“Lord, help them to know I’m here for them. Let them know that no one has to do this alone. Let them feel You here. In the middle of these fields, make yourself known, God. To You, they are not a number, not a set of dog tags, not a blip on the radar. They matter. God, today, in the middle of this blasting heat, may we find refuge, guidance and strength in You. And use me, God, not just as their chaplain but as Your hands and feet. Amen.” He stood, and saw that the sun was finally rising and casting light on these Kentucky fields. “Not a bad view, really,” he thought. He tried to take a deep cleansing breath but the heavy, stale morning air wouldn’t allow for it. It was going to be a hot one, that was for sure.
“Great,” he thought, “they wait until its 101° to declare a MOPP Level 4.” Training in the middle of the fields of Kentucky, in the middle of September, was hot work. With the amount of sweat the company had poured onto these fields, it was now practically a Kentucky swamp. Why not throw some mock chemical warfare out there? Sweat poured down his face as he bent over, now covered head to ankle in the heavy layers of his Mopp gear, to lace up his boots. The phone in his rucksack beeped, he glanced down at the screen. Pops. The message scrolled across the screen “..love you, buddy, praying for ya..” He swiped it off the screen. He’d call him back later. Cell reception in the “swamp” sucked. The phone now displayed a photo of his little boy and his wife. He had to quit thinking he couldn’t do this. It wasn’t actually an option to quit. He could do it. He would. He was good at his work. He actually enjoyed what he did in the military. He glanced at the phone again before the screen went black. He did it for them. He kicked the bag out of his way and headed out to rejoin his guys.
A couple hours, and a couple buckets of sweat, later and he wasn’t so sure he’d make it. He was so sleepy, suddenly. If he could just rest. Just for a minute. It would be so simple to just slide to the ground. So hot. “I’d get right back up,” he promised himself. He felt the ground move closer. He also felt something else. A change. Like a rush of wind. Cool air. Alert now, he wondered what he had been thinking. He had almost dropped his weapon. What if it had discharged? Shaking his head to clear it further, he looked around to see if anyone else had felt that breeze. And he saw the slumped form of his buddy. He wasn’t sure if he yelled “Callahan!” or if another soldier had. He felt the wind blow again, and on it, he heard the shouts of “Medic!” carry across the fields.
“Medic!” he heard the shout come across the field, for what? The sixth time? No, seven. He ran. His heart pounding beneath his dog tags. At some point he had pulled off his boots, and his mask. Another man down, no, wait, two. Sweat poured down his back and he vaguely wondered how much fluid he was losing. Losing. Were they? Losing? Two medics. One hundred and forty soldiers. He almost laughed. Panic making an effort to claw at his mind, fear going for the jugular. His heart beat too hard and too fast now. He had to calm down. Just training. But heat stroke was deadly. Ten heat casualties now. The late-afternoon heat of the damn Kentucky “swamp” was picking his guys off one by one. Three days ago he had reassured his mom, had dismissed her worries. Her message over the weekend, saying she was praying for his week in the field, almost annoying to him. “Just training,” he had quickly texted back. “Well, it sure is real now, Doc, “ he thought. The soldier on the ground in front of him began seizing, choking. He had called for a humvee, where the hell was it already? We can only fit four. Which four? His thoughts became focused as his hands and body continued working. His training was solid. He moved more securely and steadily. Ice sheets. Water drenching. Get them out of these layers. When his thoughts strayed he thought in verses, in snips of words, heard since he was a child “.. though I walk through the valley, I will fear no evil.. perfect love casts out fear..You are my refuge and my strength..” He loaded humvees and ran IVs, as the truck barreled down the road for the battalion aid station.
He slumped against the truck. Ready and waiting hands had whisked the soldiers, one by one, into the med tent. He began to be aware of his own physical condition. A shaking started deep within and he couldn’t stop it. His body felt like it was shutting him out, no longer willing to be controlled by his mind. His mind. If his body was shaking, his mind had become an earthquake. Had he gotten it right? Any of it? What if they didn’t make it? He tried desperately to remember his steps, to walk through it all. His mind was refusing to stay still long enough for him to hold onto to even one thought. Panic. His lungs seizing up as the adrenaline crashed. Was he breathing? Oh God, my guys.
In the next moment, he felt the pressure of a hand on his back. The panic cleared. It was as if a raging storm was brought to a sudden stop, like the wall of a tsunami had given up its power and turned back to the sea. Calm filled him. His breathing steadied, eased. He turned to find himself face to face with the battalion’s chaplain. “You did well, Doc. You did it. I’m proud of you. You did well.”
In the fading light of a Kentucky September day, the men stood, side by side.
No longer just a field.
Not a swamp.
Holy ground; where light had won and darkness fled.
🇺🇸 🇺🇸 🇺🇸
That was my boy, that medic. When he called last week to tell me the events of his day, I knew I was meant to find a way to tell you all. So, another stab at a short story. The events are real. It all happened. But the details, the personal thoughts, were added by me. Semi-fictional? Is that a thing? It is now!
And maybe that was your boy he saved.
Maybe it was your son, that chaplain, who came to where the darkness threatened and fought it back with light.
Maybe it was your soldier who felt healing power ride in on a cool breeze.
I don’t know for certain, but I know my son, our soldier, our medic, will never forget that day.
But neither should we.
Because the truth is, every single day our military can step out covered in fear or covered in prayer. The difference is life or death.
Our prayers make the difference.
Pray for them all; they belong to all of us.