what’s right. I’m their representative. I’m their advocate,” explained Lt. Gen. Robert L. Van Antwerp, Commander of the United States Army Corps of Engineers.

On these visits Van Antwerp reviews programs, holds town hall meetings and listening sessions to make sure we’re on track.

“A lot of it is cheerleading and encouraging the folks that we have over there,” he noted.

The Corps designs, awards contracts, and supervises construction. In Iraq about 70 percent of their employees are Iraqi contractors and in Afghanistan, about 80 percent are Afghan contractors. The Corps hires them for construction management and oversight.

In the United States, the Corps is divided into eight divisions.

“In the Bible, God asks, ‘who will stand in the gap for the people?’” said Van Antwerp. “The Lord is looking for advocates.”

Advocacy is another godly principle that works in a secular world. When a leader is humble and more concerned about others and the organization than himself, then he or she is free to be the best advocate possible.

“Before an order is given and while an issue is being discussed, we have to have the moral courage to stand up, be heard, and represent our folks,” Van Antwerp said.

As a result, Van Antwerp is prayerful about the decisions he makes, especially the major ones. After seeing a presentation in his office, he often thanks the presenters and then tells them he wants to pray about it before giving them an answer, usually the next day.

“I’m sure that’s a bit unusual for them. I want to make sure I have undergirded my decisions in prayer. That’s how I do it,” Antwerp said.

“My confidence is in him. If you’re confidence is in God, you can accept the outcome because he is sovereign and is watching over the details.”

Prayer:

Give me the courage to be an advocate for others.

“Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’” (Isaiah 6:8)

April 25

GETTING IT RIGHT… FOR THEIR SAKE

Lt. Gen. Robert L. Van Antwerp, United States Army

The battlefield brings out a soldier’s courage.

Scott Smiley was working for Lt. Gen. Robert L. Van Antwerp’s son, Jeff, a company commander in Iraq. A terrorist with explosives in his car approached Smiley’s vehicle in Mosul in 2005. When confronted, instead of surrendering the man committed suicide and exploded his car. Smiley was commanding the Stryker and had his head out of the commander’s hatch. He took shrapnel in both eyes and the front part of his brain.

“I’ve seen his X-rays, the entry and exit wounds,” Van Antwerp noted.

Doctors had to remove a portion of his frontal lobe that supposedly controls one’s emotions. Yet, Smiley has made a remarkable recovery.

“I believe God rewired him. He’s absolutely the same guy as before the injury, except that he can’t see. When he was injured, it was pretty early in the war and we were trying to figure out the policies for handling wounded warriors. The Army hadn’t really solidified what we were going to do with those injured this severely. Could he even stay in the Army?” Van Antwerp relayed.

The general became a personal advocate. “I called the Human Resources Command, requesting that they move Scott Smiley into my command. I told them I knew he could contribute and that I want to bring him in to watch over him as ‘Support to Wounded Warriors’ matured,” Van Antwerp reflected.

Smiley and his wife moved to Fort Monroe, Virginia., where Van Antwerp was serving as commander of United States Army Accessions Command, responsible for recruiting and training thousands of young patriots. Smiley recruited for the Army, became an inspirational speaker, and took on life’s challenges, giving God the glory for his recovery. After climbing Mount Rainier, Smiley received ESPN’s 2008 ESPY and is an inspiration to us all.

Van Antwerp also intervened to help Smiley reach his dream of teaching at the United States Military Academy. After contacting a longtime friend and dean at the Academy, the deal was done.

“I’m able to do some good things for others because of my position in the Army. In the case of Scotty, I was in a position to help,” Van Antwerp explained.

Advocacy is much more than just advocating policies and positions. Moral leadership requires personal advocacy as well.

Prayer:

Provide me an opportunity to be an advocate on someone’s behalf.

“And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14)

April 26

UNSEEN RECOVERY

Lt. Gen. Robert L. Van Antwerp, United States Army

Lt. Gen. Robert L. Van Antwerp’s is the father of three sons and two daughters. All of his sons have served in the United States military.

“I’m so proud of them,” Van Antwerp said, noting that one is a major and one just made the major’s list. “For me, it is a family business. I want to get things right because of my boys, their friends, and all others who serve.”

For about a month in 2005, all three of his sons were in Iraq at the same time.

“We were on our knees a lot,” Van Antwerp said of how his family responded.

Van Antwerp’s youngest son and namesake, Robbie, was injured while driving a Humvee in Iraq in 2005. The explosion threw all five soldiers from the vehicle and two were killed. Robbie spent thirteen months recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Recovering physically is one thing, but overcoming post traumatic stress syndrome and living with the loss of his soldier friends is a different kind of recovery.

Physical recovery is difficult, but the war within is often the tougher and more challenging part.

“We’re just trying to be very faithful in helping and encouraging him,” he said.

Churches are becoming more aware of the challenges facing soldiers, veterans, and their families. Van Antwerp cited Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Bob Dees’s work with “Bridges to Healing Ministry,” part of Campus Crusade for Christ’s military ministry. Van Antwerp described their work as “a full court press to help counselors and churches minister in this hidden battle.” The ministry has published a basic guide for churches, the “corps of compassion,” to begin equipping them to understand and restore PTSD sufferers and their families.

“You can talk about the power of positive thinking, but that does not do it. You have to come back to the idea that God does have a plan for your life. The essence is that God loves you. These momentary trials will work together for good to those who love Him and are called according to his purpose,” Van Antwerp reflected, referencing Romans 8:38.

In the end many who have suffered in this way will be able to comfort others in the same manner that they’ve been comforted. This is “another godly principle” that works.

Prayer:

Father I pray for those wounded warriors, as they recover both physically and emotionally. Bring them complete healing that they may both comfort others and fulfill your plan for them.

“My intercessor is my friend as my eyes pour out tears to God.” (Job 16:20)

April 27

AURA

Lt. Gen. Robert L. Van Antwerp, United States Army

Why do soldiers fight? Why do they risk everything?

“In the most basic sense, they do it for their fellow soldiers,” Lt. Gen. Robert L. Van Antwerp said, noting the high-level of patriotism he has seen in soldiers since Sept. 11, 2001.

“In Accessions Command, we brought new soldiers into the Army. The Army has to recruit about 175,000 soldiers every year to maintain the strength. What is remarkable is that our young people have responded to the call knowing they’re going to deploy,” Van Antwerp explained. Prior to commanding the United States Army Corps of Engineers, Van Antwerp led United States Army Accessions Command, which is responsible for recruiting and training soldiers.

“Our obligation to these volunteers is to provide them the best training and equipment possible.”

Getting it right means conducting drills in body armor and convoy live-fire training. It also means shifting away from a confrontational, adversarial drill sergeant mentality to a leader, mentor, and trainer role model. And that means: AURA, an easy-to-remember leadership principle for making the “Army Strong.”

“You would know one of our soldiers because there’s a special AURA about them. The letters mean something. The A means they know that they’re accepted into the unit,” Van Antwerp said.

“The U means they’re understood. They’re treated like people. We know their names. We know that they have a family. We know what they like to do for recreation. A good unit leader knows that about his people,” Van Antwerp continued.

Getting to know them helps soldiers understand that they are cared for and are not just a number. Van Antwerp noted that Jesus’ model of leadership was one that called people by name.

“The R, we recognize them for what they did well, very specifically,” he explained. A leader’s job was to identify things they did well and correct mistakes.

“If you’re doing recognition to correction about five to one, you’re getting it about the right way. The final letter is the A, appreciation. Our soldiers need to know that we appreciate them. I am grateful that they would volunteer to come into this army during a time of war.”

Through great training and AURA acceptance, understanding, recognition, and appreciation we can change volunteers into soldiers.

Prayer:

Strengthen my desire to truly get to know the people in my circle of influence: To accept, understand, recognize, and appreciate them.

“The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” (John 10:3)

April 28

REMOTE RUNWAY HOMECOMING AND A NEW YORK REUNION IN TEXAS

While compiling stories for this book, I (Jane Cook) had the opportunity to travel from my home in the Washington D.C. area to Texas for speaking opportunities. Because I was sans family, I was not in my usual mom role on the plane. This freed me to do something I don’t often do: Talk with the stranger sitting next to me.

On my mind was this book. My flight was two-legged, with a stop in Memphis before final wheels down in San Antonio.

Even though the plane was the same, my seats were different for each leg. Both times brought special opportunities. I was able to sit next to someone who had a loved one who had served in Iraq.

On the first jaunt, I sat next to a woman who was returning home to Memphis. As we talked, I learned she was soon expecting an even better homecoming. Her stepson was expected to arrive home from Iraq within the next week or two. She told me how proud she was of him, how much he had grown up through his service in the Marines.

“He was just a kid when he went over there the first time,” she related.

Her stepson was not out of his teens when he went to Iraq as part of the invasion in 2003. She explained he had looked forward to returning in 2007, because he had grown up so much. Now in his early twenties, he wanted to share what he had learned with the guys who were young like he was when he first left.

Then she shared the frustration many military families experience. She and her husband knew he was coming home, but the window of his return was more than two weeks. Their son had contacted them, alerting them he was scheduled to return, but couldn’t tell them when or where. He wasn’t allowed to contact them any more until he was wheels down in the United States. They lived in an uncertain “hurry up and wait” mode.

When our plane landed in Memphis, she called her husband from the runway. He had wonderful news. Their son had just called him. He wasn’t yet in Memphis, but was in Maine.

This woman, who was traveling with a group of her colleagues, started telling them he was on United States soil.

I won’t forget the tears that welled in her eyes. She wasn’t crying, but her deep blue eyes were simply moist. Moist with relief. Moist with comfort. Moist with peace that returning home can bring.

The second leg of my trip from Washington D.C. to Texas in April 2008 brought yet another opportunity to witness a homecoming. I had about an hour in Memphis before flying to San Antonio. I pulled out a copy of my book, Stories of Faith and Courage from the Revolutionary War. I wanted to skim it, reflecting on my speech the next day.

The woman sitting next to me asked me about it. I explained the book was a devotional incorporating stories from the Revolutionary War. Not knowing her background, I simply shared that many of the stories have a connection to today’s military families, who, like our founding fathers, have given up their quiet lives to live loudly for liberty.

She then shared her story. A hospital administrative clerk, she was from Buffalo, New York. She had four children, three boys now in their twenties and a twelve-year-old daughter, who was traveling with her. Then she told of her excitement. On her way to the airport, she stopped by her son’s favorite pizza place. She bought him a New York style pizza and Buffalo wings. She wanted to make this reunion as special as possible.

She explained her son was in the Army and had been in Iraq. On his departure, he had prepared her the best way he could for his deployment.

“Mom, I know it’s hard, but I’m going over there to relieve someone else, so they can come back to their family,” he had said.

He returned from Iraq in 2007, but she hadn’t seen him much since he first arrived. He had found a civilian job was going back to work for the military at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio.

Her life had been affected by the war on terror in another way. She lived across the street from the former home of one of the Buffalo Six, a group of Yemeni-Americans who were convicted of providing support to al-Qaeda.

“I don’t understand how people who were born in this country and grown up here can become so hateful,” she said dismayed over her brush with terrorists in her own neighborhood.

We talked a little while longer. Later I had the opportunity to catch a glimpse of her reunion with her son. I didn’t notice what she was wearing on the plane, but at the baggage claim I saw her taking pictures with her son. She and her daughter wore white T-shirts with big black letters that said, “I love New York.”

With some buffalo wings, a New York-style pizza, and a T-shirt, this mom brought her son a little touch of his old home to his new home in San Antonio. She understood the value of a home-style gift, one from the heart.

Prayer:

Thank you for the meaning of gifts, and how they make special moments even more memorable. Show me how I can give a gift, even simple kindness, to someone today.

“My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest.” (Isaiah 32:18)

April 29

BRING YOUR COURAGE!

Former General Counsel, Mary L. Walker, United States Department of the Air Force

In the Pentagon a shield hangs on one of the doors of the Vice Chief of the Air Force with a motto that shouts Bring Your Courage!

No kidding, I thought, as I passed the motto.

It takes courage to see that evil has made inroads so deep that a global war must be waged to deal with it and courage to step forward in a complacent world to wage that war. For a long time our citizens took for granted the security we provided them. After 9/11, some reacted by withdrawing into their homes and their communities.

As Christians we often react in the same manner to the spiritual battle, the war against evil for the souls of men and women. Some fear that evil, and retreat to their safe Christian communities to their families, churches and Christian networks. But that is not what God has called us to do.

When Jesus gave his last words to his disciples, he did not say, “Wait and see” or “stay together and comfort each other.” In Matthew 10:16, he said, “Go…” He directed them to engage the enemy and gain ground. “Go and make disciples. He sent them into the world ”as sheep in the midst of wolves.” When Jesus sent them out, into harm’s way, he also reassured them that they wouldn’t be alone when he said, “I am with you even to the end of the age.”

The men and women I work with in the Air Force live with the possibility of death. Though they accept that they might die for the cause of freedom, they do not live without joy or happiness. But they live with this reality that their lives are committed to a higher purpose.

As Christians we must remember that our purpose is to change lives to offer hope to the fearful and the lost to rescue men and women from eternal death, and to offer them true freedom in Christ. In this, we also need to live with the courage that moves forward in the face of danger.

He has told us to “Go” but he has also told us, that he is with us. If those who fight in our military can live courageously in the face of death for the sake of freedom, how much more should we live courageously who go with God.

Ask God what your part in His plan would be. And bring your courage!

Prayer:

God, give me the courage to go and fulfill your purpose of bringing others to you.

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16)

April 30

LETTERS HOME

Former General Counsel, Mary L. Walker, United States Department of the Air Force

I was traveling through America on Air Force business one morning and had a few minutes to gaze at the local paper over breakfast. I saw a two-page spread on “Letters Home” from those who had died in Afghanistan and Iraq. The pictures captivated me… uniformed young men and women smiling from the prime of life.

As I read their letters, I was struck by how many spoke of death. In the course of describing their challenges and how much they loved their families and missed them, they spoke of the important business that they were about in those faraway places. Their letters revealed that they did not regret their service. While they knew they might die, they wanted their loved ones to know they were ready. Many spoke of their faith in God and their assurance of salvation because of Jesus.

Not long after that, I was back in the Pentagon and happened to walk past the chapel that serves the men and women who work there. I reflected on how unusual it is to have a chapel in a government building, although I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising for the Pentagon. The men and women who walk those corridors face death as a present reality no matter their age or health. And perhaps that is why so many of the young faces who looked up at me from the pages of the newspaper considered themselves ready to die.

The Bible tells us (Ecclesiastes 9:12) that none of us knows the day or the hour when our life will end. But do we think about what that would mean if it was today? And, what does “being ready” mean?

In their letters, those young people spoke of their faith. Because of their relationship with God, they could go and serve in defense of others’ freedom. They risked their lives with the confidence that it was not in vain. They knew they might die and some did. They counted the cost and were ready to make the sacrifice, knowing that God was behind them. What a great thing it is to have an eternal perspective. These young men and women had wisdom beyond their years and they gave their lives so others could be free. They could do so because they were certain of their eternal destiny. How many of us can say the same?

Prayer:

Father, open my heart to accept Jesus as my savior that I may be ready to face eternity. Help me submit to your will and take delight in serving you as my God and Kiang.

“Moreover, no man knows when his hour will come: As fish are caught in a cruel net, or birds are taken in a snare, so men are trapped by evil times that fall unexpectedly upon them.” (Ecclesiastes 9:12)

May 1

THE WAR AT HOME

Andrea Westfall, Oregon Army National Guard, Kuwait and Iraq (2002–2003)

When Andrea Westfall came home in May 2003 from her nine-month deployment to Kuwait and Iraq as a flight medic, she knew something had changed within her.

“I reacted to loud noises,” she remembered. “I no longer felt safe and always watched doors. I didn’t like to be around people large crowds were awful for me. I thought I was going crazy, but it wasn’t until a year after I got home that it was bad enough to get help. I was self-medicating, getting drunk every night. I was miserable, and I wanted to feel anything different than the hell I was in.”

Westfall was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and went to the nearby VA Center for treatment, but she knew that wouldn’t solve everything. For her nagging questions about God, she turned to a local church.

“Spiritually, we are the most vulnerable when we come home,” she said. “We’ve been immersed in seeing death and destruction. There’s a lot of woundedness.”

Church services weren’t easy for Westfall, either.

“How are you doing?” someone would ask.

“Actually, I can’t sleep, I’m really struggling,” Westfall would state.

“But you’re seeing someone about that right? There’s a book you really need to read.”

No one seemed to understand that Westfall needed more than a pat answer or a best-selling book she needed the body of Christ. “I didn’t need a church with a full-blown military ministry,” said Westfall. “But little things would have made a difference like someone coming over and mowing my lawn or fixing what was broken.”

One day at work she was having a hard time dealing with a situation anxiety was high. “What’s your problem? You made it home alive,” her boss told her.

Yeah, Westfall thought, but I wish I’d died over there.

It wasn’t until the local newspaper ran an article about Westfall that the extent of her struggle with PTSD was fully told. The day after the story ran, a woman came sobbing to Westfall’s mother: “I prayed for Andi every day when she was gone,” she said. “When she came home I stopped praying because I thought she was safe. But that’s when her war really started.”

Those words travelled near and far, including up to the Pentagon chaplain.

Finally, somebody gets it, thought Westfall.

Prayer:

Lord, open my eyes to the hurting people around me; show me how to lift them up with your strength.

“My spirit is broken.” (Job 17:1a)

Andrea Westfall in Kuwait

Andrea Westfall in Kuwait

May 2

GOD’S ARMY

Andrea Westfall, Oregon Army National Guard, Kuwait and Iraq (2002–2003)

One weekend in February 2007, Andrea Westfall stood outside Times Square Church in New York City, finishing a cigarette before bracing herself to go inside. Though she still believed in God, she had given up on going to church but she made an exception on this particular day. Today, Westfall was asked to share her story with Times Square Church leadership.

God, prove to me that people love and serve and mean it, she prayed. I have to see that a church has a heart for veterans. She didn’t think it was possible.

But as she listened to the leadership explain why they wanted to launch a military ministry, she noticed tears in the eyes of two senior pastors. “I got a glimpse into their hearts,” Westfall recalled. “My body armor started to fall apart after that; the pieces started coming off. Friends were saying that at the end of that weekend, my whole countenance had changed.”

Westfall returned to Times Square Church from her home in Texas for the Easter morning service and found herself fully engaged with the sermon’s theme of being called into battle by God as the King and Commander in Chief.

“The pastor said that we’re part of God’s army,” said Westfall. “I understood that. I started putting some pieces together that I was just missing: this belief in God is not a passive one, but faith is active and proactive, moving, growing. It means jumping in when needed, resting when it’s time. It’s like the army. I understood that. I can do this, I remember thinking, I can put my whole heart into this. And like that moment I first said my oath to join the army. For the first time in my life I made a public profession of faith and went forward for an altar call. That Easter Sunday was my birthday.”

While she anticipated that she would stumble on this new spiritual journey, Westfall understood the connection of God as king, warrior, and Lord. Still experiencing symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder even as she grows in her faith, Westfall shares her story through the Military Ministry’s Bridges to Healing program that educates churches about PTSD.

Prayer:

Lord, help me submit to your will and take delight in serving you.

“Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Timothy 1:17)

May 3

PTSD IN THE OLD TESTAMENT

Dr. Bill Butler, leader of Times Square Church’s Military Ministry, New York City

Throughout the ages, countless soldiers, returning from battle, have suffered from what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), caused by exposure to constant traumatic events.

In 1 Samuel 30, David and his men, following a battle, were returning to the city of Ziklag, where their wives, children, homes, and possessions were. When they arrived, they found that the city had been ransacked and burned to the ground by the Amalekites. David and his men cried uncontrollably.

Brave and mighty warriors, in their right mind, would have quickly planned a pursuit of the enemy and fought for their loved ones who had been taken captive. Instead, these soldiers wept and discussed killing David.

David and his men were likely suffering from PTSD. Intense psychological distress with uncontrollable, uncharacteristic emotions, such as crying and depression, is classic in PTSD. Hopelessness, fear, and horror occur in the face of unfamiliar challenges. PTSD sufferers are unable to think rationally or process information properly in stressful situations. They can’t deal with problems at hand, nor can they plan for the future. Displays of inappropriate, aggressive behavior, often against authority, can lead to crime and even murder.

David, distraught from PTSD, “encouraged himself in the Lord his God” (1 Samuel 30:6). Chazaq, the Hebrew word for encourage, means to grow strong, firm, and secure by taking hold of the Lord. When David encouraged himself in the Lord, it was actually God taking hold of David, filling him with strength and security, and healing his affliction. This is what Jesus Christ does for us, when we passionately seek Him.

It was one man, David, who sought the Lord and the others were healed as well. He led them to regain what was lost in their lives. Each of us can be like David, if we desire Jesus Christ above all else. To minister to the military, we must passionately, unceasingly seek the Lord for more of His presence, His ways, and most importantly, His love.

Prayer:

Lord, help me to place you alone in my uppermost affections and to seek your healing for myself and for those around me.

“For I the LORD thy God will hold thy right hand saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee.” (Isaiah 41:13)

May 4

FLIGHT 77

Lt. Col. (Ret.) Brian Birdwell, U.S. Army and Mel Birdwell

Lt. Col. Brian Birdwell was watching the news of the planes crashing into the World Trade Centers with two co-workers in his office at the Pentagon, Sandi Taylor and Cheryle Sincock, when the phone interrupted them.

“Mom, get out of the building.” It was Sam, Sandi Taylor’s daughter. She had a bad feeling that the Pentagon would be a sure target for another hijacked plane.

Surely they won’t hit the Pentagon, Brian thought. If they did that, they’d have the whole U.S. military after them.”

Moments later, Brian excused himself to use the men’s restroom. “I’ll be back in a moment,” he told them. They would be the last words he spoke to the two women.

Stepping out of the men’s restroom on the second floor, he started down the corridor when a deafening explosion blew him across the corridor. Even as a Gulf War veteran and an artillery officer for more than ten years during his seventeen-plus years of service with the U.S. Army, the sound that filled the air was louder than anything he’d ever heard.

In an instant, the corridor had gone from being well-lit with bright fluorescent lights to being pitch black. Walls of fire rushed at him from two directions the site of the explosion and the elevator shaft tearing the glasses of his face and throwing him to the ground. The building shook; debris from the walls and ceilings suddenly became dangerous projectiles flying through the air.

Brian could see nothing, except for a yellow orange haze with black around the periphery surrounding his body. That’s when he realized he was on fire.

Meanwhile, Brian’s wife, Mel, was at home working on a science experiment for home school with their twelve-year-old son Matt when their neighbor, Sara, called.

“Is your TV on? The Pentagon has been hit,” she said, panic in her voice. Mel almost dropped the phone and ran to turn on the TV. The scene clearly showed Brian’s office behind the helipad. Flames were coming out all the windows in that area.

“Mom, that’s not Dad’s side of the building,” Matt kept saying, “It’s not him.” But Mel knew the truth.

Prayer:

Lord, when my flesh and heart fail, let my spirit still be strengthened by you.

“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:26)

May 5

ESCAPE

Lt. Col. (Ret.) Brian Birdwell, U.S. Army and Mel Birdwell

Every nerve in Brian’s body screamed in pain. His arms, back, legs, face, and hair were all on fire. As he gasped for air, he swallowed thick black smoke and inhaled aerosolized jet fuel and heat so intense his lungs began to blister.

Disoriented and with damaged equilibrium from the concussion, his attempts to stand and escape failed repeatedly. Finally he collapsed and waited for his soul to depart from his body.

But somehow, he had landed under one of the only working sprinklers in the corridor, and the cold water extinguished him. Suddenly he was reoriented and began stumbling forward. But with the point of impact behind him and a fire door closed in front of him, he was trapped.

Then out of nowhere, a locked door to the B-ring opened and Col. Roy Wallace entered followed by Lt. Col. Bill McKinnon who Brian recognized immediately.

“Call Mel! Tell her I’m alive!” he yelled. But McKinnon had no idea who the skinless, charred body in front of him was, even as the two officers carried Brian to safety with the help of two other men: Chuck Knoblauch and John Davies.

Most of Brian’s skin was gone. What was left was charred black. Sixty percent of his body had been burned, 40 percent of which was third-degree. He was going into shock.

A fellow officer from the Pentagon commandeered Capt. Calvin Wineland’s SUV in the parking lot to carry Brian, who was strapped to a body board, to Georgetown Hospital. Finally, someone got through to Mel and told her Brian was alive and on his way to Georgetown.

Mel’s relief was overshadowed, however, when a nurse from Georgetown called her and said, “You’ve got to get here now. He is very, very serious.”

Mel was completely unprepared for what she saw when she finally saw her husband in the ICU. He was so swollen, his head was almost as wide as his shoulders. The medical team had already scrubbed some skin off his face and put salve on him, so he looked white, almost transparent. Every place else was covered in bandages. It would be a long, agonizing road ahead.

Prayer:

Lord, when the world falls apart, be my sure foundation, my source of stability.

“He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure.” (Isaiah 33:6)

May 6

PRESIDENT’S SALUTE

Lt. Col. (Ret.) Brian Birdwell, U.S. Army and Mel Birdwell

Two days later, Mel and Brian received special visitors: the President and First Lady.

“Colonel Birdwell, it’s nice to meet you,” said Mrs. Bush. “We’re really proud of you. You’re an American hero.”

Mel interpreted for Brian, who either spelled words in the air with his fingers or mouthed things around the tubes in his mouth and nose. Mrs. Bush talked with the Birdwells for a few minutes before giving Mel a long hug and asking how she was doing.

The President walked into the room, looking haggard with bloodshot eyes. He stood at the foot of the hospital bed, said “Colonel Birdwell,” and saluted Brian.

Brian tried to return the salute, and in raising his arm, revealed bright red muscle under the sterile towels draped over him. With tears in his eyes, President Bush stood still, holding his salute while Brian desperately tried to complete his. He made it three-quarters of the way before dropping his arm in pain.

“Colonel Birdwell, you are a great American, a hero, and we are going to get the guys who did this,” the President said. “This will not go unanswered.” Then he turned to Mel, gave her a hug and kiss and asked how she was doing. He asked if he and Mrs. Bush could pray for her family.

“When President Bush held his salute for me, I don’t think he was doing that out of respect for a single person, that is me, but for all our men and women in uniform,” said Brian.

Noticing Mel’s Vacation Bible School T-shirt, which read, “Every day’s a holiday with Jesus in your heart,” President Bush asked, “Is every day a holiday with Jesus in your heart?”

“Yes. Some of them are not especially happy holidays, but every day is a holiday,” Mel replied.

Soon the Bushes were gone.

“I had looked into the President’s eyes and could see he understood the gravity of what lay before this country that by standing in Brian’s presence a potentially dying soldier he would soon be sending other soldiers to their deaths by the decisions he would make in the upcoming days,” said Mel.

Prayer:

Lord, give us the courage to see past our pain enough to still find delight in you.

“He will guard the feet of his saints, but the wicked will be silenced in darkness. It is not by strength that one prevails.” (1 Samuel 2:9)

May 7

SILENT AGONY

Lt. Col. (Ret.) Brian Birdwell, U.S. Army and Mel Birdwell

For three months, the pain was so unbearable far worse even than the pain of being on fire that Brian repeatedly asked God to take him home. Instead, he survived, enduring more than thirty excruciating surgeries, daily debridements, and torturous physical therapy.

Debriding involved strapping Brian to a hard rubber board and submerging him in a tank filled with a warm water-chlorine derivative-iodine mixture. They then either cut away dead tissue or scrubbed it off. “It felt as if they were using steel wool washcloths on top of the stinging,” said Brian. “They were wiping a washrag over open wounds where, in some cases, it was directly on straight muscle. It was absolutely agonizing.” They even gave Brian amnesia medication, not to relieve the pain, but to help him not remember it. Sometimes the dosage wasn’t enough, and the memories were terrifying, not to mention the anticipation of the next “tank session.” The dressing changes and debriding in the tank took almost three hours daily.

Skin grafts were another source of pain. The doctors used his own skin from his stomach and upper thighs (donor sites) for his fingers, elbows, face and arms. The rest of his body which would be grafted later was covered with cadaver or pig skin temporarily to prevent infection. As the pig or cadaver skin began to rot, the staff debrided it, cleaned the area and put more on, much like replacing soiled bandaids again and again.

“The skin grafts were exceedingly torturous,” said Brian. “But the area that hurt the most after a grafting surgery was the donor site.” Once the doctors shaved off the skin, to protect that donor site they would cover it with a substance that was glued and stapled on. Staples were removed (again, painfully) on the third day.

“Actually, there wasn’t anything that didn’t cause tremendous amounts of pain,” said Brian. “If I don’t recall something, it was because I was so often out of my mind with the pain.”

Before every bath, dressing change and surgery, Mel prayed with Brian and read to him Joshua 1:9: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Prayer:

Lord, may I take courage in the confidence that you are with me no matter what.

“Be strong and very courageous.” (Joshua 1:7)

May 8

MIRACLES IN HINDSIGHT

Lt. Col. (Ret.) Brian Birdwell, U.S. Army and Mel Birdwell

Many people ask, “Where was God on September 11?” The Birdwells can point to several examples of how God worked not only on that day but in the months leading up to it to keep the loss of life from being even greater than it was.

The wedge of the Pentagon that was hit had been newly renovated, with entire departments that had not moved back in yet, so it was the least-occupied area of the building.

One of the renovations was Kevlar coating on the windows, which likely saved lives by preventing glass from shattering and becoming projectiles.

Months prior to September 11, 2001, Pentagon officials conducted a mass casualty exercise to prepare a major emergency response. The scenario they created was a plane hitting the building. Because of that exercise, emergency medical supplies were provided to all medical personal in the Pentagon, saving Brian’s life.

If Brian had gone to the restroom twenty seconds earlier or later, he would have been in the plane’s path and died. If he had stayed at his desk, he would have died.

Brian survived the blast though he stood just two car-lengths from the point of impact, and suffered no puncture wounds or broken bones.

Those who rescued Brian had to swipe their badge at a powered door to reach him and it worked, though power had been shut down to that part of the building.

Weeks prior to September 11, Brian insisted on buying leather Army shoes a first for him. Those shoes protected his feet, allowing an IV and morphine shot to be administered there, which saved his life.

Brian was the only casualty taken to Georgetown Hospital because Sgt. Jill Hyson, who rode with him from the Pentagon, had worked there, and it was the only hospital she know how to get to. (Most other victims had been taken to Arlington Memorial Hospital.) Georgetown had cleared all non-life threatening patients from the hospital in order to respond to Pentagon casualties. Brian was the sole casualty there and received the entire staff’s attention.

Brian has said that when people ask, “Where were you God?” it’s only because they are not looking hard enough.

Prayer:

Lord, I praise you for being in complete control.

“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 40:28)

May 9

FACING THE FIRE

Lt. Col. (Ret.) Brian Birdwell, U.S. Army and Mel Birdwell

In December 2001, Brian was discharged from the hospital. At home, Mel was his caregiver.

After his physical therapy sessions at the hospital, Brian took a nap before Mel helped him work on getting better range of motion in his arms by bending and straightening them.

The two-hour after-dinner routine included Mel helping him shower, putting lotions and creams on his fragile grafted skin, dressing him, and massaging scars to help break up and loosen scar tissue.

For thirteen months, Brian also wore tight compression garments on his hands and arms twenty-three hours a day to help reduce scarring and bumps as the skin healed, and to keep scars already there as flat as possible. He also wore a headband for his forehead.

“While I was carrying the burden of physical pain, Mel carried the burden of the emotional,” said Brian. “I think the greatest strain was on her, and I don’t say that because my job was easy.”

On March 12, 2002, Brian returned to work at the Pentagon part-time. “Stepping back into the place that could have that should have been my murder scene was important to me,” said Brian. “I stepped back a winner. I was a walking miracle, a testimony to what God did for me that day. We were winning; the terrorists weren’t.”

Brian and Mel have shared their story and their faith through The Oprah Winfrey Show, ABC’s Nightline, CBN, CNN and FOX News Channel. They also authored Refined by Fire and created Face the Fire Ministries in 2003, through which they personally bring hope and encouragement to burn survivors and critically wounded military and their families nationwide (www.facethefire.org).

“It’s exactly as 2 Corinthians tells us, to comfort others with the comfort we have received,” said Brian. “It’s very gratifying to be able to come alongside somebody and encourage them. We discuss the strength that carried us through this process, which was certainly our faith in Jesus Christ. As brutal as that experience was, the Lord had a better plan for us than what we knew, so here we are.”

Prayer:

Lord, use whatever trials I face in order to reflect your goodness and grace.

“I will bring [them] into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,” and they will say, ‘The LORD is our God.’” (Zechariah 13:9)

May 10

THE ATTACK

Carrie McDonnall, Missionary to Iraq, 2004

March 15, 2004. What started out as a day full of meaning and purpose, discovering how to meet the needs of a community in northern Iraq, turned into a surreal nightmare, the scars of which Carrie McDonnall will bear for the rest of her life.

Carrie and her husband of two years, David, were humanitarian aid workers doing an assessment at an Internally Displaced Peoples (IDP) camp on that spring day. With them for the day were visiting veteran aid workers Larry and Jean Elliot and Karen Watson, one of the first missionaries into Iraq.

The visit at the camp went well, but as the afternoon wore on, the team grew anxious about arriving at their destination for the evening (a protected Kurdish zone) before nightfall. Driving in Iraq in the dark was not safe, especially for Caucasians.

Hoping to save time, they chose the most direct route, which was to go straight through the city of Mosul instead of around it. It was a calculated risk, since Mosul was home to a disproportionate number of insurgents and angry Islamic extremists.

It was still light as they approached town, but Carrie’s heart raced at the scene ahead of them: traffic. Once downtown, the traffic became gridlock, and the truck with five white Americans became a sitting duck.

And then Carrie felt something sting the top of her ear. Clutching it, she blacked out, coming to again only when she heard David’s booming voice: “Everybody get down!” But sitting in the backseat between the two other women, there was nowhere to hide. The deafening staccato of automatic rifles filled the air.

Everything happened so fast it was impossible to make sense of it all. One thing Carrie knew: they were under attack, and they were defenseless.

Prayer:

Lord, help me turn to you instead of to my own resources when I am under attack.

“O LORD my God, I take refuge in you; save and deliver me from all who pursue me.” (Psalm 7:1)

May 11

NO WAY OUT

Carrie McDonnall, Missionary to Iraq, 2004

“It was like a nightmare, everything was in slow motion,” Carrie said. “All I could hear was gunfire, and all I could smell was gunpowder and blood.” Six men with AK-47s and at least one Uzi submachine gun surrounded the vehicle, their weapons were raised, and they fired at will. “I felt pain everywhere,” Carrie recalls. “Bullets and shrapnel were ricocheting off the walls and floor of the truck. There was no way out.”

Carrie couldn’t move. She couldn’t think. She could barely pray that God would stop the bullets, and once she did, she blacked out again, only to awaken later to an eerie silence. All the bustling people on the streets had disappeared; even the traffic had disintegrated. All that was left was the remains of the truck and the shattered humanity within it.

Carrie’s limbs wouldn’t move. Her left hand was missing fingers; bones were exposed. She couldn’t breathe through her nose but couldn’t figure out why.

Jean Elliot, slumped against Carrie, was dead. Moments later, Karen also breathed her last. Larry, in the front seat, was gone as well. Carrie started hollering for help in Arabic, but she could barely breathe and her voice was faint. Still, at the sound of Carrie’s strained call, David sat upright in the driver’s seat and sprang into action, moving as if he hadn’t even been hit.

Unbeknownst to David and Carrie, their attack was the start of the targeting of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in Iraq. In the next forty-eight hours, more news became available about American civilians who were killed, burned, and hung from a bridge in Fallujah. “Soft targeting” had officially begun.

Prayer:

Lord, search my mind and heart and help me achieve righteousness on this earth before you call me home.

“O righteous God, who searches minds and hearts, bring to an end the violence of the wicked and make the righteous secure.” (Psalm 7:9)

May 12

FINDING HELP

Carrie McDonnall, Missionary to Iraq, 2004

After looking at his wife, who was covered in blood, dust, and shattered glass, David got out of the truck and began shouting for help in Arabic. Finally, three reluctant Iraqi men were recruited to help Carrie out of the truck. As they pulled her out, every nerve in her body seemed to shriek back to life with unspeakable pain. “I couldn’t move because I had too many broken bones,” she recalled. “I had been hit in the face, too.”

The taxi ride to the hospital was agonizingly slow. Once inside the unsanitary facility, the McDonnalls were still not at ease. They weren’t sure if the Iraqi doctors in Mosul a known insurgent territory would dutifully work for the Americans’ recovery or dutifully push them over the brink toward death. They had to get to the American Army’s Combat Support Hospital (CSH).

As Carrie fought to stay awake, she noticed that the doctors were focusing more on David, even though he appeared to be okay.

Soon, armed American soldiers arrived to protect David and Carrie until the medics arrived, but precious minutes ticked by as the helicopters were shot at and unable to land. While they waited, two soldiers who professed to be Christians prayed over Carrie at her request.

At long last, the Army got the situation under control, and Carrie and David boarded two separate helicopters to the CSH unit. Once inside, Carrie heard David pray, “Jesus, we don’t know what is happening. Just help us.” Then, seeing Carrie across the hospital, he shouted out, “I love you! We’re gonna make it through this, baby!”

Prayer:

Lord, when I find myself in unfamiliar territory, be my guide and grant me peace.

“Be merciful to me, LORD, for I am faint; O LORD, heal me, for my bones are in agony.” (Psalm 6:2)

May 13

WAKING UP TO LOSS

Carrie McDonnall, Missionary to Iraq, 2004

After being prepped for surgery, Carrie finally allowed herself to fall into the arms of a deep sleep. She awoke eight days later at Parkland Hospital in Dallas, Texas. Her mother, father, and sister were with her.

She had been hit twenty-two times by bullets and shrapnel. In the CSH unit, they immediately gave her a blood transfusion without first screening for antibodies, which is only done when the risk of death without the transfusion is extremely high.

For the first several days at Parkland Hospital, Carrie drifted in and out of consciousness, flooded by memories of the attack, a feeling of helplessness, and a longing to see her husband.

“Mama, where’s David? Tell David to come in,” she would say.

Finally, on the eighth day, when she was firmly lucid, her father spoke to her. “We have something to tell you,” he said softly. “Baby, David didn’t make it.” The room spun as Carrie’s mind and heart reeled at the shock of those words. She cried out in agony, but encased in casts and hooked to multiple tubes and wires, she couldn’t even hug her mother, father, or sister Jennifer. It was the most alone she had ever felt.

She discovered that David had gone into cardiac arrest in the helicopter on the way from Mosul to Baghdad, completely shocking even the surgeons. His internal injuries were more serious than anyone had imagined. He died the day after Carrie last saw him.

On the same day she learned of her husband’s death, she discovered his funeral was being held in Colorado and that she could not travel to be there. Understanding the logic with her mind, her heart wept at not being able to share in the service that would honor and celebrate her husband’s life.

Prayer:

Lord, sustain me through my own moments of isolation and give me the strength to face each new day.

“I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the LORD sustains me.” (Psalm 3:5)

May 14

SLOW RECOVERY

Carrie McDonnall, Missionary to Iraq, 2004

Carrie still had to focus on recovering from her physical injuries. One bullet shattered her left tibia. Another bullet went through her upper left leg, and another scraped her right thigh. She lost all the fingers on her left hand except the middle finger and thumb. A shattered bone in her right arm and bullet to the joint in the left elbow rendered both arms useless for a while.

Bullets and shrapnel hit her right ear and face, breaking the septum in her nose and fracturing her mandible. Another bullet hit her in the right chest, broke her ribs, and exited beneath her left breast. Amazingly, only one small scar on her face gives any hint as to what she endured.

Years after the attack, Carrie said it still felt fresh. “My senses went into overdrive that day,” she said. “I remember it all. I have never had to relive that experience in a dream because it’s so vivid when I’m awake. I replay parts of it every day in my mind.”

Even with her incredible losses, however, Carrie never was angry with God. “I did go through a time of questioning, and came to understand that even if I had answers to all those questions, I would still miss my husband and friend.”

Carrie’s heart for the Muslim people also remains unchanged. “I still love them and desire that they come to know Christ,” she said. “They were a loving people. Not all Muslims are terrorists. This is just a fallen world.”

She continues to heal and recover in the States, but she doesn’t rule out one day returning to Iraq. “I still want to be involved in missions,” Carrie said. “I want to encourage believers to be obedient to God’s Word and share the gospel. That’s what I’m doing now. But if God should ever show me he wants me to go overseas again, I’ll be obedient.”

In the meantime, she has written her story in Facing Terror (along with Kristen Billerbeck) and founded Carry On Ministries. The nonprofit organization seeks to help awaken the church to God’s global purpose, to help ease the burdens of those who are serving among the nations, and to mobilize God’s people to unity so that we might “stand firm in one spirit, with one mind, working side by side for the faith of the gospel.”

Prayer:

Lord, show me how to use my own trials and sufferings to further your kingdom and give you honor and glory.

“He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)

May 15

HERE AM I, SEND ME

Capt. Daniel Gade, U.S. Army, Iraq (2004–2005)

I could tell when my superiors approached me that day that something was up. I was right.

“We have to send a bunch of guys from Korea to Iraq,” my boss told me. “We know you’re scheduled to change command in a few days, but we want to know if you want to go with your soldiers to Iraq or go with your family back to the States.”

It was just two days before my wife Wendy and two-year-old daughter Anna Grace were scheduled to leave Korea and get our house settled for the next chapter of our lives. After handing over command of my tank company, I was to join them a couple weeks later and start grad school at Syracuse University in order to teach at my alma mater, West Point.

Plans change.

“Here am I Lord,” I replied, “send me.”

It was clear to me then that God didn’t give me all the skills and abilities in order to turn my back on seventy-five guys who were counting on me and seek my own comfort in the academic life. My duty was to my soldiers.

Wendy cancelled her flight immediately to stay in Korea with me for the next two and a half months of training. During that time, we all flew to Colorado for a family reunion before the deployment to Iraq.

My parents, who I had not seen in two years, are strong believers and were as confident that God had called me to this mission as I was. My father, who served in the Viet Nam war, pulled me aside at one point for a crucial piece of advice.

“I want you to make a decision that whatever happens, you will not be bitter,” he said.

Did he have some premonition that I didn’t have? Or had he just seen too many soldiers respond with bitterness to the blows war dealt them? Taking Dad’s advice turned out to be providential. I had no idea what God had in store for me, but I deliberately chose to trust his sovereignty no matter what.

Prayer:

Lord, help me trust you so completely that I will not be tempted to grow bitter over my own trials.

“Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.” (Psalm 20:7)

May 16

WELCOME TO RAMADI

Capt. Daniel Gade, U.S. Army, Iraq (2004–2005)

Holy cow, this place is really, really dangerous. We didn’t need to say it out loud at the same moment, we were all thinking it.

Seven days after we took over our sector in Ramadi, Iraq, we suffered our first casualty. My roommate, Tyler Brown, was killed by a sniper on Sept. 14, 2004. Inside, I was crushed Tyler was an amazing man of God with a bright future ahead of him but as company commander with 120 guys looking to me for leadership, I couldn’t let my grief interfere with my job performance.

Fast forward to Nov. 10, 2004. In an instant, the soldier riding one arm’s length to my left in our tank was killed when a rocket-propelled grenade hit him in the face.

In America, when somebody dies, we take time to mourn. In Iraq, we have a memorial service for the fallen, and those who can attend do, but we literally wash the blood out of the vehicle they were killed in, pack up their gear, send it off to next of kin, and go about our mission because we must. Most of the time, we swallow our tears and keep going. It’s surreal.

As a Christian, those traumatic experiences affected me much differently than those who don’t have strong faith. My own trial (and I couldn’t have known then the trauma waiting for me two months later) is one little brushstroke of a really big painting God is creating. Most people think their story, their circumstance IS the painting. So for those people, when something horrible happens, when someone is killed, they lose a leg, or a wife gets sick, they have a tough time putting it into perspective.

During the months and years ahead, Wendy and I knew our situation was ultimately not about us. It’s about God’s plan, and whatever way that circumstance works into God’s plan it’s not something I should be moping about. I should be honored that God is choosing me for a dramatic part of his plan, even though it’s painful.

Prayer:

Lord, even when I can’t see the bigger picture, help me to trust in your sovereign plan.

“Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:12b)

May 17

REALITY CHECK

Wendy Gade, wife of Capt. Daniel Gade

“What do you mean? I don’t understand!” I stood in the Costco parking lot with my cell phone pressed to my ear, shaking my head as if that would clear the confusion away. Daniel had just called from Iraq and told me his roommate Tyler had been killed in action.

“No, no, no,” I kept repeating, “It just can’t be.”

But it was and at Daniel’s request, I drove to Atlanta, two hours from where I had been living in Birmingham with my sister, to take his condolences to Tyler’s family. I arrived just hours after they heard the news.

Will they be angry? I wondered as I rang the doorbell.

Tyler’s brother opened the door and graciously escorted me through the crowd of friends and family already filling the house and introduced me to his parents.

They took me into another room and gathered Tyler’s siblings and their spouses. Mrs. Brown just held my hands as I haltingly shared with them Daniel’s condolences and offered to try to answer their questions from my limited information.

“Was there anyone else?” They wanted to know.

“No, he was the only one killed that day,” I had to tell them. It was so difficult. It’s hard to know your loved one was singled out, yet you’re glad that no one else was killed.

Looking into Mrs. Brown’s tear-stained face, my eyes were opened to a terrifying possibility. I thought to myself, God allowed Tyler to go home, and this was a Christian man with great potential. He was a great leader. He had an opportunity to do something much grander and safer, and he chose to be with his soldiers and he lost his life. God doesn’t love Tyler’s parents any less than he loves me. So just because Daniel loves God and loves us, and I really, really, really want him to be my husband and Anna Grace’s daddy, I don’t have any guarantee that that is God’s plan. It sent the message to my heart that this was about God’s glory, not about us.

Prayer:

Lord, show me how to use my present circumstances to reflect your glory to those around me.

“For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.” (Romans 11:36)

May 18

ARE MY LEGS OK?

Capt. Daniel Gade, U.S. Army, Iraq (2004–2005)

This couldn’t feel more dangerous than it does right now, I thought, squinting into the desert sun.

The road we were driving on was elevated and right alongside of it was an irrigation canal. We were visible for a long way, no trees or buildings obscuring the view. I felt exposed to unseen attacks but this was the road we had to take to reach the next sheik who we hoped would give us information on Al Qaeda whereabouts. I was in the front passenger seat while my driver kept driving.

The next thing I knew was that I was on my back in a ditch just waking up. Somebody was screaming. I tried to go to whoever it was, but my soldiers pushed me back down on a stretcher where I had been unconscious for a few minutes.

“Relax sir,” my soldier said, “you’re the only one.” They were already treating very massive wounds.

I’m the only one WHAT? I wondered.

Then it hit me. I’m the only casualty. My mind was very foggy, my vision blurred. Everything looked bright but sounds seemed far away. I was in shock.

When I lifted my head and looked past my feet, I saw the Humvee I had been riding in still on the road with its door blown open. The guys were working on my leg, my body armor was blown open, and I thought at the time that I could actually see my intestines. As it turns out I couldn’t quite but almost. My battalion executive officer (XO) was holding my hand talking to me it’s what one does with casualties.

“Are my legs okay?” I asked.

“You’re going to be fine,” was the response.

If you’ve ever watched any war movies, you know that “You’re going to be fine,” means “You’re in really serious trouble.” It’s what you tell someone who’s dying because you don’t want them to panic; that just complicates the medical situation. That’s when I knew it was pretty bad.

Prayer:

Lord, help me make the most of every day you grant me on this earth.

“Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” (James 4:14)

May 19

OUR MOST SEVERE CATEGORY

Wendy Gade, wife of Capt. Daniel Gade

It was Jan. 10, 2005. I was on my way out the door to run an errand and my mom, who had been visiting from Atlanta, was about to head home.

Then the phone rang.

“Hello?” I answered.

“Good morning ma’am, this is Captain _____ from Ft. Carson. I need to inform you that your husband has been injured. I have a report to read to you.”

Daniel had been injured once before so I was not alarmed yet. I thought, Well he’ll call me as soon as he can; this is probably a little more serious.

“Broken bones and lacerations,” the captain continued. “He’s very seriously injured… I’m sorry to tell you this is our most severe category.”

So that’s when I understood. Daniel was hanging on to his life.

After jotting down some phone numbers, I hung up the phone and somehow, through the tears, strung the words together to tell my mom what I just learned. She fell on her knees and started praying immediately. Both of us got our church prayer chains going and I asked Patton, Daniel’s brother, to relay the information to Daniel’s family. All I could do then was pray.

Daniel had a fractured skull, a broken bone in the neck, and a massive wound from his sternum, across his groin to the right knee. Sitting in the humvee, the explosion came through the bottom of his right leg and out the top of the same leg. Two fists could fit in the gaping hole of his leg. The abdominal wall on the front was stripped away; the skin and flesh were pushed to the side. An ice cream scoop-size of tissue had been carved out from inside his left thigh.

But I wouldn’t know any of this until many agonizing hours later. Thoughts of Tyler’s death came to mind. I trusted God, but I was not convinced he would choose to save Daniel’s life.

Prayer:

Lord, give me the desire and discipline to become an active prayer warrior even before crisis hits.

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die…” (Ecclesiastes 3:1–2a)

May 20

A SERIES OF MIRACLES

Capt. Daniel Gade, U.S. Army, Iraq (2004–2005)

My life hung in the balance. One wrong move, a delayed decision or action from those in charge of my care, would have made my wife a twenty-nine-year-old widow and my daughter fatherless.

But a series of coincidences (or maybe miracles) saved my life that day.

First, as we were getting ready to leave to visit the sheiks that day. My medic, Sergeant Krause, asked to tag along with our convoy.

“Hey sir, I know I normally don’t go out on missions with you but I feel like I should today,” he said.

Then one of my superiors, the battalion executive officer (XO), also asked to come.

“I haven’t been out with you in a while, and I’m bored,” Major Cotton said.

After the blast, the medic ran up to me, took one look and said, “We need to get this guy on a helicopter.” If they had taken me to the base “aid station” five kilometers away (normal procedure), I would have died in transit.

Because of his higher rank, the XO was able to call for a helicopter on a higher priority radio frequency in order to divert a helicopter that had already been in flight. So a helicopter arrived at the scene in five minutes instead of the usual thirty.

When the man who dispatched the helicopter heard that I, a stranger to him, needed to be picked up and was in really bad shape, he immediately sent an email to his home church in California. So within five minutes of the injury, Christians in California were praying for me at a time when I needed it most.

In the meantime, Sergeant Krause reached into the wound and applied direct pressure on the severed artery and vein. A tourniquet would have slipped into the wound and I would have bled to death on the scene.

When I heard the blades of the helicopter chopping the air above me I thought, “Oh thank God I’m saved,” passed out and woke up three weeks later out of a medically-induced coma at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

Prayer:

Lord, when you bless me with your care and provision, help me recognize it as your providence and not just a lucky break.

“For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.” (Psalm 91:11)

May 21

BOND OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

Wendy Gade, wife of Capt. Daniel Gade

When Daniel arrived at the tent hospital thirty miles from the scene of the attack, surgeon Lt. Cdr. Lowell Chambers rushed him to the operating room, bypassing the emergency room, for a nine-hour surgery. It was another critical decision that was the difference between life and death for Daniel Gade.

During the course of Captain Gade’s recovery, he sent a letter to Dr. Chambers to thank him for saving his life. The excerpts below are taken from Dr. Chambers’ reply:

Daniel,

It’s great to hear from you! We have been praying for you, Wendy, and Anna Grace multiple times each day since we had the privilege of caring for you on January 10.

During the course of [the surgery] I noted feeling an unusually strong bond with you. I feel a special bond with all the warriors God has given me the opportunity to care for but I felt it particularly strong in this case. After learning you are a Christian, I came to understand this was likely the Holy Spirit bearing witness that you were a fellow believer. At one point after we had done all we could surgically and were just trying to get you stabilized enough to transport, you transiently dropped your blood pressure and had some cardiac arrhythmias. There was nothing more for me to do surgically and as I asked CDR Narine (our senior anesthesiologist who did your case) to give you some Epinephrine. I was so afraid we were going to fail you and your family (I noticed your wedding band) that it overwhelmed me and I just put my head down on your shoulder and wept and prayed for you. By the grace of God your arrhythmias stabilized, your BP came back up, and we were then able to transport you….

Thank you for the great sacrifice you and your family have made for our nation. Your example of courage and strength are inspiring and are a great witness to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We are praying for you daily as you face the ongoing trials of rehabilitation. I count it the highest of honors to have been able to care for you.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for granting me will and intellect, but help me never forget to bring my requests to you instead of trying to solve all things myself.

“The Lord is near… with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4: 5b, 6b)

May 22

HEROINES IN FLIGHT

Wendy Gade, wife of Capt. Daniel Gade

Why are we doing this? Why are we doing this? The nurse said over and over in her mind as she looked at her watch. She had been stationed outside the tent hospital as the hours crawled by, waiting until Daniel stabilized so they could transport him to the Army hospital in Baghdad. We could be working with someone else that has a better chance of survival, she thought.

At last, he was ready to be moved. Her time had come, and she sprang into action. Another nurse volunteered to join her for the journey even though it wasn’t her turn, and they took off into the sky with Daniel’s life now in their hands.

Not long after, the helicopter came under attack. The aircraft shook and jerked away from enemy fire while the two nurses did what they could to keep Daniel as stable as possible. The ventilator that was doing Daniel’s breathing for him stopped working, so one nurse had to hand-ventilate him while the other continued to administer his medicine. I’m not sure what they were giving him, but I know he needed it. Without that second set of hands from the nurse who volunteered, Daniel’s life would have been snuffed out in transit.

“I don’t feel a pulse,” said one nurse, looking up at the other. “Do you?” Neither of them could find it. The helicopter continued to rock violently, the roar of the rotors making it difficult to hear. They really didn’t know if he was alive.

I can’t believe the nurses didn’t give up; I truly can’t. But they just kept performing their duties as if he were alive one hand-ventilating him and the other giving him the medicine because they couldn’t be sure.

Finally, they landed at the hospital in Baghdad. When they turned him over to the Army, the nurse said, “We have worked very hard. Please, you need to understand what we’ve put into this man. Now it’s your turn,” and handed him into their care.

Prayer:

Lord, help me always do my job to the best of my ability, even if I can’t be sure of the outcome.

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.” (Colossians 3:23)

May 23

THIS IS WHERE WE START

Wendy Gade, wife of Capt. Daniel Gade

My heart was pounding. Three days had passed since Daniel had been injured, and I was about to see him for the first time at Walter Reed. Daniel’s brother, Patton, prayed with me before we entered surgical ICU together.

Machines filled the room, with tubes going in and out of Daniel’s body. He had just been checked out by his doctors at Walter Reed, and since they had not re-bandaged him yet, I was able to get a good look at the magnitude of his injuries. They had opened up his belly; it was just wide open. I had never seen anything like it.

Okay, all right, this is where we start, I thought. This is where we are, what we’re going to move forward from.

I had a job to do: to support my husband and be the leader of the family while he recovered. I had to rise now because he needed me. I wasn’t going to look back on it with regret, I was going to do the best I could. So that’s where we started.

And it was a long road ahead. In Korea, he spent all his free time working out and trained his men to push themselves beyond their physical limits, too. Some of the guys thought he was crazy, but when Daniel was hit, everyone could see how being in good shape really helped his body. He had additional muscle and more blood.

The body ate up his muscle to get energy. He went from being really strong and muscular to being so thin he couldn’t even keep a ring on his finger. His cheeks were concave, his eyes almost looked too big for his face. We had shaved his head to be able to keep it clean easier, and the resulting appearance reminded me of pictures I had seen of prisoners in Auschwitz.

He was unbelievably thin and weak. For the first time since I had known him, he was helpless, but I knew he was going to make it. And in the meantime, I braced myself for what would be required of me calling on prayer and God’s strength to be my support.

Prayer:

Lord, use my weaknesses to prove your strength and receive the glory.

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’” (2 Corinthians 12:9a)

May 24

WAKING UP TO CHANGE

Capt. Daniel Gade, U.S. Army, Iraq (2004–2005)

When I became conscious again, my leg was gone. But I was alive.

A week after the injury, my right leg was decomposing so quickly that my body had become septic and I was crashing. The doctor was terrified I was going to die so he made a decision: it was either my leg or my life.

As soon as they took my leg, my vitals began to improve. But I was in a precarious position for many weeks to come.

In the first two months following the injury, I had received more than one hundred and twenty units of blood (the human body has about ten to twelve units of blood), and I had undergone about thirty-five surgeries. Kidney and liver failure plagued me, too. I was so messed up that it took me a while before I was even ready to start physical therapy. My abdomen was still open for a long time the doctors at the initial trauma station had opened it to visually inspect all the organs and make sure no little piece of shrapnel had nicked anything.

So it was at least two months after I got hurt that I could even sit up. It took three people to move me to the chair with all the tubes and wires. I sat for ten minutes and was in total agony.

The recovery process seemed really drawn out, punctuated with ups and downs. At first I was just thrilled to be alive thrilled that my genitals were intact, that I could still be a dad and a husband, be functional. So I went from that elation to trying to cope with the exact level of my disability. How bad is it? How bad is it going to stay? How good is it going to get?

Throughout the recovery process, my dad’s advice came back to me. I had decided not to become bitter before I ever landed on Iraqi soil. I was determined to stay true to that resolve, to remember that my circumstance was just one brushstroke in a masterpiece God was creating.

Prayer:

Lord, grow my desire to glorify you so much that I will be content with both good times and bad as long as you are honored.

“When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider: God has made the one as well as the other.” (Ecclesiastes 7:14)

May 25

I HAVE TRAINING TO DO

Wendy Gade, wife of Capt. Daniel Gade

“Let me get that for you,” my father-in-law said as he reached to adjust the hospital bed for Daniel. We all wanted him to be as comfortable as possible while he was Walter Reed.

I’ll never forget Daniel’s response.

“No,” he said, looking at each of us hovering over him. “Actually, you all need to leave. I have training to do.” He was just determined to figure out how to do these things on his own, including operating his mechanical bed.

Another time, a nurse asked him, “What would you prefer, your head to be up or down, or your feet…?”

And he said, “What is the optimal position for healing?” In other words, don’t ask me what I want, tell me what is going to get me better and out of here. He was very determined that he was not going to be enabled. He was going to be Daniel.

We laugh at these stories in our family because it was such a relief to see his trademark “can-do” attitude shining through again. The insurgents could take his leg, but not his faith, his personality, his dry wit. He was going to continue.

That’s not to say there weren’t hard days. There weren’t lots of them in terms of being totally discouraged. There were a lot of painful days. I can only think of one day where the hope was truly needing to be replenished. For him, many of the days just felt like the movie, Groundhog Day the same thing over and over again.

But, as Daniel has said: “I had a personal mission. I wanted to get on with my life, and I didn’t feel like I had time to sit around moping. I don’t ever wake up in the middle of the night and think, ‘Wow I’m really glad that happened to me,’ but I’m not feeling sorry for myself either. It’s just what God’s plan is for our family.”

Prayer:

Lord, whatever task is ahead of me, give me the strength and determination to do it well.

“Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13b, 14)

May 26

A NEW NORMAL

Capt. Daniel Gade, U.S. Army, Iraq (2004–2005)

The insurgent attack January 10, 2005, and the ensuing recovery period began a new chapter in the life of our family. All in all, I was an inpatient for four months, then spent another six months as an outpatient, learning to walk again with a prosthetic.

If you saw me today, you wouldn’t see that I had lost a leg. You wouldn’t see me running any marathons, but you’d see me cooking dinner while Wendy runs errands, or studying for my doctorate program at the University of Georgia as I prepare to return to West Point as a professor. You’d see Wendy and me juggling twins, born in June 2008 (on our ninth anniversary), or caring for Anna Grace, now six years old. This is our new normal day.

We have seen God work directly in our lives in ways that many people haven’t had the opportunity to. This whole story is for a purpose, and the lesson is that life isn’t about us, as individuals. God has a plan which will take place one way or another, and our lives are about trying to match our actions to his will. He will do whatever it takes to get us where he wants us to be. Self-pity has no part in the plan, nor does selfishness or arrogance; all those things are the result of not understanding where we fit in the plan.

Wendy had a sense from very early on in this story that God was going to use this experience to grow our faith. She thought certainly, that it would grow her faith, mine, and our family’s but God didn’t stop there. For example, Patton had set up a web site to post updates on my condition and allow others to leave comments. By visiting that site, other people were being brought back into a desire to pray and to reconnect with God. God used the situation to witness to people across the world who we didn’t even know. Seeing God work in such a direct and dramatic way has taught us that, essentially, our lives are to bring glory to God, not to ourselves.

Prayer:

Lord, use my life to bring you glory.

“Everyone who is called by my name… I created for my glory.” (Isaiah 43:7)

May 27

THIS IS MY CALLING

Deborah Johns, Blue Star Mom, Director of Military Relations for Move Forward America

I wanted my seventeen-year-old son, William, to enroll in college not the military. But he had other plans.

When I began getting phone calls from military recruiters, I was furious. They needed me to come to the recruiting office and sign a consent form, they said, because he wasn’t eighteen yet.

“I don’t want to discuss it,” I told one recruiter on the phone, “and if you call me again I’ll call my Congressman and report you!”

Months passed, and soon it was Christmas vacation. When William suggested we go for a drive together one day, I happily went.

Two and a half miles later, we were at the front door of the U.S. Marine Corps recruiting office. I was speechless. There was such silence between us you could cut it with a knife.

When we entered the office, the staff sergeant stood up and introduced himself to me. “Is there anything I can get you?” he asked me.

“A stiff drink would be nice.” I was only half-joking.

The staff sergeant explained they needed my signature so William could be in a delayed entry program and put on the schedule so when he finished high school he would go to boot camp. I looked at my son, still so young.

“This is what I want to do; this is my calling,” William said.

“You know if I sign you into the Marines, you are probably going to go to war.”

“I know Mom, but I want to serve my country. This is what I want to do.”

I signed him in. “But you’re going into intelligence, not infantry,” I said.

He signed up for infantry.

William graduated from boot camp as expert rifleman and was at the top of class. I was so proud of him. When you go to their graduation ceremony, it’s indescribable the admiration you have for these young men. This time I cried tears of joy, knowing my son was achieving something very special in order to serve our country.

Prayer:

Lord, help me train and prepare myself for the situations that lie ahead of me.

“Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground.” (Ephesians 6:13a)

May 28

MOTHER’S DAY GIFT

Deborah Johns, Blue Star Mom, Director of Military Relations for Move Forward America

No sooner did my son graduate from boot camp than we were notified he would be deployed to Iraq. I knew this moment was coming, but I still wasn’t ready for it.

In early March, all the military moms and wives in our area got phone calls from our men.

“Pray for us,” said William. “I don’t know when we’ll talk again.”

About a week later, the war officially began. I’ll never forget it the war started on William’s nineteenth birthday. Then it was four months 112 days without any communication. I searched for every broadcast there might be, looking for a glimpse of my son or information about his unit. For long stretches of time I was just glued to the TV because I didn’t want to miss something. It was so unbelievably difficult.

When the first casualties list came out on April 7, 2003, it was devastating. You grieve for the families who have lost their sons or daughters and plead with God you won’t be next. It takes your breath away. You are literally gripped to see any pictures on TV, to get any news reports. You’re starved for some assurance. You don’t want to leave home because you don’t want to come back and see a black sedan waiting for you. Every time there’s a knock on the door, your stomach drops to the floor.

Then Mother’s Day came. And while I obviously would have preferred to have my son with me on that day, I did receive a very powerful gift. I was watching the right news broadcast at the right time.

“I just talked to a Marine who just had his nineteenth birthday the day the war started,” the reporter said. My heart skipped a beat. “Just last year around this time he was going to his senior prom.” While he didn’t say his name and I never saw him on that television screen, it was enough. I knew that was William, and now I knew he was alive. My son was still okay.

Prayer:

Lord, help me not base my confidence on my own understanding when I should be trusting you instead.

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5)

May 29

FINDING SUPPORT

Deborah Johns, Blue Star Mom, Director of Military Relations for Move Forward America

There was no local support group in place, so some other women and I started one for Marine moms. They came from all over to meet together. Everyone brought pictures of their sons and we made buttons with those pictures that we wore every day. We read letters from our sons, said the pledge, hugged, and cried together.

We had lunch at a restaurant situated on a river in Old Sacramento. At the end of lunch, we each took a yellow rose to the river bank as a way of remembering our sons in a special way.

“Corporal William Johns, Fallujah, Iraq: God bless you. I love you. Come home safe,” I said, and threw the rose into the river. Each mother did the same thing, saying her son’s name, where he was deployed, and said a little message. We did this for ourselves, but people at the restaurant stood up and applauded.

I also started a national group called Marine Moms that puts together a Condolence Book for every family who loses a loved one in the war. If someone from Idaho is killed, a Marine Mom from the area will collect cards from across the country, put them in the Condolence Book, and present it to the family at the funeral.

There’s a special bond military families have we understand each other in a way no one else can. We pray for one another every day and help the moms with kids about to go on their first deployments. We extend grace to each other. We know we can cry without having to explain why. We all know.

Besides the support of other military families, my faith in God has gotten me through so much. If God chose to redeploy William to heaven, that’s God’s choice, and not something I have control over. So God alone just gave me a lot of peace and comfort, knowing that whatever happened was God’s decision. I know if he dies, we will see each other again in heaven. I just can’t go through a day without thanking God for all he has done for me.

Prayer:

Father, help me use the trials in my life to counsel and comfort others.

“The God of all comfort… comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3b–4)

May 30

LOOKING FOR WILLIAM

Deborah Johns, Blue Star Mom, Director of Military Relations for Move Forward America

When the time came for William to come home, we decorated our car and made signs to celebrate: Welcome home! We love you! When the day finally arrived, my two younger sons and I drove to Camp Pendleton in San Diego to pick him up.

We watched with mounting excitement as a busload of Marines came in. Parade vehicles, flags, and yellow ribbons surrounded us. Marines reunited with their families as people cheered and cried with band music blaring in the background. Scanning the crowd over and over, we couldn’t find William.

“Excuse me,” I approached a sergeant. “Where’s Will Johns? Isn’t he here?”

The sergeant found a captain to ask. “This is Corporal Johns’ mom. Can you tell me where he is?” he said. The captain looked blankly at me. Then it looked like something clicked in his brain.

“Oh my God, you didn’t get the notification? Your son chose to stay behind for another three months so a married Marine could come home.”

“Well, that’s very nice of him to do,” I said as calmly as I could.” “Do you think you could arrange for him to call home so I could tell him I love him?”

“Yes ma’am, I’ll make that happen for you by tomorrow.”

So we packed up our welcome home signs, fresh baked cookies, got in the car, and drove home bawling our heads off. We were devastated.

Then in July, we went through the same routine, had the car painted, made signs, baked cookies. When we got to Camp Pendleton, I saw the same sergeant, captain, and chaplain who I had spoken with last time.

“Well gentlemen,” I said, “I hope for the sake of all three of you, that William Johns is on that bus today.” All three of the men marched up the hill to where the Marines were checking their weapons and each one asked for Johns. Marching back down shoulder to shoulder, they said, “We’re happy to report that your son is in the armory.”

This time, I cried tears of relief.

Prayer:

Lord, turn my suffering into a stronger character; fill me with hope for tomorrow.

“We know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Romans 53b–4)

May 31

THESE COLORS DON’T RUN

Deborah Johns, Blue Star Mom, Director of Military Relations for Move Forward America

“Mom, don’t they know we’re doing a good thing over here?” William asked me over the phone during his second deployment to Iraq. Negative rhetoric about the war was spreading fast, and Cindy Sheehan had become an internationally known figure for her anti-war camp at President Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas. “Please don’t let us come home to what the Viet Nam vets faced,” William continued. “Please tell them the good stuff.”

“The press says it’s all terrible, William. So tell me the good stuff.”

And he did. That’s when I got on radio stations and I began to tell their stories of progress, reconstruction, and hope, because the soldiers themselves were not allowed to. I made it clear in more than five hundred interviews that what Cindy Sheehan spoke negatively about military families she was dead wrong. She didn’t speak for all of us. Besides radio stations in the United States, I added my voice to the airwaves of the BBC, as well as stations in France, Germany, and Australia.

I had May 22 designated as Yellow Ribbon Day in California, and was the spokesperson for the bus tour called “You Don’t Speak for Me Cindy,” that crossed the nation and ended in a pro-troop rally in Crawford, Texas. Ten thousand people showed up outside the president’s ranch to demonstrate support for the troops.

A year later, our second national bus tour was called “These Colors Don’t Run” and showed support for General Petreaus and the troops. Another tour to honor heroes during the holidays collected 150,000 cards to send to troops. In all, we’ve rallied support with five national bus tours so far.

William and I have both come a long way from that bleak winter day at the recruiting office. He has completed three deployments in Iraq, and I am Director of Military Relations for Move America Forward, a nonprofit organization supporting America’s troops and their efforts to defeat terrorism. With the Lord’s help, I found a way to not just survive my son’s deployments, but to take an active role supporting him and other soldiers risking their lives for freedom.

Prayer:

Lord, take my fear and turn it into courage so I may serve you boldly.

“Act with courage, and may the Lord be with those who do well.” (2 Chronicles 19:11b)

June 1

BEGINNING AT THE END

Donna A. Tallman, daughter of a U.S. Air Force officer, screenwriter, regular contributor to The Christian Post

Where is John F. Kennedy’s grave? What do OEF and OIF mean on a headstone? Where’s the bathroom? Who’s the oldest dead person buried here?

A woman, who has answered the same questions for more than a lifetime, sits at a kiosk in the middle of the Arlington National Cemetery Visitor’s Center patiently answering every question as if it’s the first time she has heard it. People scramble about, filling water bottles, snagging tourist trinkets from the gift shop, and taking pictures… lots of pictures.

I take none. I’m not here to capture or preserve history; I’m here to experience it. Shortly after returning from our tour of duty in Spain in 1968, my family and I went to Arlington. We made the traditional loop up to the Kennedy graves where I saw carved in stone the reality of Senator Kennedy’s assassination. That was almost forty years ago, and I have returned now as an adult, a grown up Air Force brat, a mother of three young men, a patriot.

A squad of uniformed military cadets enters through the southern door. The sea of people parts, and the corridor opens before the squad. The cadets walk smartly, heads up high, heels clicking on the highly polished floor, not one wrinkle among them. The squad never breaks stride in their cadence; nor bead of sweat on their brows, despite summer’s oppressive heat. A holy hush follows them. They have come to Arlington to begin at the end.

In search of my own pilgrimage through America’s history, I leave the majority of tourists behind and turn toward today’s history found in Section 60. This section has been set aside for the soldiers of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

As I walk the empty access road, I am immediately engulfed by silence. Except for a lone gardener, I see no one. On this visit, I want to do more than travel through Arlington. I was not raised to be an American tourist who enjoys the benefits of liberty, but lives disconnected from the soldiers who have secured it. I want a commission.

Prayer:

Lord, make me an ambassador of hope to the soldiers who serve on the front lines of America’s wars and to their families who await their safe return.

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” (Jeremiah 29:11)

June 2

FREE BECAUSE OF SACRIFICE

Donna A. Tallman, daughter of a U.S. Air Force officer, screenwriter, regular contributor to The Christian Post

Step by determined step I walk on through Arlington Cemetery. A car passes on my left, then another and another. The procession of mourners drives by in slow motion making its way to the grave site. A color guard stands at attention near a freshly dug grave. A bugler waits for his call, and a squad of seven riflemen stands across the field for their moment of tribute. Cicadas hum just below the surface of unspeakable grief.

I hurry under a tree, not suitably dressed for a funeral nor invited by the family; but here by circumstance in my nation’s field of honor. He is my soldier.

Beautiful in its simplicity, the military funeral proceeds with expected precision. A minister addresses the young crowd of mourners. The flag covering the soldier’s coffin is folded and given to today’s grieving widow whose two restless toddlers squirm next to her. She bows her head in anguished respect uncertain the nation is truly grateful for her sacrifice, but so very proud of the hero her husband is. The riflemen give a twenty-one gun salute matched by twenty-one unexpected echoes from another burial in progress on the cemetery grounds. The shots of honor reverberate back and forth across the valley as if to emphasize the sobering cost of freedom.

The cicadas pick up their song again whirring louder and louder until I feel them pounding in my ears. Looking up through the tree, I see a helicopter has joined their cacophony giving tribute to this fallen hero. The bugler closes with the mournful notes of “Taps,” hanging onto the last note until it slowly dissolves into history.

The crowd disperses while I wait under the tree. Stillness returns. Slowly, I begin to walk the uniform rows of gravestones. The magnitude of what we have asked of our soldiers and the grief these families are going through comes quickly into focus. I realize that for the first time ever, I am standing in the graveyard of a war in progress.

Prayer:

Father, remind me that liberty never travels without its companion, sacrifice, and that sacrifice never travels without love. When I am tempted to forget the sacrifices of others on my behalf, remind me that even You paid the ultimate price for my freedom the life of your only Son because You loved me.

“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

June 3

YESTERDAY’S WIDOW

Donna A. Tallman, daughter of a U.S. Air Force officer, screenwriter, regular contributor to The Christian Post

A caisson moves by, and I leave to follow it to the next funeral. Just across the road a sign reads, “Section 61.” It is a massive parcel of uncultivated dirt growing only two lone trees. As I wonder why an empty lot sits nearby, the top of the Washington Monument peeks above the small rise holding its breath, waiting for my realization.

“O God, the next war!”

I steady myself as waves of grief overtake me. Before I know it, I have taken out my camera, and am taking pictures so I never forget their sacrifice. I walk by the headstones of many highly decorated service members. There is a middle-age grandmother, a Marine who loves the Boston Red Sox, a team of five soldiers, and a grave marker for a Muslim. I stop to pray for these families and weep for their loss.

The cadre of mourners attending the earlier service has mostly disappeared. In its place a non-organized yet subconsciously synchronized, convoy of mini vans arrives. A woman gets out of her van, grabs a blanket, lawn chair, and a jug of water before slamming the door. Mounted on the back of her car is a sticker that reads, “Half my heart is in Heaven.” Another minivan arrives, and another. Each van carries a single woman armed with grief and memories.

Her home has betrayed her. It is no longer full of the life and hope of her husband’s return, so she escapes to Arlington to reflect. The widow comes to say the things that she cannot say at home… to utter aloud the unspeakable agony of her heart. Surrounded by a field of dead strangers, the widow now feels more at home in a cemetery than she does in her own house. She is tired. She is lonely. She is broken.

In the waning afternoon hours of what has become a typical day, the widow lies face down over her husband’s grave aching to hold and be held. She whispers a prayer of surrender, and asks for the strength for just one more day. Despite the challenges she knows await her, yesterday’s widow rises to conquer her own battle the battle for her future.

Prayer:

Lord, when I have expended all that I have, remind me that your resources are limitless and you eagerly desire to add your strength to my faith.

“He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.” (Isaiah 40:29)

June 4

THE GREAT EQUALIZER

Donna A. Tallman, daughter of a U.S. Air Force officer, screenwriter, regular contributor to The Christian Post

Gently and quietly he clicks the door shut on his sedan so that even the breeze is unruffled. He deliberately walks toward the oldest row of graves in Section 60. His perfect posture looks military-trained, while the lines on his face mark him as Vietnam era. Always focused forward, the eyes of the man in his sixties hone in on one of the markers at the far end. Finally, he reaches the right one and slowly kneels in the grass. The grieving father bows his head.

Some have said that hospital waiting rooms are the great equalizers of life that injury and sickness recognize no social class, no ethnic divide, no age category. All are equally at risk. Cemeteries are even more equalizing than waiting rooms. None recover here.

The father does not tarry long at his son’s grave. He’s not really here to visit him. Instead, he has come to care for the living. While no one else dares interrupt a widow’s vigil out of respect for her grief, the father does. This tender, caring man can approach where others never should. He is a fellow sufferer, a tempest traveler… one who knows firsthand the cost of war.

The father begins his rounds of visitation to the daughters he has adopted in the graveyard. He knows each one by name and checks on their welfare. Over the months they have all visited Arlington to grieve alone together; this unlikely group has grown from being intimate strangers among the tombstones to caretakers of one another’s sorrow.

While he knows that he cannot bring his son home from Afghanistan, the father seeks to heal the history that death attempts to write in each of their hearts. Rising above his own agony, he reaches out to care for those around him, and in the process, finds refuge for his own soul.

Yes, Arlington is a graveyard, a place of the dead. It is also a showcase for valor, a field of honor for America’s most courageous soldiers. And for those knit together by the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Arlington is a place of healing from war’s ultimate sacrifice.

Prayer:

When life’s raging tempest threatens to break my heart and my spirit, would you, oh Lord, step in with your authority and restore calm to the churning waves around me? Deliver me and bind up any wounds incurred by my sojourn here on earth.

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” (Psalm 147:3)

June 5

DO I MAKE YOU PROUD?

Donna A. Tallman, daughter of a U.S. Air Force officer, screenwriter, regular contributor to The Christian Post

An Army soldier approaches the row ahead of mine. I try to maintain my composure as to not disturb his expression of grief, but my tears come faster than I can breathe. The soldier kneels to pray. After a moment, he stands, salutes, and puts something on top of the grave marker. The soldier leaves quietly, returns; then leaves again. I stand motionless and uncertain sensing he may want to talk, but hesitant to interrupt. He comes one more time, so I join him.

“Was he a friend of yours?” I ask.

“Yes Ma’am, he was.”

“Would you tell me about your friend?”

He and the corporal were close friends. They served together in Iraq and Afghanistan. The soldier before me had been deployed overseas six times, and was struggling with the loss of many friends. I met him saluting his friend who died in 2005, but he was here for another friend whose graveside service I just witnessed. That friend was a medic, trained to work on injured soldiers while in transit on helicopters.

“Ah, the helicopter fly-over was for him.”

“Yes Ma’am.”

“What can we do for you?”

“Bring us home, Ma’am. Please, bring us all the way home.”

We stand together in silence for a long time, two total strangers connected by the intimacy of honor. His countenance is beautiful. In spite of his grief, in spite of the horror he has seen he is beautiful. As soon as he leaves, I regret not getting his name. I wish I’d been able to listen to his story. I wished I’d prayed with him. I wish I’d prayed for his healing. I also wish I had told him how proud I am of him and the many sacrifices he’s made for my freedom. How I wish I had told him… but I didn’t.

Several minutes later, I pick up the piece of metal he left on top of his friend’s gravestone. It’s a dog tag. It has an American flag on one side and the words to Joshua 1:9 on the other side.

Prayer:

Thank you, Lord, that this soldier has confronted terrorism first-hand so that I never have to. Bring rest to his spirit, Lord, and remove any terror that has taken up residence in his heart.

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

June 6

THE SMALLEST PATIENT

Colonel Jay A. Johannigman, Deputy Commander of the 332nd U.S. Air Force EMEDS (Expeditionary Medical Support), Iraq, 2003

All right, what do we have here? I wondered as I opened the back doors of the Red Crescent (Iraqi) ambulance. It was a nine-year-old Iraqi boy who had been wounded almost nine days earlier by unwittingly picking up an anti-personnel device. Iraqi surgeons did the best they could for Saleh, but told his father to prepare for his death. The boy’s father bribed a friend who was a Red Crescent ambulance driver to drive his son to our base for another chance.

Once inside the hospital, we were horrified to see that his abdominal wall had been completely blown away, exposing the intestinal tract. His right arm which he had lost in the initial blast had not been treated in nine days; it had been bandaged once and it was covered in blood and pus from his draining wounds. The portion of his remaining left hand was mangled almost beyond recognition.

The Air Force medics and I operated on him nine hours that first day. God show me the way, was whispering in my head over and over. By the grace of God, he began to stabilize.

As a military medical corps, we were not designed to care for pediatric patients, but we arranged for some materials from our army brethren in Baghdad. Every day I emailed a pediatric surgeon friend for advice, and she arranged for a company in Britain to overnight express us all the equipment necessary to do what’s called a wound vac.

This boy, Saleh, had just one hand left that was salvageable.

“If we take this other hand what kind of a life would he have left?” the orthopedic surgeon mused.

“Tell you what, Eric,” I replied. “If I can figure out a way to keep his belly together, you figure out some way to keep that left hand on him.” So that was a pledge. Eric had never reconstructed a hand, but he got on the Internet and started working and pinning and cleaning. Every time we were back there cleaning Saleh’s belly, he was back there doing something he’d never been trained to do, but somehow this all worked out. We prayed a lot. One nice thing about a deployed base the chapel is always open and the lights are on.

Prayer:

Lord, give me the courage to overcome obstacles to achieve the things you want me to.

“If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” (Matthew 21:22)

Saleh on the day of his arrival

June 7

MODERN MEDICINE OR THE HAND OF GOD?

Colonel. Jay A. Johannigman, Deputy Commander of the 332nd U.S. Air Force EMEDS (Expeditionary Medical Support), Iraq, 2003

Two chaplains in particular prayed with us every day (Chappy Erikson and Thiesen), for which I was so grateful. As a deployed doc, the hospital is your chapel and God is everywhere with us. The chaplains were truly amazing they helped get patients off the helicopter, ran blood back and forth, lifted patients onto the ambulance, said prayers at the sides of those soldiers we don’t send back home. They were in the ICU as much for us as for our patients. And they certainly lifted us up as we worked on Saleh. They even held special prayer services for him.

It was amazing to see how the base was transformed with Saleh’s arrival. We saw our soldiers, airmen, cooks, Security Forces, and our commanders come through and just lift the flap on the ICU tent to make sure Saleh was still there.

Throughout Saleh’s stay with us, the entire hospital took care of that boy as we would our own son. But on his fifth post-operative day, Saleh was bleeding to death from his stomach. I had run out of medical options and I asked nurses to find the Chappy fast.

“Chappy Erikson, I have nothing left I can do.” I said. “I’ve done all I can, I’m going to lose this kid. Will you come over and say a prayer?”

And Chappy did. He laid hands on this young man and lifted him up in prayer while Saleh was screaming and crying in Arabic, and his father was saying his prayers as a devout Muslim. All of us medics were standing there watching, crying and when that happened that young man stopped bleeding. Was it medicine or God’s hand? I know what it was. There was no more medicine to offer him. God spared his life that day.

Prayer:

Lord, let me never dismiss the power of praying with other believers.

“For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20)

A USAF nurse caring for Saleh—the intensity needs no explanation

June 8

JUST ONE SHOT

Colonel Jay A. Johannigman, Deputy Commander of the 332nd U.S. Air Force EMEDS (Expeditionary Medical Support), Iraq (2003)

“Saleh had done remarkably well under our care, but for a full recovery, this young man only had one shot, and that was to get him to the United States. Just as it is now, it was extremely controversial to do that to take an Iraqi child, because “if you take one you have to take them all.” I understand the politics of all that, but I was early in my experience. I told the boss that this young kid had to go to the United States.

If I had known then what I know now about how hard that was to accomplish, I would have given up a long time ago. But we didn’t. We worked some back channels and were given some miracles. We got Saleh cleared to get on a C-130. The same anesthesiologist who was my first assistant was going to rotate home to California at the same time, and we found a pediatric hospital in Oakland who was willing to take care of him. So the anesthesiologist flew with this young man thirty-six hours all on Air Force aircraft.

Six-months later, my young friend Saleh was discharged from Oakland’s Children’s Hospital. They gave him all the care in the world without a penny being charged to him. I have a picture of Saleh and his cell phone. I know it works because I’m on his speed dial. And he will call me up. That was three years ago.

Today, he lives in Oakland, California. He has been mainstreamed, is in the sixth grade of a public school. He goes to school every day and his dad works in the hospital that has cared for him. They are both very grateful for what God has given them. This kid has got a resilient spirit that you would not believe.

Prayer:

Lord, when you show me the path to take, may I obediently respond no matter how impossible it may seem.

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” (Romans 12:12)

Chaplain Erikson with Saleh, his father Raheem, and Dr. Jay Johannigman

Last moments in Iraq—a prayer to God for a safe journey to the United States

Young Saleh with his American friends (courtesy of the San Francisco Chronicle)

June 9

NINETY MINUTES

Colonel Jay A. Johannigman, Deputy Commander of the 332nd U.S. Air Force EMEDS (Expeditionary Medical Support), Iraq, 2003

“My God, this kid’s in shock,” the medic said after taking one look at a Marine corporal who had been hit with an IED.

“Sir, I’ve been in shock for the last hour and a half,” that Marine responded. He then rolled his eyes to the back of his head and his heart promptly stopped. He went into cardiac arrest right there in front of those guys.

Immediately, they opened his chest and did something they never would have done in the United States. They pounded on his chest for more than ninety minutes. They did not give up. We stop in the United States after ten minutes. Ten minutes of that and if you don’t have him back, that patient’s dead. Those Marine doctors and medics worked on him for ninety minutes and they got him back. I don’t know how they did that.

Then they packaged him up, said, “We’ve done everything we can, we’re out of blood, out of juice, we’re shipping him to you. Take good care of him.” So that medical team sent him to our facility.

He arrived at about six a.m. on a Sunday morning, an hour and a half before I started my shift. I walked into the room at seven thirty and it was eerily silent. Two of our surgeons were just passed out on the couches, still with blood on their clothes.

“What’s going on?” I woke one of them up to ask.

“We got this kid last night and already put 110 units of blood into him,” he said, “and I don’t think we’re going to save him.”

So we walked over to the ICU to take a look at the patient together. The young surgeon was tormented. Sometimes we know we won’t save a casualty and we have more coming in… so do we keep trying or are we kidding ourselves? After putting so much work and time, would we even have a patient that’s salvageable?

Prayer:

Lord, when I am overwhelmed with tough decisions, give me wisdom so I can see clearly which direction to pursue.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” (James 1:5)

June 10

FATHER’S DAY

Colonel Jay A. Johannigman, Deputy Commander of the 332nd U.S. Air Force EMEDS (Expeditionary Medical Support), Iraq, 2003

We arrived at the Marine’s bedside and found him asleep. The rhythmic sound of his breathing machine was a quiet but sobering reminder of just how fragile his life was at the moment.

“John, are you OK?” Andy, my colleague surgeon, grabbed him by the hand. This young Marine nodded his head.

“John, give me a thumbs up.” With his one remaining arm, John gave a thumbs up.

We looked at each other and said, “Well, we’re going to press forward. We’re not going to give up on him.” He was still bleeding, so we took him back to the operating room to wash out his wounds the best we could. We threw everything including the kitchen sink at him to try to make him stop bleeding. The chaplain was there every moment with us praying with us to give us the courage to do these kinds of things.

It was Father’s Day. Those of us who were fathers said we’re not going to have his father remember Father’s Day as the day he lost his son.

We didn’t have enough stored blood for him, so we had soldiers lined up around the tent waiting to donate their blood for this young man because we were not going to lose him on Father’s Day. He ended up needing 248 units of whole blood, but he survived Father’s Day.

Thankfully, we were able to get him stabilized, packaged up, and flown to Germany. From there he made it back to Brook Army Medical Center in Fort Sam Houston, Texas, where his family joined him.

Unfortunately, in the third month of his recovery, he developed a severe infection that he was not able to recover from. So he passed away, but he did so with his family at his side, as God intended.

Prayer:

Lord, give me the strength to persevere to the best of my ability and leave the results up to you.

“As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered.” (James 5:11a)

June 11

THE BIGGER PICTURE

Carol Pinkerton-Ewens, mother of a fallen soldier and three other army soldiers

We have given the Army all four of our sons. Forrest died in the war already, and Oaken is fulfilling years of service as a West Point graduate. If I lose Oaken also, I not only lose him but also lose another part of Forrest, as they were identical twins. Our younger son Elisha had already served one year in Iraq, several months in Afghanistan and faces deployment again as will Oaken. Stephen enlisted into the Regular Army-Infantry shortly after Forrest was killed.

I remember when Eli was deployed, and how hard it was for me to face that he was going into an environment where other people would be trying to kill him. My sweet boy, who had never done anything to anyone, would be suddenly the unmarked, unknown evil occupier.

But my fears have never been limited to physical harm. I also feared for my son that his outlook towards this segment of humanity would become desensitized. I feared that the army would create an environment of survival which would breed dehumanization and Eli would look at the Iraqis as less than human. My greatest fear was probably that my sons would come home with their hearts hardened and changed, and unable to see God’s essence in other people. I feared more for their spiritual health than their physical, as I believed their spiritual health is most vital to their physical health.

I have a deep, simple faith that God has a plan for each of our lives and that our lives influence others in so many ways. I believe in what I call the “ripple effect,” that you have the power to touch other’s lives by the even simplest things you do. I believe that we have the potential for eternal effect, just like the ripples on a pond are initiated by a pebble being thrown in the water, and starts a concentric circle of movement that in turn will have impact elsewhere.

So during these times of deployments, my faith rested on the concept that God was using my children in a way that I may not be able to truly understand, but that God sees the ripples and eternal effect on the larger pond. I held onto this thought, trusting that God has his eyes on the bigger picture.

Prayer:

Lord, when only being able to see parts of the whole throws me into confusion, help me trust in your master plan.

“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:9)

June 12

A MOTHER’S PRAYER

Carol Pinkerton-Ewens

I’ll never forget the day Elisha, not yet twenty-one years old, left for Iraq. Once he was on his way, I wrote these thoughts and prayer to the Lord, which I have continued to pray for each of my sons:

January 23, 2004

I watched Eli leave today, held him in my arms for the last time until we meet again, either in another year, or in our next life. He showed no fears, no worries, and only spoke to encourage me and lessen my fears. He has grown up so much, become a man in such a short time. I held my tears while saying goodbye, knowing that he was more worried about my feelings than his own, but inside, I felt those many months of separation looming and allowed each hug to settle deep in my memory.

I just sent my son off to war, to the danger of losing his life from an enemy who hates him and wants him dead, my blessed affectionate caring son.

Blessed Be Your Name, Lord

I trust you to walk alongside my soldier son, Elisha, as he heads to a battle, not of his own making.

Bless Elisha’s courage and stalwartness, as he continues to be more concerned about other’s feelings and fears than his own.

I ask you to protect Elisha’s heart, his mind, and his relationship with you. I ask you to be present with him on a daily basis.

Please allow Elisha to see you in the faces of all he meets, even those he fights against, and let him feel you beside him during times of danger and fear.

I entrust my son’s heart to you. I ask you to be the guardian of his emotional, spiritual, and physical state, and his eternal life with You.

For I believe you are his Savior, his Protector, his Tower of Strength and Refuge in times of trouble.

Lord, bring peace to the troubled region and peoples of Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran, and bring this soldier safely home.

Prayer:

Father, remind me to pray the spiritual health of my loved ones at least as often as I bring their physical hardships before you.

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you.” (Isaiah 41:10)

June 13

STEPHEN’S DECISION

Carol Pinkerton-Ewens

“No, no!” I cried, tears streaming down my face.

It was just a few weeks after Forrest’s death when my youngest son, Stephen, announced his desire to enlist. I was still reeling in grief for one son. Stephen’s decision absolutely floored me.

I experienced actual physical pain during any discussion of him joining up, but to no avail. He enlisted and left at the end of August 2006 six weeks after Forrest’s death and just two days before we found out my father had terminal liver cancer.

Devastated by Forrest’s loss, Stephen was driven to be part of the same thing that his big brother was. While he and the twins were always at odds growing up, in adulthood Stephen felt that Forrest was the only brother who really reached out to him during some of his hard times.

Watching all the attention given in the weeks after Forrest’s death, Stephen, who had been rather lackadaisical about school, jobs, his life in general, suddenly saw something bigger than himself that he wanted to be part of. He saw that Forrest had achieved something honorable and worthy, and that others recognized it. I think he reevaluated his life and saw that he wanted to achieve the same.

Stephen had been offered a position in the Old Guard at Arlington National Cemetery, but turned it down to do his part in Korea for one year. Recently, he transferred to Fort Lewis and is now close to home.

How I cried when he tried to talk to me about enlisting. My pain was too raw from just losing Forrest, and to think my youngest, with whom I shared an incredibly close relationship, would defy me and leave me after being dealt such a blow, was unfathomable to me. It took me months and still takes effort, to accept his decision.

Prayer:

Lord, show me how to echo David in Psalm 13 and rejoice in your salvation even as I have sorrow in my heart.

“How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?… But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.” (Psalm 13:2, 5)

June 14

BRAVERY

Carol Pinkerton-Ewens

All in all, it has been a growing and painful process for me to accept my sons’ decisions. If I had had my choice, my mother’s heart would have had them all out of harms way, in school, working, or doing their part in a less violent way. But I have to accept that they are grown men, and cannot be held back by their mother’s apron-strings. They must not live life with regret because they did not do something that they believe God would have them do. And so it is my part to somehow muster up enough strength and resolve to support them during these many upcoming years.

Sometimes I become angry that my children forced us to face more possibilities of injury and death. I look at the other families of fallen soldiers who I have come to know and see their living children rallying around them to support them… and yet my own head off into the same direction as their brother. Sometimes I question whether we were good parents. Are we not worthy of our children’s compassion and protection? Or do they simply think that we are strong enough to handle the emotional and heart-breaking risks of losing another child? Should I be honored, angry, hurt?

“You’re so brave,” people often tell me. “I could never do what you are doing.”

But where is the choice? Does not bravery mean you have chosen to do something to benefit others at the risk of your own harm? I have no choice in this matter, but have been forced to rely on God. Does that sound bad? The word “force” sounds like I think that is a poor choice, but I don’t. Isn’t it our human nature to rely on our own strength? In my case, I have been faced with my total weaknesses and inadequacies so sharply that I am forced to admit that without God, I would be a crumpled up little person in the absence of any hope. Presently and hopefully forever, I am content with relying upon God’s strength, and trust that he will carry me through anything I will face.

Prayer:

Lord God, arm me with strength and direct my steps until I pass through this trial.

“It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect.” (Psalm 18:32)

June 15

WHAT I DIDN’T KNOW

Oaken Ewens, First Lieutenant, U.S. Army

When they handed me the envelope I felt my heart sink. It was my job to hand-carry the dead soldier’s personal affects as I escorted him to his final resting place. At that time I didn’t know that one particular soldier had crawled on his hands and knees through the Afghan dirt until he had found all but the wedding band. I didn’t know that this soldier knew exactly how much change the fallen soldier had in his pocket or that when he finally found his wooden cross it was hanging in a tree. I just knew that the package felt heavy and that the dead soldier was my twin brother.

When the funeral director opened the casket and left the room I didn’t know that my little brother Stephen would straighten his life out or that our childhood friend would give his life to Christ. I didn’t know that there was a soldier in Afghanistan so impacted by Forrest that he refocused his life for Christ before dying a month later. All I knew was that there was lint on his bronze star. I gently removed it.

When the final bugle note faded and the crowd dispersed I found myself in a place I had never been before a place of solitude before God. My twin brother, my constant companion, had gone on ahead of me to heaven. It was time for my faith to truly become my own in a way it hadn’t before.

The two-year anniversary of that mountain ambush has come and gone and I feel keenly the lack of control for myself and my other two brothers who are in the Army. I have the same job as Forrest the same rank. Will my life end soon as his did? Will my brothers? No matter the answer, we choose put our lives on hold while we serve our country.

Forrest once said, “Open your eyes and you will see, there is more to God than you believe.” My faith sometimes feels blind, but I know Forrest was right. God is orchestrating more than I can even imagine, even if I can’t see it.

Prayer:

Lord, help me to trust that you are using all things in my life to somehow bring yourself glory.

“And we know that all things work together for good for those that love God.” (Romans 8:28)

June 16

HE WAS READY

Stephen Ewens, Specialist, U.S. Army

My brother’s death changed everything for me.

Before Forrest died, I wasn’t going anywhere; I had no goals for the future. When he was killed, my eyes were opened to the value of life, and I knew I could do better with mine. After talking to all the soldiers that knew him I could see the pride and honor that they had in their work and that made me want to honor him by continuing his work. The army has allowed me to accomplish more than I could ever have done in the civilian world, and I am thankful for that.

It was difficult to see my mom in pain over my choice to enlist, but I had made my mind up. If anyone else was going to die in this war I would rather it be me.

Most of the time I block thoughts of Forrest’s death from my mind because the pain is crippling. But when I deny his sacrifice, I feel that I am not honoring him enough. The fact that he died in combat makes me proud of him but also makes me terribly sad. Was his death instant or did he realize what was happening and that he was about to die? War is an ugly thing, it’s not like the movies; these are real people with real families and real pains.

Even though it has been two years, it’s so hard to believe that he is not here anymore. I always think that I can just pick up the phone and call him, like he is on a long vacation. He was a great man, the most fun, loving, and exciting brother anyone could ask for. I always wondered why God took him and not one of his other brothers. It is clear now it was because he was the only one of us who was ready. He had run that race, fought the good fight, and lived a life full of dignity, honor, and pride. Knowing he was such a great man now that helps with the pain.

Prayer:

Lord, help me strive to run the race in a way that pleases you so that I might be ready when you choose to call me home.

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7)

June 17

SOMETHING CHANGED

Chaplain Col. Gene (Chip) Fowler, U.S. Army, Command Chaplain for Combined Joint Task Force 7 (the command and control element for all coalition forces in Iraq), 2004–2005

I went to war on September 11, 2001. I don’t carry the same kind of weapon that other soldiers do, but I went to war with them anyway. Something changed for our nation a deep, penetrating soul-search. At the beginning of this war, I was called on to send some of my troops chaplains and chaplain assistants to serve the soldiers who would fight and die in this war. My heart burned as they left and I remained behind.

But in January of 2004, I finally found myself on the battlefield with them, sharing their depredations, fears, hopes, and faith. No one wants war less than the soldier who bears the brunt of its fury. They are a special lot those who deem freedom worth the hardships and hazards of war and I am so humbled and honored to serve with them. It’s my job to help them strengthen their faith, but I find my faith being strengthened by them. I know that some question this war, but not the soldiers; they know what is at stake, for on September 11, 2001, something changed.

For the first time in six decades, we realized that we faced the sure extinction of the sweet water of freedom. And we realized that “whatever it takes, for as long as it takes,” we must fight this war. Why? Because freedom is worth it. When we look at what life is like in the model “they” want to impose on the world, it is abhorrent to us. Freedom carries its pitfalls and excesses, yes, but freedom also gives us the power of choice. And choice gives us the opportunity to seek God in all his will and to enjoy life in all his glory. Something changed in 2001 we paid freedom’s price. Now let us show freedom’s power, “whatever it takes, for as long as it takes!” For we have been changed.

Prayer:

Lord, teach me how to sacrifice for that which is worth fighting for.

“Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial.” (James 1:12a)

June 18

THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY

Chaplain Col. Gene (Chip) Fowler, U.S. Army, Command Chaplain for Combined Joint Task Force 7

Several weeks during April and early May 2004 can best be described as “The Ecstasy and the Agony.” The ecstasy came from the hope and joy experienced in remembering the central event of all history—the death and resurrection of the Lord of the Universe. On Easter Sunday morning, we had an absolutely marvelous Sunrise Service with so many people we could not count them.

The agony came from the senseless and sadistic murder of the four civilian contractors in Fallujah on March 31, and the heinous desecration of their mutilated bodies.

The ecstasy came from soldiers and civilians growing deeper in their faith and trust in the Lord Jesus.

The agony came from the attack on the convoy north of Baghdad where several were killed, and Tom Hamill was kidnapped and held hostage for three weeks.

The ecstasy came from his escape and reunion with his family.

The agony came from the highest total of soldiers killed and wounded in any month since the start of the conflict.

The ecstasy came from a wonderful and dynamic National Prayer Breakfast at Taji where soldiers and civilians gathered to ask God’s blessings on our nation.

The agony came from the horrid rocket attack at that same base a couple of weeks earlier that took four lives, including a reserve captain whose civilian job was as a youth minister. As he lay there dying, he looked at individual soldiers saying, “Joe, I didn’t see you at chapel Sunday; you know you need to go. Bob, I missed you at Bible Study.”

How does one deal with these ecstasies and agonies? Being able to handle the issues of life and death in the context of the eternal is the challenge. It is the work of chaplains and their assistants, and those whom they empower with a living faith. They take care of soldiers with selfless concern, imputing God’s love and grace into the most difficult of situations. And then they take care of each other. May God continue to provide such servants to the military forces of our nation, nurturing their faith, strengthening their moral resolve, and lifting their souls toward heaven.

Prayer:

Lord, may my trials strengthen my faith instead of compel me to doubt.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” (James 1:2)

June 19

RISING UP AGAINST EVIL

Chaplain Col. Gene (Chip) Fowler, U.S. Army, Command Chaplain for Combined Joint Task Force 7

From an email newsletter dated June 11, 2004:

The abuses at the prison at Abu Gharib are obviously an embarrassment to all. The real hardship that is not known is that the soldiers currently assigned there are taking all the heat and scrutiny, even though they were not present at the time of the abuses last year and have been doing a good job. I have two chaplains permanently assigned there who are very strong in their spiritual leadership and encouragement, and are doing a marvelous job at helping their soldiers handle all the unwanted (and mostly undeserved) visibility. The alleged perpetrators are rightly being handled through the military justice system, but the actions of a very few will tarnish the reputation of the many who are honest and decent soldiers serving honorably.

Yet in light of this event, we were reminded of the nature of this conflict and our purpose for being here. The enemy we seek to stop has shown its true colors with the brutal and horrid decapitation of Nick Berg (added to the desecrations in Fallujah in April, and many other examples). Debates will continue to be conducted over the legitimacy of this war, and history’s story will be written. Yet God alone can determine its legitimacy. However, I cannot help but feel that God-fearing people, and humanity at large, must rise up against such evil as we see in this enemy. If not, then we all lose. As we reflect back sixty years ago to the largest single invasion of all of history at Normandy, we remember “the greatest generation” did precisely this. They knew not what they would find months later in the concentration camps; but when they saw the evil, they had a increased sense of their purpose and legitimacy. More and more, we are finding the same here.

Prayer:

Lord, may my life represent and honor Christ to all those around me.

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)

June 20

U.S. CITIZENSHIP ON FOREIGN SOIL

Chaplain Col. Gene (Chip) Fowler, U.S. Army, Command Chaplain for Combined Joint Task Force 7

In October 2004, we had a Naturalization Ceremony, where thirty-four U.S. soldiers from twenty-two nations became U.S. citizens. Until now, all Naturalization Ceremonies took place on U.S. soil by law. But President Bush signed a new law, effective October 1, 2004, which allows soldiers serving in a deployed location to be naturalized on the soil where they serve. Foreigners can join our military, pledging to support and defend (and die for) the Constitution of a nation not their own. Why would someone want to do that? Is it that in spite of our many frailties as a nation, we offer something that no one else does? From the stories of these soldiers, I believe so.

Undersecretary Aquirre, head of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, himself a naturalized American citizen, said in his remarks that because of the obvious increase of the threat of major violence against America and Americans worldwide, you’d think that immigration would have dipped in the last few years. We are being ostracized by “frie