From the time I was a young teenager, I knew that I wanted to serve my country. It began as an altruistic idea after I visited Arlington Cemetery for the first time. If you've been there, you know that sacrifice fills the air on that hallowed ground and it stirred something deep inside me... I just wanted to serve.
Fast forward to college where I found Army ROTC. (Reserve Officer Training Corps) At the same time I fell deep into the feminist drive to prove that this woman could keep up with any man...I suppose that could be it's own post someday:) Needless to say, I was driven to physical excellence, not settling for proficiency. It's hard to believe now as this old body can barely jog down the road! Running a 5 minute mile was a regular accomplishment, as well as being able to perform 85 pushups in 2 minutes. For some reason the Lord blessed me with rare upper body strength that is uncommon for most women. (Sadly, it's definitely a thing of the past!) So then I climbed the ladder, falling away from my roots of faith for a time, striving for success at all costs. But the dear Lord stayed with me and steered my course, despite all the control I fooled myself into having. I graduated and was commissioned an Army Second Lieutenant in the Transportation Corps and headed off to conquer the world...Or so I thought....
Two years later I found myself being deployed to war. It was the first Iraqi War/Desert Storm. My unit was staged in Saudi Arabia and eventually attacked into Iraq as part of the "Hail Mary" tactical move to block the Euphrates River Valley and Saddam Hussein's Elite Republican Guard. I'll never forget the start of the Ground War on February 25, 1991...Crossing the border into the unknown, muddy desert on a cold, dark, and rainy night. No matter who you were at that point, it didn't matter. I remember the sound of the whirring windshield wipers as I gripped my M16A2 rifle. All else was silent.
God saw fit that we were humbled.
There were no toilets, running water or warm food for quite some time. Somehow those things just didn't matter compared to the hard reality of war that we were now facing in each moment that unfolded...
Looking back now, 20 year later, I vividly remember 3 things about God and War.
I think about these 3 things and how they apply to my life now as Soldier gone Soldier Mama.
I may be much older but the soldier in me hasn't died. Being a soldier for Christ, part of the church militant here on this earth, lives on in the desires of my spirit. The mission might be different but the lessons retain their value...
God always has a plan.
3 Things About God And War:
3. Don 't fire until fired upon.
This is a rule that I learned early on in combat tactical training. This might be surprising to some who think the military is made up of war-mongers. It's actually a great defensive tactic that leads to successful offense. I think about this with faith. We all know people who are aggressive, pushy or even harsh when it comes to evangelizing and they forget to live what they believe. Sometimes it's harder to be patient (holding our fire) and concentrate on living our faith, waiting for the right moment for people to inquire about our joy. Then maybe our fire will be effective?!...
AKA: "Preach the gospel always, when necessary, use words."~St. Francis of Assisi~
2. Take care of your fellow soldier.
I love that the Feast of St. Martin of Tours falls on November 11th. Here was a soldier who lived his new Christian faith, literally tearing the cloak from his back for someone in need. As a soldier we are taught to take care of one another...No man left behind, so to speak. Once in Iraq, we encountered the enemy. Many lay dead, strewn about the sides of a highway. Thousands were surrendering by the minute. Those enemy soldiers that lived were waving and smiling at us as if we were old friends. The ugly enemy suddenly became human, the poor, and the needy. This is not to say that some enemies and human beings aren't evil but this was a unique and very surprising situation. My memory has failed me in many ways as I have grown older. Yet I will never forget the faces, smiles, and waves of this enemy. Nor will I forget the sight of those who died. As enemy bodies were scattered about the side of the road like litter, I watched American soldiers take on the task of burying the bodies of our very own enemy. In some ways it could be viewed that we were simply cleaning up our own mess. But in the hearts of those who conducted this real task, it was something beyond that. Having spoke to some of them myself, I know they felt like they were bringing some respect to the ugliness of war. They refused to stand idle or turn their backs on the destruction. Instead they took care of their fellow human being, regardless of race, religion or rank. Of course you never heard about these stories in the news...the real human sacrifices made for other human beings, regardless of what side they are on. To me, this demonstrates what we should be doing everyday, TODAY. Helping one another, regardless of who we are, what faith we are, where we live, how much money we make, what clothes we wear...This is what I saw in the desert of a faraway land. To me, at the time, this represented what being an American is all about. Today I look back and realize that it should also be what being a Christian is all about. Before I really new the 2 Greatest Commandments, I learned what they were.
To love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, soul, mind and strength.
To love thy neighbor as thyself.
1. Be prepared.
You may be familiar with the old adage that there are "no atheists in foxholes."
For me personally, I clung fast to a prayer card sent by a friend that I still have today. It contained a Novena to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The prayer was perfectly fitting for my preparation:
"O most holy Heart of Jesus, fountain of every blessing, I adore You, I love You, and with a lively sorrow for my sins, I offer You this poor heart of mine. Make me humble, patient, pure and wholly obedient to Your will. Grant, good Jesus, that I may live in You and for You. Protect me in the midst of danger; comfort me in my afflictions; give me health of body, assistance in my temporal needs, Your blessing on all that I do, and the grace of a holy death."
As I worked in Intelligence for a temporary period during the war, one of our primary duties was taking care of the EPW's (Enemy Prisoners of War.) In these EPW's I saw humans and I saw humans that loved their God. Despite their religion, I know they believed in God. They had the same thoughts that we did...That they just might meet Him. They were preparing just like us...In their own minds and hearts. We joked and laughed with them, despite our opposition. Once again, this was a very unexpected scenario for all involoved.
At this pivotal time in my life, I was privileged to get a glimpse, realizing much later, that we are all God's children who need to be prepared. Lest I forget these lessons today, I look back and remember the value of each moment.
"But of that day and hour no one knoweth, not the angels of heaven, but the Father alone."
As I look back at all the horrors and scars of war, I now see God's hand in the toughest parts of those moments. Sometimes it takes us years to realize that God was there but He was still there, all the same. His blessings shined through the Crosses that we bore, just as they do today.
Ultimately, I don't look back and think "poor me", I saw the horrors of war first hand. I look back and see soldiers coming together, soldiers preparing, taking care of one another, regardless of where they came from. I saw Jesus in these moments and I didn't even know it at the time.
In the end, I really didn't do anything special or heroic, nor did I achieve any particular success. What I did do was live out the plan that was meant to be, according to that early desire to serve, placed on the heart of a teenaged girl.
I continue to be thankful for my 6 years of military service and all of the ways that it has shaped the Soldier Mama that I am today.
God Bless our soldiers, (past, present and future) who defend our freedoms.
Happy Veteran's Day!