67. When Death and Darkness Loom

When Death and Darkness Loom

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 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 22:1-4

We left Panda Ridge on November 11th, making a stop at Habib to reunite with second squad. Our final destination was Nowzad, a larger patrol base thirty kilometers to the west. There, we would augment weapons and motor platoons to support larger operations. 

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Saturday, November 12, 2011 | Time: 1153

We arrived at Habib around 1800 last night. Somehow we fit 27 main packs, 4 THORs,1 two 240’s,2 tons of day packs, and 20 fully geared up Marines in an Armadillo.3 I found myself between the seat and wall, seated on the floor with one butt cheek on a towing device. I had a canopy of packs and Marines above me. It was a long, uncomfortable ride.

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Sunday, November 13, 2011 | Time: 1322

I remember a few stories: when talking to Daniels, he told me of their time on their op receiving contact. Bolon got shot in the leg and only broke his left tibia. An ANA4 soldier had a bullet stuck in his kevlar and one Marine’s water bottle he had in his side pouch got shot off. When 4th Plt received contact on the 31st, Cpl Voorvart had an entry and explosive exit wound on his dump pouch by his side. God’s hand is at work!

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Thursday, November 17, 2011 | Time: 1950

We arrived at Nowzad yesterday. Things here are nice. It seems though Marines always find something to complain about. When we have a nice gym, internet, laundry service, showers they end up complaining about the rather strict uniform regulations and harshly enforced Marine Corps Standards.5 I had an amazing first workout here though. Life will be good for a little while.

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Saturday, November 19, 2011 | Time: 1451

Two days ago, before working out, I met two men when looking for Mansfield. I found him in the tent across the way which belonged to two British contractors. One larger man named Jon, from England, and one man from South Africa, named Patty (I think). They both do construction work and hire some Afghanis to help build ANA/ANP6 posts.

Yesterday morning, while reading quietly, Patty walked by. He said that although he wasn’t perfect he had an unshakable faith. “You will see miracles that you cannot deny,” he exhorted, in his soft, peaceful, English accent. 

This morning, Patty walked up to me again. He asked which book of the Bible I was reading. I was in Job. Then he said, 

“I have remembered a Scripture: ‘the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21b). “I also read the scripture of the unclean spirits Jesus cast out. The man with many demons who lived in the tombs and Jesus cast the demons into the swine.” I smiled and complimented his knowledge. 

He became rather solemn and told me about his memories in the South African Army. “I always saw men like you who were devoted to their faith and I continually admired them. I always wondered how they could be so devout, while I was never able.” He looked as if he were about to cry and choked up on his words. 

“Well,” I said, “On Sundays I play sermons from my iPod for the Marines. If you’d like, you could join in.” He seemed pleasantly surprised and joyfully accepted the invitation. I asked if we could play them in his hooch and he obliged.

“We have plenty of room. Tomorrow is Sunday, I’d love to.”

We exchanged our goodbyes and he left with a wave and a smile. Immediately when he left, I felt a burden to pray for him, so I did. May God, through the Holy Spirit, work a magnificent change in his life for the glory of God. Amen.

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Monday, November 21, 2011 | Time: 1203

I just heard Sgt Alvarado tell of something that happened at PB Griffin: While Marines were police calling,7 someone found underneath two sandbags two bottles of diesel fuel with a grenade which had a pulled pin. The thumb clip however, still remained on it so the grenade didn’t go off. God’s hand is at work in Golf Company! Praise God!

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Saturday, November 26, 2011 | Time: 2050

Last night was… fun… We went to do the sniper insert and left at 1900. The 6x8 on the way down got sunk into the mud. The whole front end sank up to the hitch. We (vic 4) hooked it up and towed it. We made several turn arounds because we couldn’t find a decent way to go.

We went to a place w/ huge rocks & while turning around, vic 3 got stuck. We pulled it out (Mansfield & I). We finally made it to the insert & on the way back, the mine roller disconnected. We stacked 2 tires (one fell off earlier) & re-hooked it up. By about 0000 we made it back. Then at 0030, we got called for QRF.9

We took 1 less vic & the 6x got stuck at the same spot… We hooked up the chain & after maybe 20 tugs & lots of mud, we pulled it out. When we were 1700m out from the pick up site, the mine roller broke completely. 2 vics went ahead to get the casualty while we hauled 3 wheels & a 1000 lb piece out from under the MRAP. 

After 2 hours or more, we hooked the chain to the trunk of our MRAP to the mine roller, and we drove it back agonizingly slow. Surprisingly, we didn’t get stuck on the way back. We made it back by about 0600.

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Wednesday, November 30, 2011 | Time: 1753

The op10 was alright. We punched out at 2300 & didn’t arrive at the town until 0800. When we set up at the town, we set up our SBF11 15 meters from an IED. It was planted in the rocks in a hide. It was only about 3 lbs but definitely would have taken a leg or two.

Oh yeah, before we left, I prayed Psalm 91 over everyone.

After about 1500 we went to a different town. At 1644 we took contact to the north from an adjacent town. Warwick 212 took a casualty, just a skimmed round to the neck thank God. 

We stayed on the hill overlooking the second town & it started to get cold at 0300. We woke up, & by 0400 left for the 3rd town. By about 0830 we were in position & started taking contact from the mountains to the south. Lundy took my spot in the turret because the snipers in the 7-ton13 spotted snipers in the hills. 

As he was about to take a shot, 1st Sgt’s vic pulled in front. When he moved, the guys were behind cover. He took a shot to try to draw them out, but couldn’t get em.

We moved up and came back a few times, taking shots from the mtns. EOD found a 20lb jug of HME14 w/ no power source or switch, & they blew it up. The BC15 came to look for a wpns cache, which we didn’t find. As we left we took shots.

We were going to head back to Nowzad after dropping off CAAT 2’s16 packs, but Mansfield’s vic crashed. The MRAP rolled into a huge hole, completely upside-down. It was a miracle of God that nobody got hurt, not even so much as a bruise, only banged around.

They were going uphill & thought it was solid ground. Clark was in the turret, Kath in the back and LT was VC.17 Nobody could see it & it rolled. So we stayed an extra night (extremely cold) & after our 6x died & pulled out the MRAP, we finally made it back by like 1700. God’s protection had shone through this op.

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Each of these consecutive entries appeared in my journal as they do here. While rereading them for the first time in years, I was struck by how foreign yet familiar they seemed. Foreign, because most of these events I’d completely forgotten. I don’t remember anything about my encounters with Patty, the stories of minor wounds and close calls, or even the fact that my vehicle parked so close to an IED.

Despite this, I felt an odd familiarity with these texts, one that is hard to describe, as if listening in on a conversation with my younger self—a man whose likeness now seems only a dim refraction of who I am today. Though many of the dissimilarities are good, I see a glaring defect in who I am now compared to who I was then.

My faith now is a vestige of its former glory. It was full and vibrant, distilled down to its sweetest elements. I wholeheartedly depended on God with a true, child-like faith. My prayers were bold. I lived without fear. I never worried about food, or clothes, or money, or safety. I truly depended on God.

I want to go back there. I wish I could return to the joy of my youth in God. I was safer and freer there than I ever have been. With God by my side, the shackles of doom and duty were the shadows constraining me to the dimly lit narrow way.

But as I aged, I coveted safety and freedom. These twin snares obscured my righteous aim with many paths, each with lights of their own. And so, I wandered.

While standing post at Panda Ridge I saw a shepherd for the first time. Not far below me, a herd of goats and sheep mingled about the small, rocky slope. Hearing a click, I looked down, and a sheep darted from the outer rim back in towards the herd. As another slowly peeled out from the group, I saw the shepherd now as he picked up a rock and tossed it far to the other side, slightly beyond the wayward lamb, where the sound startled it back into his fold.

I am like a sheep rebounding against the rim of God’s watchful eye. He never let me get too far because his gracious, heavenly stones have startled me back into his presence. Will I ever choose to stay there during years of plenty, or will I only be drawn to him when death and darkness loom?

  1. THOR stands for Tactical High power Operational Responder. It is a radio frequency jamming device that prevents Johnny Jihad from setting off IED’s on command with a phone or radio.
  2. M-250 G, medium machine gun, fires 7.62mm bullets.
  3. A 10-foot tall diesel light armored personnel carrier with a bench splitting down the middle so troops can see outboard and engage the enemy behind ballistic glass.
  4. Afghan National Army.
  5. Some standards include: Clean shave daily, clean uniform, weekly haircut, and much, much more.
  6. Afghan National Army/Police
  7. A Marine Corps term for “lining up side-by-side and walking through an area to pick up trash.”
  8. An MRAP with a 6×6 wheel configuration designed for increased traction and improved towing capacity.
  9. Quick reaction force
  10. Operation Western Gambit was the largest scale operation I was a part of that included most of our battalion in addition to army personnel.
  11. Support by fire position
  12. Warrwick was the call sign for the mobile unit. The number 2 meant it was the second platoon
  13. A roughly 10-foot tall personnel carrier without armor
  14. Homemade explosives
  15. Battalion Commander
  16. Combined Anti-Armor Team
  17. vehicle commander

2 thoughts on “67. When Death and Darkness Loom”

  1. Jeannie Davis

    Thanks for sharing this. I’m honestly speechless. I’m amazed by God’s gracious projection of you all, & am proud of all your servicework.
    Love, Mom

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