By Lisa Morgan
Walking into the chow hall at this Forward Operating Base a stone’s throw from the Khyber Pass, I asked if I could join him for breakfast. “Sure Sir!” he answered. In a few moments we were laughing as I plied him with questions about his life. Where he was from? How long had he been in the Army? Had he come in straight out of high school? How much longer in his deployment? “Just a couple of weeks.”
“What are you looking forward to most?” I asked. “Well we are expecting a baby. She’s just a couple of months along.” Then he looked at me and grinned, “It happened while I was on R&R.” I laughed, “That is just great! And years from now, that will be a great story to share with your kid!” I asked if he had any other children. “No. We were expecting another baby but we lost her at 7 months. Now this is a high risk pregnancy and I gotta get home.”
“Well get out of here!” I said, “Is it just you heading home or is everyone going back from your command.” The face got serious, “Not all of us. My best friend and my roommate were both KIA.” My heart sank as I asked, “Any others.” The answer came back, “Yes, no deaths, but four more causalities including one who had lost both feet.”
“Were you there for any of them?” I asked. “I was there for all of them” he replied. “I was their squad leader.” Remembering the size of an Army squad, I said, “Wait a minute, that’s 30% of your whole squad.” He just nodded.
Across from me sat this great, normal looking young father to be. As I looked at him, I thought to myself, “Here is a man, thinking about home for the holidays, unalterably changed by battle and is not even fully aware of it yet.” Speaking more, he talked of anger and emotion, and together we spoke of Combat Operational Stress. As we spoke, I told him, “When you get home, don’t even wait to see a counselor, make that one of your first stops.”
So soon comes home a man with no outward scars, but inwardly only God himself knows what has changed and the stresses about to confront him on the home front. As we ended our time together I asked if I could pray for him, and as we both bowed our heads I asked God to protect that little baby being formed in the womb back home, to give peace to his heart and soul, and to bring healing to every hurt experienced in this place.
Oh God, this Christmas truly, so many will need a peace that passes understanding, for many of us cannot even begin to understand what we have experienced.
United States Naval Reserve Lieutenant Commander, Frank Riley was deployed to Afghanistan August 2012. He left his home, family and a church that calls him “Pastor Frank” to serve on the front lines in Afghanistan as an unarmed chaplain to America’s finest. Frank, a very dear friend of mine since our college days, has given me permission to share his stories. They are a stark reminder of everyday life for these men and women. Please remember them and their families as we enjoy with gratitude, our everyday freedoms in this beautiful country of ours. It is the only way to truly say thank you every day.
Shared experiences and support for veterans is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1. Or find them online at maketheconnection.net. They offer free, confidential support.