Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. – Ephesians 6:13-17 (NASB)
In the middle of 2009 I separated from the US Army, and made several meager attempts to get into a more peaceful line of work. Things did not work out as planned. By September of 2009, I was back in Afghanistan delivering US mail and other supplies to coalition bases around the country. The work was not easy and it was not safe.
When I first arrived back in Afghanistan to begin my work, it was a Monday morning around 8:00am, and by 2:00am the next morning I was deployed on my first mission. We were ambushed twice that day and during the second attack three men from our convoy were wounded and one man was killed. Still something inside me felt at peace in the chaos. The frenzied world around me mirrored much of what was going on within me at that time, unfortunately the inner peace I felt that day was short-lived.
On September 15, 2009 we were on a routine operation making a delivery to a forward operating base outside Sharana, which is located in Paktika province. We had a new convoy team leader with us that day and we were riding in three different vehicles with at least six more vehicles loaded full of gun carrying Afghan guards. The Afghan security guards were often high on drugs and many had never been professionally trained to use their weapons or on how to move and communicate tactically during contact with the enemy. Nonetheless, there we were.
Around midday, we had just left the base in Sharana and were heading back to Kabul City. Thus far everything had been calm and quiet. However, just as we neared a place commonly referred to as “4 Corners,” we were ambushed with machine gun fire and rocket propelled grenades. 7.62mm rounds fired from Kalashnikov rifles pierced several tires and shattered several windows. Someone in the lead vehicle had dismounted in order to return fire, while at the same time all of the Afghan security guards kept moving forward and took cover in a local market 1-2 kilometers down the road. Jammed in behind the lead vehicle, we all dismounted and returned fire on foot until a rocket propelled grenade impacted very close to where we were standing. Immediately we abandoned the vehicles, and took cover in an unoccupied mud house beside the road.
Behind cover, I pulled out my cell phones and made calls to Bagram Airforce Base (BAF) just north of Kabul City and I also called an Afghan Army Colonel who had troops stationed nearby. Meanwhile the firefight continued. At one point our Director of Operations, a very close friend, was mildly wounded when he was hit by a piece of shrapnel. Wiping away a small trickle of blood, he laughed and let everyone know he was alright. Just as I turned around to respond to more questions on my spotty mobile connection, the same friend was hit again. This time he took a round to the face/throat and shoulder and dropped to the ground. With the type and location of the wounds ruling out a pressure dressing, a tourniquet or any of the clotting material we had on hand (or so we originally thought), I sent out one last urgent message to Bagram Airforce Base to mobilize a quick reaction force, otherwise my friend would surely “bleed out” and die.
No thanks to the coalition forces at Bagram, nor to the Polish Army located less than 2 Kilometers away, ground support did eventually arrive. Our rescuers that day were a platoon from the Afghan Army sent out by my friend in Ghazni City. Armed with two soviet made DShK 1938 heavy machine guns, our reinforcements arrived and the enemy shooters quickly ceased fire and dispersed.
Although the firefight was over, the grueling battle for my courageous brother’s life was only beginning. With multiple flat tires, broken glass everywhere and bullet holes riddled throughout all of our vehicles, we hastily made our way to the polish Army outpost and called Bagram for a medical evacuation for my friend. I stayed beside my friend until medical personnel from the 101st Airborne Division touched down at the outpost and airlifted my friend by air to Bagram Airforce Base. With one man down, our vehicles in horrible condition and daylight quickly fading, we made the decision to return to the Forward Operating Base in Ghazni for the night and to return to Kabul City early the next morning. That is when I suddenly remembered I was not wearing any body armor.
That same morning, just after leaving Kabul City, my local driver, who was new to our company, informed me that he had not been issued any body armor. Too far along in the mission to go back, I gave the driver what I was wearing and told him to get his own armor issued as soon as we returned to Kabul. Although I forgot about it until that moment, I had not been wearing any body armor during the entire firefight at 4 Corners and now I would be forced to spend the rest of our return trip exposed.
I then remembered that when my friend was medically evacuated, he left his weapons, ammunition and all of his gear behind… so I hastily found his equipment, retrieved his body armor and put it on. Bloody as it was, when I put the armor on I knew that I was protected. As we passed through enemy territory on the return trip, I acknowledged that some risk of injury and/or death remained, but I knew that the blood covered armor I was wearing would protect my heart and other vital organs should we be ambushed again. Although we lost another vehicle on the way back to Kabul, we eventually made it back without further injury.
Today it is almost impossible for me to read Ephesians 6:13-17 without thinking about my friend and that dreadful attack in September of 2009. In a very different way from most people, I can appreciate and understand in a very unique way what Jesus gave to us through His life, death and resurrection. Similar to my friend, who was wounded in Afghanistan, Jesus shed His blood and left His armor for us so that we too might be protected. When we put on the blood stained armor of Christ, our hearts are secure, and we are guarded by His righteousness. Thankfully Jesus did not stay on the cross or remain in the grave, He rose again, and through His suffering, we are more than conquerors… we have nothing to fear.
* An update on my friend… while still taking fire, a clotting substance was applied to the bleeding artery and his blood loss was slowed enough to get him to the polish outpost for medical evacuation to FOB Ghazni, and from there he was airlifted to BAF. Following his arrival at Bagram Airforce Base, my friend was stabilized and from there he was flown to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. Approximately two years later, after a significant amount of medical treatment, dental work, and physical rehabilitation, my friend returned to Afghanistan. With a familiar smile on his face, my friend and I worked side by side once again. So I close this entry with thanks to God who protected my valiant friend who ultimately protected me, and even more for Jesus Christ, who died so we might live, and who continues to shield us with His righteousness.