Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Casualty of Youth

            A few months into Matt’s time as a platoon leader in the Rear, I had the wonderful chance to attend a Kay Arthur, Beth Moore, and Priscilla Shirer women’s conference with my mom in Atlanta.  It was an amazing weekend filled with powerful teaching, genuine worship, and sweet time with my mom. 

            The night before I was going to drive home, Matt called to find out how I was.  But before I could tell him all the wonderful things I had learned, I noticed the tone in his voice.  He sounded exhausted!  When I asked him if he was okay, he said it had been a long day.  I was surprised to hear this as it was a Saturday.  I had thought he had been at home all day playing computer games or watching movies.  As he elaborated, he told me that one of his soldiers had gotten in a car accident the night before and was in the hospital.  He explained that he had been at either the office or the hospital all day long.  He hadn’t even had time to eat!  He said the soldier was in ICU, and they weren’t sure he was going to make it.  I told him I would be praying and would be home early the next day.  He said if he wasn’t at home when I got there to call his cell phone to find out where he was.
            When I returned home from Atlanta the following day, Matt was there but in uniform.  As it was a Sunday, I was surprised to see this.  He looked just as tired as he sounded on the phone.  He told me he was going to have to go back to the hospital that night because the soldier’s parents were flying in from California.  I asked if I could come with him, and Matt was more than happy to have some company.
            Due to the soldier’s critical condition, he had been taken to a civilian hospital in downtown Savannah.  It took us almost an hour to get there from post.  When we got to the waiting room, several of Matt’s other soldiers and their wives were there.  No one looked rested or at peace.

            Matt had previously informed me that many of these soldiers had had a party the night of the accident.  While there had been drinking involved, the soldier who hosted the party assured Matt that his friend had been sober before he left his house.  The police had tested his blood for alcohol but said the results would take several days.  Meanwhile, he was in ICU with increased intracranial pressure, and his friends waited with grief-stricken faces and feelings of guilt for letting him leave.  As my eyes moved from face to face, I felt inadequate and unprepared to comfort them.
            When the soldier’s parents arrived, Matt briefed them on the situation, took them back to see their son, and waited with them while the doctor explained the prognosis.  I stayed back in the waiting room, silently praying and asking God to show me what to do – how to help.
            Once the parents came back out, I hugged them and told them how sorry I was.  They met the rest of the platoon and expressed gratitude for all the support.  Matt told them that the Army had paid for them to stay in a hotel nearby and would take them there when they were ready.  They wanted to stay a few more hours so Matt and I waited with them, until they were ready to go.
            As we waited I tried to find out if they knew the Lord.  Through our conversation, I discovered that they had some basic knowledge of God but did not seem to truly know Him.  I prayed inwardly that somehow Matt and I would be a witness to them.  After taking them to their hotel for the night, Matt and I went home and promised to come back tomorrow.  When I realized that their hotel was not close enough to the hospital that they could walk to it, I asked Matt if we could loan them my car since it was the summer and I didn’t need it.  He said we should think and pray about it that night and decide when we went back.
            The next day Matt had to go into the office for a bit to work on reports and brief the commanders in the battalion on the soldier’s condition.  Later in the day, he came home and said we could take two cars to the hospital so we could leave mine with the soldier’s family.  I also brought along my book of Scripture promises in case the Lord prompted me to give it to them.

            As soon as we arrived, Matt checked with the doctor about the soldier’s condition.  I spoke with the parents and asked how they were holding up.  Intermittent tears told me they were doing as good as could be expected.  Matt came back out and joined the conversation, asking if they were okay at the hotel and if we could do anything to help.  The doctor had said the soldier was doing better but we would know more in the next few days.  We reassured the parents that we were praying for their son and for them.  Then we told them we would like for them to use my car while they were here so they wouldn’t have to rely on others to get around.  The smiles on their faces and the hugs they gave me were the only thanks I needed.  I instantly knew we had done the right thing and God would use this.
            On the way home, Matt told me more of the soldier’s background.  While they had been deployed, his wife cheated on him.  He was very distraught having just found this out.  Only a few weeks before the car accident, he had brandished a gun and, although not suicidal, he was obviously emotionally unstable. Additionally, Matt was worried that alcohol was contributing to his problems. My husband was not altogether certain this car wreck wasn’t a failed suicide attempt.
            My heart broke yet again for this poor twenty year old.  Here he had been to war and back, but injuries sustained from the results of a broken heart were threatening his life.  Not bullets, not RPGs, not even IEDs were the impetus behind his afflictions.  No, it was an unfaithful wife and unstable emotions that brought him to the brink of death.

            The more I heard about the situation, the more upset I got.  In spite of the Army’s ability to prosecute adultery, this case could not be proved.  In addition, the soldier had not told his parents about the infidelity, which meant they still thought of her as their daughter.  Meanwhile Matt was working behind the scene to ensure that the soldier’s life insurance (should it come to that) would not go to his wife.  Unfortunately, he could not change what the soldier had put down on paper.
           So not only had this woman defiled her marriage, she was probably going to gain financially from it as well.  I was livid!  However, I soon found out I was not the only one feeling this way.  The rest of the platoon was furious, having listened to their friend anguish over her.  The day she came in to visit him at the hospital was a day filled with tension and hatred.  Matt had to quickly step in and remove some of his platoon from the waiting room, ordering them not to express their feelings towards her since the specialist’s parents still did not know.

            During this time, I tried to keep the parents distracted from the other members of the platoon.  I engaged them in conversation about their home in California and their other children.  Thankfully, they were willing to share and eager to have a listening ear.  Soon, as a result of my wise husband’s leadership, the tense situation dissolved.
            The next day, the specialist’s condition worsened, and the doctors were not sure he was going to survive.  Matt and I rushed back to the hospital.  The soldier’s parents were visibly shaken and upset.  I sat with them and held the mom’s hand while Matt went back to speak to the doctor.  When he came back out, his faced was pale and he said he needed to make a call.  Not much later, a chaplain came to speak to the family and prepare them for the worst.  A few hours later, the soldier did not improve or worsen so the parents decided they would go back to their hotel to sleep.  It was at this moment, I felt the Holy Spirit tug on my heart to pass the book of Scripture promises on to the parents.  Even though I knew they didn’t have a personal relationship with the Lord, I knew the Bible could comfort better than any words we could offer.

            During that night, Matt got the call that his soldier had died.  While my heart grieved for his family, a part of me was relieved that it was over.  Unfortunately, the days preceding the memorial service were just as stressful and required still careful maneuvering as the soldier’s widow became more visible and demanding.  Casualty Assistance took over more control at this point, but Matt and I were still heavily involved.

            The day of the memorial service, Matt told me he would have to sit up front with the family.  He urged me to come a little early so I could find a seat.  When I arrived, I was surprised to see the chapel so full already.  I managed to find a seat and began to look around.  At the front stood the soldier’s boots and rifle with his helmet placed on top.  As the family processed in, I watched in horror as the “widow” trailed behind her in-laws playing the part of a grieving wife and treated as though she was to be pitied above everyone else.  Yet I quickly realized I had to put aside my personal feelings and be available for this family, as well as the hurting members of the platoon, with whom I sat.

            If you have never been to a soldier’s memorial service, there is no possible way you can understand the raw pain that thickens the air.  Although I had been to a few as a child, not even that could prepare me for this service.  Standing there within the ranks of grown men and women, in uniform – men and women who had stared death in the face in the deserts of Iraq – as they break down over the loss of one of their own, my eyes filled with tears and my heart sunk with other’s pain. 
            When I thought it couldn’t get any more painful, the platoon sergeant began “roll call.”  First, he called the name of a few soldiers who alphabetically preceded the deceased.  They all responded with, “Here, Sergeant.”  Then he called the specialist’s last name.  When there was no response, he called his rank and last name.  Again, no response – the quiet was desperate around us.  Finally, he called the rank and full name of the dead soldier.  All around me, people shook with sobs and the sound of sniffling was heart-wrenching.  Outside, the rifles sounded their farewell, and somber guests bowed their heads for a closing prayer. 
            Pulling ourselves together, we made our way through the receiving line to pass on our condolences and words of comfort.  When my turn came, the parents hugged me tightly, communicating what words could not express.  I again told them how sorry I was and promised to pray for them fervently. 
I walked outside to wait for Matt, watching others grieve, again feeling inadequate to comfort.  Matt came a while later, took my hand, and told me we would take the parents to the airport in the morning, but for now, he needed to go back to work to finish up some things.
I went home and questioned whether I had done all I could do for this family and the families of the platoon.  I asked God why this had to happen, why the wife seemed to get away with her lascivious and greedy actions.  I asked God if I should have spoken more bold words of witness.  Instead of an audible answer, I just felt a peace.
The next morning, Matt and I met the parents at their hotel where I got my car back.  We then took them to the airport and hugged them tightly.  The mother handed me a letter and made me promise if we ever wanted to come visit, we would let them know.  We said our goodbyes and drove home.
In the mother’s letter, she thanked me for the book of Bible promises, saying it helped her through the worst pain.  She thanked me for letting them use my car, and for sitting with them in the hospital.  She said Matt and I were like angels to her and she would never forget how we helped them through a tragic moment in their lives.
            When I finished reading it, I smiled up at God and thanked Him for using me, and asked Him to do it again…
            You never know when or how God is going to ask you to serve Him.  It may not look the way you thought it would, but it will always end the way He wanted.  We just have to be sensitive to those tugs He makes on our heart and be obedient to follow through.  Then we will get a glimpse of how to truly bring Him glory.


Anonymous said...

You are amazing! Love, Mom

Anonymous said...

Your faith and love pour out from this page. Thank you, Lord, for such a powerful witness! Debbie Thomas