The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

SGT. Danger: The Forsaken One

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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.

love Nate

Written by seeker70

September 8, 2009 at 11:40 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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