Today, November 11, is Veterans Day.
Today we honor all men and women who serve or who have served in any branch of the armed forces in the United States.
I’ve never served in the military. But my son, Jared, did.
I’ll never forget when he came to Sherri and me to tell us how when he turned 18, he planned to join the Marine Reserves. His 18th birthday fell just 18 months after 9-11. Sherri and I knew just what that meant. Without a doubt Jared would be deployed at some point to Iraq.
Sure enough, the call to deploy came in 2005, and that summer Jared shipped out with the 14th Marines Headquarters Battalion to Iraq for 7 months. He was stationed at Camp Al Qaim, northwest of Baghdad near the Syrian border. His MO was PSD – Personal Security Detail for the Colonel in the camp.
Something happened to my prayer life during those 7 months. It got stretched.
Like millions of parents past and present, it’s difficult to put into words what you feel when one of your offspring is involved in a war thousands of miles away from home.
Television coverage, occasionally filled with the images of the war that seemed so far away, and yet seemed like it was in our living room, served as a constant reminder that our son was in harm’s way.
Not a day went by that I did not think about the possibility of seeing a dark sedan role up to our house, doors opening, and military personnel walking slowly to our front door.
Two young Marines in Jared’s battalion didn’t return home. One was his bunkmate.
Jared would occasionally send me emails that he did not send to the rest of the family, They included information about his combat experiences. He left it up to me whether I should inform his mother about these. I never did.
Here is a portion of one of them:
Dad, I wanted to give you an update on what’s been going on lately. I can’t tell you what is coming up of course, but I can tell you a few non-specifics about the past.
Two days ago we set out on a convoy for a few different purposes. When we came near a certain city nearby, we began taking mortar fire. At first they were far away (about 500 meters), but then they began getting closer. The Colonel, being the kind of guy he is, wanted to stick around, spot them, and kill them. So we stayed in that spot for about 45 minutes.
After a few more rounds, they had us bracketed, so they did what is called a “fire for effect,” which means they had their mortar tub set at just about the right spot so they started firing off as many rounds as they could. One hit about 20 meters from my truck I was driving and sprayed some shrapnel against the side. No one was hurt though; our trucks are heavily armored.
A sniper team shot the forward observer, and then the Colonel called in a Cobra which fired missiles and basically blew them to smithereens. We got back this morning and we are now standing by until the Colonel decides he wants to go look around again.
I just wanted to let you know about that, but also to let you know that I did not have one drop of fear in my mind or spirit even when that mortar round hit 20 meters away. Everyone else in my truck was scared, but you know why I had no fear.
I praise God for granting me such hope, peace and security in my heart. I expect any other combat action to go the same for me; that is with no fear, but peace and joy instead. Most of all, I pray that will turn into a witness for the other marines in my truck.
Before Jared joined the Marines, he had accepted God’s call on his life to serve as a missionary to the Muslim people in the Middle East. He thought serving in the military would give him a chance to serve his country and also prepare him for the rigors of missionary life down the road.
Seven months crawled by for Sherri and me in what seemed like seven years. Finally, news came that Jared’s group was coming home.
Sherri had just been hired to work part-time as the Volunteer Coordinator for the USO at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, the largest USO in the country. Every day, 24/7, more than 200 soldiers, sailors, flyboys, and marines passed through DFW going to and from R & R (Rest & Relaxation). It was her ministry.
It was a windy, March afternoon in 2006 at the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base in Fort Worth, Texas, that Jared’s C-130 transport plane was scheduled to touch down.
Sherri, Melody, Kali, and I, (Jeremy was in school in San Diego) along with dozens of other anxious and excited family members, were in an outside waiting area behind security gates, watching nervously for the big bird carrying precious cargo to land.
I remember I kept scanning the sky in the direction we had been told his plane would approach. Suddenly, I noticed a tiny speck appear in the sky. It gradually grew larger and larger. In the distance I could begin to hear the drone of those propellers growing louder and louder.
C-130s don’t glide in gracefully. They lumber. It seemed like an eternity before the pregnant looking plane finally landed and rolled down the runway to a stop. More waiting. Then the back gate of the plane opened and one by one men dressed in Marine camouflage emerged.
Sherri saw him first. She pointed him out to Melody, Kali, and me as he walked across the tarmac carrying his gear. Finally the moment arrived. I couldn’t hold back the tears as his mother and sisters embraced him.
I stood aside for a moment, then he turned to me and said “Hey, dad.” “Welcome home, Son! I’m proud of you!” I said as we embraced.
To all American Veterans . . . thank you for your sacrifice and service.