Archive for September 2009
Nathan Geist recently fulfilled a year-long tour of duty in Afghanistan, where he served as a Chaplain Assistant. He is a 2005 graduate of Zion-Benton Township High School, is in his 4th year of studies at Southern Illinois University, and recently appeared in the film The Promotion. Sgt. Geist had been a periodic contributor to The Seeker as he met his responsibilities; this is his final posting regarding his tour.
I walked off the plane and immediately scanned for Joanna and my parents, but I didn’t have to look long. I found my parents a few feet away from me, but the view of them was blocked by the dangling hair of my fiancée, who had jumped on me and wrapped her legs around me as I slowly spun her. I was on U.S. soil again, and I was holding the woman of my dreams in a place that was far, far away from war.
Within hours, I was no longer on my deployment. I had gone through the outprocessing procedures at Fort McCoy… which I was told was a 3 to 5 day process… in a matter of 5 hours. When I got into my parents’ car, I was officially done with my deployment, and I had the official orders to prove it. As of 1627 hours on 4 September 2009, SGT Danger Geist was officially relieved of active duty, even though the tour was originally supposed to last for another 25 days. As a direct result, I will now be able to get back to school just in time for the semester without having to drop any classes. Had I come home even one day later, then the Fort McCoy outprocessing stations would have been shut down until Tuesday (because of the holiday weekend), and I wouldn’t have been to school until after Labor Day. I would have been dropped from my classes, which in turn means I would have to fight to remain enrolled. As it turns out, God’s version of “early” was right on time for me.
And this evening, I walked into my warm home, an example that God’s promises are true and trustworthy.
Last time I emailed you, I told you that there is a twist ending to this deployment. And, I’m not lying about that. It may anger you.
But first, now that I’m home, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for all of your support. Thank you for sending me packages; thank you for taking care of my affairs at home; thank you for being there for Joanna and my family while I was away; thank you for the many prayers for me and my comrades; thank you for sending me emails to see how I was doing; thank you for reading my emails so that my story could be told. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
I have to touch on SGT Bandee for a moment. Over the course of the year, you have been reading accounts from my brother-in-arms, Nicholas Bandee, and have traveled vicariously as he told his story of the dangers he has faced. And I believe he had a story that was worth telling, and that’s why I found it necessary to relay it to you. Not many soldiers get to do what Bandee has done, nor will they ever see the things Bandee has seen: from the Hilltops of Salerno to the Streets of Bermel to the Mountains of Pirkothi, Bandee has endured almost everything a soldier could want to experience. He’s been all around eastern Afghanistan, has had some treasured brothers perish, and has dealt with death. But, at the same time, it would seem a vanity to accredit these things to Bandee. You see, Bandee has no past. And Bandee will never have a future. Bandee was just a blip in the present. And it’s because Bandee is not a real person.
Nicholas Bandee is a fictional character that I made up. However, the stories you read about him are true. In fact, you read true accounts from real experiences.
You see, I am SGT Nicholas Bandee. I am the one who traveled all over eastern Afghanistan. I am the one who was on the “level 4” roads. I am the one who bested IED alley four times, and I am the one who crossed over the KG Pass just as many times. I am the one who conducted a dismounted combat patrol along the Pakistan border. I am the one who had a rocket explode just 150 feet away from me in Bermel. I am the one who climbed the mountains of Afghanistan in pursuit of Talibs. I am the one who was involved in the rollover. And, yes… I am the one who was there during the assault on Camp Stone nearly three weeks ago. I am Bandee.
Some of you may be angry that I’ve fibbed , but I believed it was necessary. For a long time, I struggled as to whether or not I should tell you all the truth, and when I spoke with some of you, I quickly realized that the truth would cause many of you to worry. And, either all of you were going to get the truth, or all of you were going to get the lie. The lie seemed to be in best interests. I hope you aren’t angry. But it was with Bandee that I was able to tell you my story, which I knew was a story that had to be told, even if I wasn’t credited with the experiences. It was only by lying that I was able to tell you the truth. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have told any stories at all, as I know some of you would have worried more than it was worth to worry.
Believe me when I say that my deception has bound me in chains. I have been a prisoner to my lie, and at times it’s been painful. And, that’s the meaning of “Bandee.” You see, Bandee means “prisoner” in Dari, and that name perfectly describes my year in Afghanistan. I’ve been a prisoner to my lie, a prisoner to the hells of Afghanistan, a prisoner to the Army’s amoral protocol, a prisoner to this mission, a prisoner to God’s awesome will, and I was a prisoner to my selfish lifestyle until I deployed and finally made a sacrifice that transcends my own life, and now I’m free. I’m finally a free man.
Every prayer you prayed for Bandee was a prayer that God heard on my behalf. They were not in vain, and I know you’ve all been praying for Bandee and me, as I’ve continually felt God’s precious Hand in every situation I’ve faced. I arrived in Afghanistan last year during the deadliest year since the war began, which will only be surpassed by this year’s deadliness (there are already more deaths this year than there have been any year prior, and we’re only into the 9th month).
But now I’m home, and I’m alive. I can’t say the same for 1LT Southworth, SGT Stream, SSG Melton, SPC Talbert, SPC Smith, or any of my other fallen comrades, but God isn’t done with me yet, which is why I can stand before you today. I have more to do, and now that I’ve faced Afghanistan, I’m ready to take on what life throws at me. God has prepared me to be a better son, brother, friend, husband, and father. And if God has put me through this much in just a mere 23 years, I can’t wait to see what the rest looks like.
Thank you all once again for your support. This is my concluding email, and I am thankful that I could share my journey with all of you. Though there are some experiences that I won’t ever be able to relay in words, I’ve tried as best as I could, and I hope you’ve gotten a clearer picture of the mission in Afghanistan. It’s far from being over, though this is one soldier who’s throwing in the towel. I have just a little bit of time left in the Army, which I will spend passing my knowledge on to junior soldiers to prepare them for their future deployments. As for me, my eyes have seen what they needed to see, my soul has experienced things that have better refined it, and now all that’s left is an aching body that is ready to move on.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t iterate that the reason I am alive today is because God protected me every step of the way. The sound of every gunshot and rocket explosion that penetrated my mind likewise penetrated God, and He felt my pain with every tear I cried. And, it was through Him that I was brought home early, just as He promised in December 2008. For those of you who are intrigued by this strange occurrence, please talk to me about it, and I’ll explain that there doesn’t need to be any intrigue about it: God works in your life, just as He works in mine, and His promises are as true today as they were when He sacrificed His Son, Jesus, on the cross. God loves you, and please, if you get anything from my story, understand that the most. God will never give up on any of us.
Thank you, God bless you, and I love you guys so much. I’m home and here for you. I’d like to leave you with this thought: Things aren’t always what they seem. You and I, we’re just small waves in an ocean. We obey the wind, and many of our movements are determined by the waves that surround us. Every once in a while, my wave will brush along yours, but we’ll mostly be separate waves. My wave might smack the ocean and make a ripple that will affect yours. Yet, both of us are destined to crash on the shore– all waves, no matter how great, will all suffer this same fate. But, after our wave is gone and nothing but a damp spot on the sand, our ripples will still reverberate through the ocean, causing the smallest of waves to gain momentum so they, in turn, can make ripples of their own. This ocean will continue; it’s a constant force that cannot be stopped. And you and I are but two small waves in this vast, vast ocean.
You aren’t drowning, are ya?
Thank you for all your contributions this year, Sgt. Geist. It was an honor to communicate with you and work on your writing. The Seeker has benefitted greatly from your literary efforts, your open mind, and your tremendous insights into combat and spirituality.
~ Jeff Burd
Seems like old times.
I’m sitting at the Panera in Vernon Hills working on what I think will be my next story. “What I think will be” is crucial in this sense. I have to see if there is a story to be told, which means right now that I’m digging through a good deal of research. But that’s cool, because I love digging through a good deal of research as I’m writing. Because I’m sick like that.
I went to a presentation at my local public library last June. The idea that it was about D-Day piqued my interest since if there’s something I love as much as baseball and rum and cigars and zombie films, it’s World War II stuff. In fact, I’ve loved WWII stuff longer than I’ve loved that other stuff. I ended up leaving the presentation early because the “authority” doing the presentation wasn’t really an authority. But I was there long enough to hear him talk about John M. Steele, the paratrooper stuck hanging in his parachute from a church steeple in Ste. Mere-Eglise the morning of the Normandy invasion . Some of you have seen The Longest Day, so you know that episode is in the film. Steele is played by Red Buttons.
So I thought there might be a story to write about that. The current problem being that there may not be because Steele’s story has been written several times and, as mentioned, has been immortalized on celluloid for the past 45 years. But that hasn’t stopped me from researching, which I love to do anyhow. And I’m just cocky enough to think that I can find an angle that hasn’t been previously exploited. Besides, I had one of those writer moments two days ago when I was taking a shower and the beginning and end of the story suddenly popped into my mind. I wrote a first draft of both at school as my creative writing students were journaling. That tells me that I should be writing this story regardless of any angles I can find. Keep writing and the angle will appear.
You’ll pardon the terrible pun that is the title for this series of metacognitive journals, won’t you? “Terrible pun?” As if there is any other variety…
Anyone who works Sunday mornings is privy to the show Faye puts on. She’s an older woman, near retirement age, and works in Sporting Goods. She is well-liked around the store, with a reputation for telling it like it is and helping others any way she can. For her show, she typically puts together some kind of get-up from pieces of merchandise she finds in the stockroom and makes a grand entrance through the back door of the break room. One Sunday, she mounts a cart and has somebody push her. When she breaks through the door, she is wearing kneepads, a neon headband, sunglasses, and a sweater so hideous that it couldn’t possibly be sold. She yawps out strains of “Pour Some Sugar on Me” and jams on an air guitar. The entire break room bursts out in laughter and exclamations of “What will she think of next?” I laugh as hard as anybody else, but inside I seethe. I am much funnier than she is and constantly crack the jokes to prove it.
I befriend Danny. He’s a few years behind me in school, but I know his brother from kindergarten. He wears a clip-on tie every day, so I assign that as his identity: Captain Clip-on. I show him how to tie a tie one day with a thin, dusty tie I find in the Apparel shelves in the stockroom. After three tries at turning the fabric around on itself and trying to remember where to tuck it through, he abandons the idea. He looks at me sheepishly as he puts his own tie back on and resigns, “It doesn’t matter. These are the only ties I have.”
One day, a guy and his wife buy a huge TV. Danny and I are called up to lug it to their car. We struggle and sweat with it, careful not to damage the set or the car we’re putting it into. When we finally get it stowed, I wave goodbye to the couple and call out, “Thank you for shopping our K-Mart,” exactly as I’ve been trained to do every time I am involved in a sale. I wink at Danny and we halfway manage to stifle out laughter. We’ve both muttered the company line so many times that there is no meaning left in it. The only thing we can do to make it sound authentic is to over-emote by yelling it, or flash the toothiest grin possible as we say it.
As Danny and I walk across the baking asphalt back to the store, I pull two quarters out of my pocket and give them over, daring him to ride the horsies on the merry-go-round by the entrance. He does it. I almost piss myself laughing for the next hour, picturing his knees up to his chin as he straddles the yellow pony and spins in circles so small that he almost runs into himself every time he turns a complete circuit.
I set my sights on a K-Martette named Dawn. We meet in the stockroom as she puts house wares on the shelves. She has curly blonde hair and seems nice enough. We chat a couple of times over the course of a week about how she likes the job, where she’s from, and if she needs help with anything. She’s a welcome distraction from the ex-girlfriend who decided to not have anything to do with me once I announced I was going to college. I chat with her as we are walking to our cars one night. I don’t know if she can tell, but I’m nervous. I feel a rumble in my stomach. I want to ask her out, and I almost do until it occurs to me that I don’t even know how to ask out a girl other than my ex-girlfriend. Finally, I stumble over a few words, “Would you… I mean… I was thinking…” She looks into my eyes, and I lose my nerve. Finally, it comes out: “I would like to take you out one night.”
“No thanks. I’m not interested.” She walks to her car, starts it, and drives away while I stand in the vacant parking lot wondering how things went so wrong in less than twenty words. For the next few weeks, I am certain that everybody knows she shot me down. I try not to look at her, make eye contact with her, or be near her. I am positive she has told other girls– I know they are giving me the creepy eye like I’m the Lothario stockboy. I’m certain they are warning each other about me. Worse still, I fear that the insecurities and vulnerabilities I keep tightly packed away will be unleashed if someone makes a joke about my pathetic attempt at romance.
After thirty days on the job, I receive the mandatory promotion. It boosts my earnings to $3.30 per hour, and my job title to 02. I become a member of the Health and Beauty Aides team. I like the feeling of stepping up the ladder and doing something new.
My happiness lasts about ten days, which is how long it takes me to clash with Priscilla, the stout brunette who is the head of H&BA. She can’t be more than twenty-four, but seems much older to me. I know her already as a member of The Donut Mafia. She holds herself with an air of superiority, even though she’s only halfway up the in-store chain of command and is but one link above me. She also talks down to people– I’ve seen her infer how stupid she thinks some of her department members are when she talks to them in the breakroom.
I can’t disguise my lack of respect for her intelligence or authority, and find that I am able to piss her off effortlessly by cracking my usual jokes about the products on our shelves. Every tasteless crack is met by her blank face or refusal to respond in any way, but I soldier on. Besides, the birth control and personal hygiene products are too much for my mind and mouth to resist. The douches are the most tempting, and I manipulate their names into things like “Summer’s Eve trough.” The night I unveil that gem, she snaps on me, “You really need to shut up with your comments. They’re disgusting.”
If I have any fun working, she thinks I’m not working hard enough. She complains when I wrap my tie around my head and tell her I’m going to face the shelves Rambo-style. I talk Danny into joining me one night, and cackle when Priscilla passes the aisle where we are arranging products, makes a double-take of what she sees, and then scowls and shakes her head.
Priscilla pisses me off, too. In addition to her general demeanor, she affects the image that she is the fount of H&BA knowledge and knows the most efficient and effective way to do everything. The phoniness of it all angers me. I see other managers in other departments ask their teams about suggestions they might have. Other departments seem to have some semblance of team chemistry and a feeling of belonging, both of which make me envious. Priscilla makes no efforts toward chemistry or belonging, at least not with me. I don’t let that stop me from making suggestions, though. One of my ideas is to establish a Customer Improvement branch of H&BA: “We’ll stop customers when they enter the store and make some suggestions– like wearing clothes that match, or that don’t have grease stains, or washing their John Deere hats and cleaning their dentures. We can even show them some of our products that will help.” Priscilla finds as little humor in that as in anything I say or do, and at that point I consider stopping with the jokes and absurd suggestions. Instead, I push and pry to find her limits.
I’m not the only aggressor in our battle of wills, though. Priscilla takes her shots, but they are much subtler than mine. One of her favorite ploys is to deny me help or answers to questions when I need them to finish a job. When she’s on break and I go to the break room to ask her something, she looks down her nose at me through a cloud of cigarette smoke and states “I’m sorry, I don’t work during my break.” She does this four or five times before I promise myself that I’m going to make things even with her.
Priscilla also targets me to strip the shelves over the weekend shifts when she usually has time off. I have to pull several pieces of each product off the H&BA stockroom shelves to find space for them on the sales floor shelves. It’s tedious, mind-numbing work that involves constant back-and-forth trips to the stockroom. I soon suspect that Priscilla uses the frequent shelf stripping to cover the over-ordering she seems to do every week. The process is supposed to keep our reserve stock balanced so we are never fully out of any product, but it never alleviates the overflowing H&BA stockroom shelves, nor does it reduce the mess of boxes in the aisles between our shelves. When Priscilla returns to work on Mondays, she complains, “You didn’t do a very good job. I can hardly see anything you put on the shelves.” She almost always mentions the shortcomings in the company of upper management, or at least loud enough for them to hear.
The only thing that alleviates the cruelty of shelf stripping is the friendship I strike up with Frenchy, who is my frequent partner in the drudgery. We are an unlikely pair from opposing camps–I’m the cynic short-timer, and she’s a chipper, late-twenties mother who needs a job to help support her family. She says she knows my oldest brother from high school, seems interested in my future, and laughs at my jokes. When I’m not clowning, she talks about her husband or funny things her four-year old daughter does. Her solid relationship with Priscilla doesn’t deter my fondness for her; I also find her chubbiness and red waist-length hair to be cute affectations. It soon becomes my secret ambition to remove her from Priscilla’s small circle of friends.
I finally found a way to post the recording of a reading I did at Northwestern. If you click the link below, you can listen to excerpts from Strategy, Innovation, and Ninety-One Meltdowns.
There are certain K-Mart routines that I soon find ridiculous. One is “facing” the shelves on the sales floor. This means pulling all the products on a shelf to the front so the shelves appear to be full and it’s easier for customers to reach the products they want. Many of my coworkers eat the idea up and gladly attack the task, but I’m skeptical about it. I never understand how the look of a “full” store translates to greater sales, and I can’t see outside myself to figure it out. I assume most people are like me: they go to the store to buy what they need, grab it off the shelf if it’s there, and pay for it at the cash register. They don’t decide where to shop based on some arbitrary determination of how full a store looks. But K-Mart is mighty determined, and pretty soon facing is done at the end of the evening shift every day and continues for a full hour after the store closes. Should anyone ever lose track of the time and not start facing when mandated, a manager crackles an announcement over the PA each night: “Attention K-Mart employees. Code ‘F’ is now in effect. Code ‘F’ is now in effect.”
When the hour of facing proves inadequate, the store assembles Early Morning Facers. Without fail, a group of six or eight people shows up at seven o’clock each morning to face everything they can get their hands on. At one point, I hear Phyllis and another manager discuss the crew as EMFs, as if they were important enought to have an acronym. All I could think of when I heard the name– full or abbreviated– was a squad of ambidextrous retail commandos who could snake their hands behind boxes of toothpaste or cans of hairspray, facing with efficiency and impunity, all the while communicating via walkie-talkie: “Okay, Rich. I’m done with the White Rain and ready to move on to the Panteen as soon as you give me the go-ahead… and let’s get a body on the Nabisco Graham Crackers…”
I can’t stand the idiocy of the whole facing concept and the time we dump on it each day. Pretty soon, I will do almost anything to get out of it. Another 01 tells me to find an errand to run in the stockroom, something along the lines of “I thought we had more Consort for Men and wanted to grab a few since the space on the shelf is almost empty.” Once I break the doorway of the stockroom, it’s an orgy of slacking with the other 01’s. We engage in long debates about basketball, which manager is the biggest douchebag, or which K-Martette we’ve been watching. There are frequent updates on who is stealing what and how it’s being done, and a frequent reminder that if he gets caught, we have never heard of him, don’t know him as well as others think, or have no idea he has been doing it.
Nathan Geist is currently serving as a Chaplain Assistant in the Army. He is a 2005 graduate of Zion-Benton Township High School, has studied for 3 years at Southern Illinois University, and recently appeared in the film The Promotion. Sgt. Geist has been a periodic contributor to The Seeker since September, 2008 as he fulfills a tour of duty in Afghanistan.
I woke up to the sunlight seeping through the holes in the tent. It was a bright and beautiful Kabul morning on August 29th, but I had no will to wake up. God has forsaken me, and I was angry with Him. I was already told that I wouldn’t be flying out of Afghanistan until September 2nd, and flying “home” home wouldn’t happen for who knows how long. There was no use in hoping for an early release at this point: unless the company commander’s heart suddenly changed and allowed me to go home, and I somehow got manifested for a mystery flight that no one had known about until today, then I wouldn’t be going home early. Simply put, my departure from Afghanistan happening before September was impossible at this point.
I had departed Herat and arrived at Camp Phoenix just six days earlier. When I arrived, I was met by the head chaplain of the 33rd Brigade, CH Guy. He is the officer who decides when my mission is complete, and when so many of you fulfilled my request of praying for changed hearts within the 33rd Brigade leaders, he is the first person that God needed to touch. If his heart wasn’t changed and willing to send me home early, then the buck stopped there.
But the buck didn’t stop there. Because, when I walked into CH Guy’s office, the first thing he relayed to me was that he was going to do what he could to let me go home early because I was enrolled in my final year of college. He told me that I had sacrificed enough by already missing what could have been my graduation year. He told me to focus on getting home as quickly as I could, which was an order that I was eager to fulfill.
After CH Guy agreed to let me go home, he had to talk over the issue with two leaders that had much more authority, that being the Chief of Staff of Task Force Phoenix, as well as the Colonel who was taking care of all flight manifests. Both leaders had tender hearts; they sympathized with my situation and agreed to get me home on an earlier flight than I was originally scheduled.
But not everyone had a tender heart. When I approached my company commander and told her that the higher-ups authorized me to leave early, she shot the idea down. She said that she was not going to consider me a special case, and wouldn’t let me go home before September. She told me that I was scheduled for a September 2nd flight out of Afghanistan, and although that was still earlier than I was originally scheduled, it wasn’t before September as I had thought I heard God tell me. I was disappointed, but trusted that God would still find a way to get me on a flight earlier than September 2nd.
In the days that followed, I went through the motions of outprocessing in hopes that if I suddenly had a flight that I could get on, then I wouldn’t be unprepared to leave. And so, after turning in the same exact unspent bullets that I was issued back in December, I was ready to go at a moment’s notice in case the company commander’s heart changed. During those days, I constantly anticipated hearing of some kind of deliverance that I would be granted, but it never came. The only significant communication I got was an email from a college professor informing me that my absence was unacceptable, and he was going to drop me from his class– a class that I needed to obtain my degree.
In hopes that my plight would be the catalyst to cause her heart to become tender, I told my company commander that my course enrollment was at stake. She essentially told me that my issues with my school were my problem, not hers.
And that’s why I woke up on September 29th feeling a sensation similar to that of a drunkard who has abandoned all hope. I finally got out of bed as lunch was nearing and went to the computer lab to check my emails. But while I was doing that, my chaplain, CH Pace, told me that some changes had been made and that I need to finish outprocessing. I told him that I was already done with all that, but I left the computer lab anyway to straighten out whoever was telling me to do something I had already done.
Along the way, I saw CH Guy and asked him what he knew about someone telling me to finish outprocessing, even though I had already done it. CH Guy told me that the unit was just trying to ensure that I was done with all of that paperwork because the company commander had me manifested for a departing flight on the very next day.
I was shaken… Did I really just hear that? Yes: the company commander’s heart had suddenly changed and allowed me to go home, and I somehow got manifested for a mystery flight that no one had known about until today.
My eyes began welling up with tears and I ran to the nearest bunker and braced myself to accept the situation that was at hand: I would be heading home tomorrow, and even though I had become faithless, God still proved true to His promise. I began crying into my hands, thankful for God’s goodness and disgusted at my faithless attitude. In believing that God had forsaken me, I had instead forsaken God.
I traveled to Kabul International Airport (KAIA) in the early morning of August 30th, and by the end of the day, I was on a flight to Manas, Kyrgyzstan. The country (which is just south of the movie character Borat’s Kazakhstan) is the last stop that our 33rd Brigade soldiers need to make before arriving at Fort McCoy to go home.
When I arrived in Manas last night, my group was told that we already had a flight scheduled for us to go home on September 2nd. That means that I’ll be home in my house and ready to return to school by this weekend. Had my company commander’s heart not changed, I wouldn’t have arrived to Manas until the night of September 2nd, just missing the last flight home for another six days. Had I missed the American-bound September 2nd flight, then I wouldn’t be home until long after Labor Day, and I would have had to fight several battles to stay enrolled in school. But because I have already been delivered from Afghanistan, I will instead be going home much earlier than I was ever told I should anticipate coming home. If this seems stunning to you, then good, it should stun you, because for every one soldier who has been sent home early from a deployment in the Global War on Terrorism, I’ll point out 100 more that have been extended.
I now feel at peace with the timetable set before me; I finally feel that this is what God must’ve been referring to when He said I’d be home “early” back in December. Just a few days ago, I did not have this peace; everything seemed out of place, and I did not feel that I was getting home as “early” as I was meant to be. But now, I finally feel I’m exactly where I should be, where God had intended me to be all along.
In January of this year, just a few weeks after I felt God whisper to me that I would be home early, I knew that I needed to just have faith and enroll for school this coming semester. And it was by faith that I did that very thing. And it was by faith that my parents put a deposit down for my dorm room, understanding that if I was wrong about this, they’d be out hundreds of dollars. It was by faith that I told you about this situation, and asked you to have faith of your own. And it was by faith that you prayed along with me, begging God to change the hearts of the 33rd Brigade leaders.
Meanwhile, it was through my faithlessness that God proved His dominion this month. I had underestimated Him, forgetting that my God is a God who holds true to each and every one of His promises. And in that way, God taught me the greatest lesson of all: He is ever-present in a world that constantly tries to push Him out.
That’s just the way I look at it, though. Perhaps that’s not the way you see it. I mean, there is a chance that my early release was coincidence. I know some of you are thinking that way. I also know that perhaps some of you are thinking “it’s just three and a half weeks, that’s not very early anyway.” Well, tell that to a soldier who’s been on a deployment for a year. Believe me, just one week early is one eternity early.
You look at those possibilities and consider that everything could’ve been a coincidence, or that 24 days early doesn’t really constitute “early,” or that I’ve been playing you all along. Go ahead, you’re going to contemplate those possibilities eventually, so why not let me point them out now? And I can’t prove to you that this wasn’t all coincidence, and I can’t prove that my definition of “early” is the correct definition, and I can’t prove the ignorance that I had months ago about my return. And so, my friends, what remains then?
Only faith remains. Nobody can “prove” to you that God did or did not tell me I’ll be coming home early. All you can do is take the evidence provided and decide whether you’re willing to make that leap to faith or not.
So let me ask you something… when you look at this situation and the events leading up to my early deliverance, do you see faith or coincidence?
For my friends that are not of the faith, I encourage you to pray that you may see faith. My greatest hope for you is that you don’t walk away thinking that you only saw coincidence.
And for those of you who are my faithful, I will be praying a special prayer for you tonight. Tonight, as I lay my head down on my pillow, I am going to request that God puts you through persecution. I pray that you will soon feel the agony of what it can take to stand up for what you believe. I pray that someone will try to harm you because of the One you claim allegiance to. Believe me, I know how cruel that sounds, I’ve thought about it. But when I think about the underground Christians who have to daily fend for their lives in Afghanistan because they believe in a personal Savior in the midst of an Islamic country where the reigning religion emphasizes the impersonal nature of God, I realize that those Christians are very stronger and that you can learn from their strength. But the way these Afghans get to this point of unrelenting faith is because they know that they could die for it, and therefore their faith becomes something more than a family tradition or a societal identity. Remember the interpreters who risked their lives by merely having a Bible in their possession? I wish that you would know their suffering so that perhaps you could feel true faith, which is the kind that produces great bruises along with its great fruit.
During the flight to Manas, I thought about those interpreters and I prayed a prayer for them. On the night before I was scheduled to leave Gardez, I sat to eat dinner one last time with them. As they all joyfully shouted amongst each other across the table, I solemnly looked around at each of them, thankful for their existence and their place in my life. I held up a large slab of bread in front of them, and I broke it and handed a piece to each of them. My prayer was that they would remember me, and that the things I had told them of Christ wouldn’t be forgotten. My hope was that I would see them again on earth, and the reality is that I probably won’t. And so, together, we ate and drank, celebrating our last supper with one another.
Now that I’m in Manas, I’ve had much time to reflect on this deployment as a whole. And because this base is one of the main hubs that ports soldiers in and out of Afghanistan, you usually have either seasoned veterans who have served a long tour but are now on their way back home, or you have inexperienced soldiers who have never been to Afghanistan but are on their way into the country for a long tour. As I’ve walked around the base, I’ve noticed the more novice soldiers: the ones without combat experience who are still fumbling around trying to figure out how to get their armor to fit in their vests. As I look at these soldiers without any combat patches, it amazes me to think that just 9 months ago, I was in the same spot, wearing their unsoiled boots. I feel pity for them … many of them have no idea what they are getting into, and it’s a certainty that I am looking upon some who are not going to survive the year ahead. But, at the same time, I know that they are doing something that has to be done, something that ensures the future safety of this allied nation. They are doing something that was asked of them by both their own country, as well as Afghanistan. They are sacrificing a piece of their lives to rebuild a country that has been torn apart by tyranny and oppression. They are the watchmen of this generation, running towards the flames in an effort to douse one country’s pain, offering their blood to accomplish that mission.
As I look out at the soldiers, I’m not sure whether they know all that or not. If they don’t, they’re about to find out.
This is not my last communication to you. I have a few more thoughts to share , which you will receive shortly after I return home. This adventure isn’t done yet– there’s still a surprise ending to reveal.