In Transition: I’m a Veteran…Quick, Tell Me How Great I Am

Affirmation is a powerful opiate.

Facebook knows this.

So does LinkedIn and Instagram and Twitter et. al. I mean, they’re all the same people, but Zuckerberg and company long ago deciphered the secret.

Napoleon knew it too. “A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon,” he remarked while being taken into exile on St. Helena.

The U.S. Army knows it. What men won’t do for a bit of colored ribbon.

How might we act when the ribbons run out?

Military Affirmation

At some point, most Army officers begin to look like Mexican generals.

I was a freshly-minted lieutenant on my first assignment, when our unit had it’s battalion formal. Like a good LT, I assembled my uniform and brought it to work for inspection. 1SG McCool was your typical salty, old-school First Sergeant. He examined my uniform, nodded his head, pointed to my whopping total of 2 ribbons, and coolly remarked, “You’re some kind of f***’n hero, huh, Sir?” before strolling off, leaving me in a pool of my shattered manhood.

But the ribbons came…in bunches over the years.

I recall my excitement upon receiving an Army Commendation Medal 12 months later as a PCS award for doing my job. Many had to settle for an Army Achievement Medal which is, you know, like one less. A second PCS generated another ARCOM and even a Humanitarian Service Medal for, you guessed it, doing my job.

The war opened the floodgates. Ribbons flowed like wine and the medals flocked like the salmon of Capistrano. Air medals. Meritorious Service Medals. And the brass ring of hubris, the Bronze Star: all awarded for…doing our jobs.

And men jockeyed for them. Buddies submitted buddies for ribbons. Soldiers in unusual occupational specialties sought to “get outside the wire” for a bit of excitement and perhaps a medal. Ground guys hitched a ride in an aircraft, “performed duties”, and received Air Medals.

The Pentagon even invented a badge, the Combat Action Badge, the epitome of every-soldier-gets-a-trophy, the requirement being that the enemy “engaged” you. That’s it. Define “engage.”

          “So let me get this straight, the enemy mortared the base and you want a Combat Action Badge.”

          “Yes Sir. I deserve it.”

          “I guess we’ll have to submit one for the other 5,000 soldiers stationed here.”

Entitlement replaced expectation, so powerful is the need for affirmation.

The military ribbon is a symbol of affirmation, never mind if accomplishments are real or imagined. If they’re on the rack, it must’ve happened. Throw in some skill badges, maybe Air Assault or Airborne, and bam! Looking good. Instant hero. Let the praises flow.

After nearly 23 years, my ribbon rack looked pretty decent despite the fact that I really only felt as if I’d earned one, my Army Commendation Medal for being a rear detachment commander. No matter.

Pride is a powerful motivator, with the need for affirmation as a willing accomplice. It wasn’t the ribbons themselves, it was what they symbolized, the acclaim of men. And it’s effective.

Never mind what I’m asking you to do—deploy repeatedly and be absent from your family for years on end—here’s a ribbon. Now get on the plane.

Seeking Affirmation

Social media is a powerful influence in our society.

Affirmation is it’s fuel.

Consider the idea of ‘likes’, until a few years ago, a completely foreign concept. Harness man’s innate desire for the approval of other men, give them a platform for obtaining that approval via a tangible ‘like’ or even better, a ‘share’, and watch usage skyrocket.

Brilliant.

They’ve marketed affirmation as a commodity and like any commodity, some attempt to acquire it illegitimately.

You can buy ‘likes’. Did you know that?

I’ve always felt sorry for the stolen valor dudes.

You’ve seen these guys. They dress up in military uniforms, despite never having served or having served in a ‘lesser’ capacity, and then parade themselves seeking, you guessed it, affirmation.

An entire cottage industry exists in ‘outing’ these guys. Some veterans are so offended by the idea of ‘stolen’ valor—as if true valor could be stolen—that they confront the offenders and publicly shame them on the internet.

But men desire acclaim. It is natural to seek the praises of other men.

Men need affirmation, particularly in their vocation, from where so many find their worth in the first place.

A New Reality

In some ways, the civilian sector is harsher than the military.

The bottom line rules. The ability to generate revenue drives everything in our capitalistic system.

There are no service awards, no awards formations. You’ll not receive the acclaim of men by what you wear on your ‘uniform’. No one cares what you did yesterday, but what have you done for me lately.

For years, you’ve been told how special you are. You’ve been lauded for your sacrifice, honored for your service, praised for your commitment. You have the ribbons to prove it.

For years, you’ve received a healthy and regular dose of affirmation.

What will you do when that is no more?

True Affirmation

Let’s talk about acclaim.

As I have died to sin and self and been raised to a newness of life in Christ, I no longer serve myself. I do everything unto the Lord. (Colossians 3:23) Ultimately, I labor on behalf of the Lord. I love on behalf of the Lord. I father on behalf of the Lord.

As Paul writes, “we make it our aim to please him.” (2 Corinthians 5:9) We reject the empty and hollow praises of men, knowing that the fickle hearts of men often reject that which they have previously praised. We reject the need for worldly affirmation and rest in the promise of one day hearing the gentle words of our Father, “well done, good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:23)

Knowing this, what more could I need?

I recall feeling similarly about football helmet stickers.

I was a decent high school player and our team awarded little white skull stickers to paste on our maroon helmets for good plays. At the conclusion of Thursday practice, the coach would assemble us and hand out the stickers in front of the entire team. Then, you could wear the stickers on your helmet for everyone to know what a standout you were.

I was decent, but not as good as Woods. He battled through a knee injury and missed the first few games of his senior season. His first game back, he killed it, terrorizing our opponents, worthy of more than a few stickers. I sure bet he was excited to start filling up his otherwise plain maroon helmet.

And sure enough, he received several stickers and as the coach dismissed us, I looked over at Woods who had casually dropped his stickers to the ground and was grinding them into the mud with his cleats in disgust. I was shocked.

Woods had no need for the acclaim of men. As my coach used to say, he let his pads to the talking.

May we all let our pads do the talking.

Now, if you’ll just share this post please and maybe even comment about how excellent it was, I’d be very appreciative.

In Transition: Series

Time and the Transitioning Warrior

I wanted a mission…

Veteran, It’s Not All About You (me)

Round is a Shape

Bradford Smith

Bradford Smith

Author - Founder

Soldier, Pastor, Author – Bradford stays busy, with his wife Ami, raising their 9 children, serving the nation, pastoring, preaching, and writing books (#3 is due out October ’17).

THE 413 REPORT

If you loved this article, and would like to learn more about foster and adoption care, and to stay up to date on our projects, missions, and programs, as well as the release of Bradford's third book, Brave Rifles, please sign up for our Newsletter. The 413 Project is made up of common people empowering and serving others to accomplish an uncommon good.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

This is a powerful read in a small book. The subtitle hits the mark with its description of, "A Biblical Treatise on Adoption." The author poses a challenge to the reader to stop reading the book upfront if the reader does not want to be moved to action.

   Janice S. Garey  

The call that sounds for the incredible need of emotionally and physically abandoned and orphaned children and one that when answered manifests the love of Christ.

  Anne Rightler

This book is a must read for anyone affected in any way by addictions. So many of the situations in this book seem hopeless, but as Brad so clearly points out, Christ is the solution and the only hope of man. As long as there is breath, there is hope!

  Scott Doherty

In Scourge, Brad offers us more than cold statistics or a cautionary tale. Instead, he offers us the solution - faith backed by action - to overcome this insidious problem Insightful and provocative, Scourge is a warning flag, guide post and rally to hope for all of us.

 Chad Chasteen

In Transition: Round is a Shape

Transition yields transformation.

For years, the warrior conformed himself to a certain standard, been pounded into the mold. Now, with fewer constraints, he is free to make himself into that which he desires. Many plan for years prior to retirement, creating a vision of themselves and then reshaping themselves into that image.

Often it’s vocationally driven. Some commit to a particular profession and conform to a new standard. I have a couple of friends on Wall Street, suits and all. Some enter law enforcement and adopt their quasi-military standards. Small business. Industry. Coaching. Teaching. Private sector. 

Whatever the field of endeavor, interestingly their first order of business is often to grow out their facial hair or all of their hair, fostering a distinct homeless vibe. Testing the possible, I reckon.

For 26, nearly 27 years, I conformed to the image that the Army demanded of me, begrudgingly. Upon retirement, I entered full-time ministry, as I had prayed about for years.

And what did I become?

Fat.

I became fat.

This was my transformation.

Is that appropriate for a pastor? Easy!

Fat Origins

Ever since this kid pushed me in homeroom in 7th grade, I wanted to be big.

A naturally wiry kid, I wrestled the 98 pound weight class in 9th grade and didn’t have to cut weight. So I stopped wrestling, started lifting, and ate everything I could get my hands on. Everything. Shakes were my thing, peanut butter shakes, with ice cream, and five raw eggs, and a scoop of protein powder, two scoops.

I recall a 22 taco binge once.

Amino Acids. Weight gainer. Creatine.

I didn’t try juice because of cowardice, not any moral convictions. I was afraid I might get caught, but my efforts worked. In three years, I doubled my body weight, in a good way, and earned a starting position on the football team as a reward for my labors.

And I never got pushed in home room anymore.

New Fat

I believe I’ve handled the transition pretty well thus far…or am handling it, rather. You’ll have to ask my wife to be sure.

From the army to the pastorate of a small church, I went from structure and rigidity to having absolute flexibility in my life. I possess near complete autonomy with few external demands. I help homeschool my sons, minister to my congregation, write a bit, get a lift in when able.

I’ve definitely felt a little lost at times as I’ve written about previously, but seem to be coming out of that as I’ve reshaped my priorities. Rather, the Lord has been doing a work in me, conforming my desires to His.

We even successfully negotiated housebreaking a new puppy with no meltdown from me. A few close calls, but no meltdown.

But food.

I’ve always had a pretty big appetite, tempered by a modicum of necessary self discipline, but since retirement, I’ve noticed an unusual condition.

I eat every single thing I get my hands on. Everything!

An entire large pizza. No problem. Chips and salsa until I’m on the cusp of yacking. Sure, I’ll eat a salad, but I’ll chase it later with an entire can of Pringles. An extra sandwich at Chik Fil-a. French fries and did I mention pizza. I actually eat, inhale really, a double Bacon King from BK and then go home and eat dinner. Two chocolate chip cookies from Starbucks. Not one. Two.

Cheat day after cheat day.

My generous daughter left two candy bars on my desk the other day. Without hesitation, I destroyed them both in less than a minute.

I can’t explain it. I’m not sure why, but my gluttony seems to know no bounds.

Army Fat

I’ve never been a runner.

In fact, I hate running, distance that is. Doesn’t contribute to my objective. Detracts even.

The only thing I hated more than running were scranny Army officers who made me run. While serving in the division, our commanding general was one of these runners (I say as I spit onto the floor and wipe my mouth unceremoniously!). He weighed about a buck thirty soaking wet and could run till the cows come home and took great pride in taking his officers out for a leisurely jog at a nightmarish pace.

Run for your job, literally.

Nearly vomiting, white foam forming at the corners of my mouth, stumbling, gaggling—I always managed to keep up, barely. I used to fantasize about locking this man in a sweet rear-naked choke or lining him up on the deadlift bar, seeing how much gumption he possessed when confronted with his own weakness.

But standards are standards. Requirements are requirements.

And so I ran, some, and I maintained a bit of discipline in my food consumption, as I must. Had to make body fat standards—I never even sniffed the height-weight standards—and had to score reasonably well on the APFT.

Much as the common grace of the Gospel of Jesus Christ restrains sin, so the Army actively restrained my gluttony, though I wasn’t even aware of it. I should’ve seen it coming, especially since…

Future Fat

God gave me a precursor.

After my second knee surgery, I finally relented to a permanent profile. Run at your own distance and pace which, for me, meant never.

“Train me like an aging defensive tackle,” I directed my strength coach. If it was within a 10 meter radius, I wanted to be able to close with and destroy it as rapidly as possible. Outside 10 meters, I’d concede for another day. My body began to respond accordingly and I began to look…like an aging defensive tackle.

If I thought the Bod Pod was devilish, the trainers’ new electrical impedance device was an absolute nightmare.

Whereas the Bod Pod utilized air displacement to let you know just how much blubber you were carrying around, this new device actually ran a current through you and could tell exactly where your blubber was located on your body.

There’s nothing like being confronted with cold, hard data.

Here’s your percentage.

Do the math.

Realize you are carrying around the equivalent of a 4 year old child’s worth of lard…and the majority of it resides in your gut.

“It takes mass to move mass,” Mike, the head strength coach, tried to console me. After a bit more cajoling, he talked me off the ledge and I headed back to the weight pile. Still gotta get a lift in.

The Dream: Fat no More

6 months.

25 pounds…not good pounds.

The collusion of gluttony and idolatry—my worship of physical strength—inflamed by the absence of restraint yielded the expected result. All of this masked the prideful heart deep beneath my newest layer of blubber.

I confided about my struggle to some brothers, ex-military themselves. Seems this isn’t unique to me. Change wrought this unexpected development. My vigilance, focused elsewhere, failed to anticipate something so simple, but so unsurprising.

Though if this is the extent of the struggle, I’ll count myself blessed. My wife likes me big. My kids don’t really care. A hefty Baptist pastor seems appropriate. As long as I can maintain physical domination of my sons, or the appearance thereof, then we’ll call it success. I have a few years to that regard.

Yet, Monday will be six months exactly. Perhaps it’s time to get tighten up the shot group…but not till Monday. My daughter made cheesecake tonight.

Bradford Smith

Bradford Smith

Author - Founder

Soldier, Pastor, Author – Bradford stays busy, with his wife Ami, raising their 9 children, serving the nation, pastoring, preaching, and writing books (#3 is due out October ’17).

THE 413 REPORT

If you loved this article, and would like to learn more about foster and adoption care, and to stay up to date on our projects, missions, and programs, as well as the release of Bradford's third book, Brave Rifles, please sign up for our Newsletter. The 413 Project is made up of common people empowering and serving others to accomplish an uncommon good.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

This is a powerful read in a small book. The subtitle hits the mark with its description of, "A Biblical Treatise on Adoption." The author poses a challenge to the reader to stop reading the book upfront if the reader does not want to be moved to action.

   Janice S. Garey  

The call that sounds for the incredible need of emotionally and physically abandoned and orphaned children and one that when answered manifests the love of Christ.

  Anne Rightler

This book is a must read for anyone affected in any way by addictions. So many of the situations in this book seem hopeless, but as Brad so clearly points out, Christ is the solution and the only hope of man. As long as there is breath, there is hope!

  Scott Doherty

In Scourge, Brad offers us more than cold statistics or a cautionary tale. Instead, he offers us the solution - faith backed by action - to overcome this insidious problem Insightful and provocative, Scourge is a warning flag, guide post and rally to hope for all of us.

 Chad Chasteen

In Transition: Veteran, It’s Not All About You (me)

Maybe you’ve bled, literally.

For years, maybe longer, you’ve sacrificed.

You’ve toiled countless days under the bright heat, trudged the jagged Konar, patrolled the filthy Baghdad streets, never knowing when death might call. You’ve eaten dirt and eaten like a king, squeezed in a few minutes sleep on the floor of some foul-smelling crapatorium, all while being crushed to death by a thousand pounds of miscellaneous kit under the harsh desert sun.

You’ve sweat and wept and bled and taken a dump under the most impossible of circumstances. You’ve lost. Friends maybe. Any lingering innocence, certainly. A few poignant moments haunt your conscience—an unspoken word, an ill-fated decision, the unmistakable smell of charred flesh.

The blood-soaked sand forever testifies.

You’ve served.

You’ve given.

Now the system is telling you it’s time to receive.

You lay down your arms to a bevy of voices trumpeting the consideration you’ve earned, bestowing honor and praise…and benefit. You merit special handling.

I affirm this. I affirm your earned stripes. I’ll buy you a beer in Valhalla, if there were such a place, but the mindset troubles me. There is a prevailing attitude among many(some) veterans that betrays the attitude that shaped their service from the beginning.

It is an overwhelming desire to be served.

I’ve given, now it’s time to receive, no matter what it may cost another.

A Right Heart

Paul, writing to the church at Corinth, details true, biblical love.

Love is patient and kind. It does not envy or boast, is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way, is not irritable or resentful. (1 Corinthians 13:4-5)

In other words, love, true biblical love, involves sacrifice, putting your own needs and requirements after those of another. Paul, curiously concludes this section with this, one of my favorite passages in all of Scripture:

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. (1 Corinthians 13:11)

In other words, the business of a man is to love…to love in a biblical way, to love sacrificially, to love selflessly. The way of a child is to issue demands, to impose requirements, to place self ahead of others.

Paul exhorts the men of the church to…be men, to act like men, to love like men.

What if we exhorted one another to the same, even after leaving the profession of arms…especially after leaving the profession of arms.

Another Look

Allow me to level the bubble.

Your wife, your children, they’ve sacrificed as you have…possibly more.

My oldest daughter seemed to get it the worst. Every year, despite my best efforts, I’d be deployed on her birthday. Year in and year out, more of the same. She’d cry a bit and then get over it. She’s a good army kid.

The last time was the worst.

It must’ve been the third or fourth year in a row when I found out. Once more I’d be deployed on her birthday. I couldn’t believe it! With dread, I sought her out to break the news. Expecting the usual tears, what I got was infinitely worse, a shrug and a slight, sad smile, “That’s okay, Dad. I understand.”

Ouch!

I hated deployments, every one of them, every time. I longed to be home with my family. I resented the lost moments. I begrudged the dreadful months. I hated every single day away. Every. Single. Day.

Except I didn’t.

You know.

          “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.”

                    “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.”

The higher call gifted me a reason. My brothers delivered me a purpose. Engaging the enemies of righteousness in battle drove my ambition. I trembled at the prospect, enamored of our audacity, descending from the darkness alongside my brothers-in-arms onto the unsuspecting heads of wicked men, standing as sword and shield against the tyranny of oppression.

My wife was left behind. Period.

The Tightest Grip

“Hold the rope.”

This was William Carey’s plea to Andrew Fuller before embarking upon his mission trip to India. As the father of modern missions, Carey’s plea was for support. He would go. Would Fuller and his church support him, prayerfully and tangibly?

She’s held the rope.

While you’ve sucked down the desert sand, she’s cleaned a thousand runny noses, wiped a thousand butts. She sat up all night with sick kids and tear-streaked cheeks knowing she had to rise early the next morning. Exhausted, she put on a smile each morning, not wanting the kids to see her struggle, only to sit with her head in her hands the second they left for the bus stop.

And she wondered about you. Okay, she didn’t wonder. She agonized. 

What were you doing? Were you okay? Were you safe? Who were you with? Why hasn’t she heard from you in awhile?

Did you meet somebody?

She had to hold it together, hold the rope. She had no other option. Maybe she put her life, her hopes, her dreams on hold…for you. Maybe she did it gladly. Maybe she did it begrudgingly, but she did it.

Must she do it once more?

A New Look

Conflict beckons. Bitterness knocks. Families disintegrate.

Many warriors struggle off the battlefield and perhaps it’s because of the message.

We’ve trained them that they have a right to feel disenfranchised. We’ve communicated to them that they have a reason to misbehave, that it’s normal, it’s okay. And most of all, the system trains them to feel entitled, to desire to receive. We’ve taught them to exchange the spirit of love and service for a regard for self. We’ve taught them that they are the center of concern, the focus of affairs.

I’m convinced that many of the problems our veterans face stem from this clash of intersecting and competing attitudes.

Let us reshape the narrative.

Quit emasculating the veteran and empower him. Exhort him to continue to serve, to continue to give, as able. Let us reject the notion that he is automatically damaged and incapable, requiring special consideration.

Consider your family, your wife.

Instead of focusing on your struggle, on your affliction, on your needs, see this as an opportunity to be strong for her, an opportunity to love her unconditionally, to put yourself in the backseat and let her reach for her dreams and goals. Consider this opportunity to serve once more.

What if, upon sheathing your sword, your call was to lift her up, to empower her to become who she always wanted to be? What if, upon laying down your guns, your wife and your children became your mission?

Would you be satisfied with that?

Should we shelf our heart for service just because we’ve removed the uniform?

We must reject being shaped into a caricature of who we once were by forces concerned with political expediency and social leverage.

Noble warrior, with all urgency I plead with you to take your turn at the rope. They deserve it. Indeed, they always have.

Bradford Smith

Bradford Smith

Author - Founder

Soldier, Pastor, Author – Bradford stays busy, with his wife Ami, raising their 9 children, serving the nation, pastoring, preaching, and writing books (#3 is due out October ’17).

THE 413 REPORT

If you loved this article, and would like to learn more about foster and adoption care, and to stay up to date on our projects, missions, and programs, as well as the release of Bradford's third book, Brave Rifles, please sign up for our Newsletter. The 413 Project is made up of common people empowering and serving others to accomplish an uncommon good.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

This is a powerful read in a small book. The subtitle hits the mark with its description of, "A Biblical Treatise on Adoption." The author poses a challenge to the reader to stop reading the book upfront if the reader does not want to be moved to action.

   Janice S. Garey  

The call that sounds for the incredible need of emotionally and physically abandoned and orphaned children and one that when answered manifests the love of Christ.

  Anne Rightler

This book is a must read for anyone affected in any way by addictions. So many of the situations in this book seem hopeless, but as Brad so clearly points out, Christ is the solution and the only hope of man. As long as there is breath, there is hope!

  Scott Doherty

In Scourge, Brad offers us more than cold statistics or a cautionary tale. Instead, he offers us the solution - faith backed by action - to overcome this insidious problem Insightful and provocative, Scourge is a warning flag, guide post and rally to hope for all of us.

 Chad Chasteen

In Transition: I wanted a mission…

and for my sins, they gave me one. (CPT Willard, Saigon, 1969)

Clarksville…shoot, I’m still only in Clarksville.

Each time, I think I’m gonna wake up back in the desert. I hardly said a word to my wife…until she told me to take out the trash and play with the kids. When I was there, in the desert, I wanted to be here, but now all I can think about is the desert…and what’s for dinner.

I’ve been here six months now…retired…waiting for a mission, getting softer. Every minute I spend in this house I get weaker. Every minute the muj squats in the desert, he gets stronger.

Each time I look around, the walls move in a little tighter…the kids scream a little louder…my pants get a bit tighter…

First Call

I always felt called to be a soldier, even before I knew Who was calling me.

As a young boy, I played war in the woods, shot bottle rockets at my friends, and led legions of imaginary men into battle. I bayoneted bad guys, crushed my enemies, saw them driven before me, and heard the lamentations of the women…well, in my mind anyway.

Between sports, my play existed in recreating battle scenes and heroic last stands, fighting robots, Cobra, Russians, or whoever I deemed worthy of battle.

As a teenager, while my friends decorated their walls with rock n’ roll pinup girls, I had a single poster bearing an image of Eisenhower, Lee, MacArthur and Grant. I liked pinup girls, don’t get me wrong, but military service resonated with my soul.

Something about combat drew me…the camaraderie, the brotherhood, the shared sacrifice, maybe the purpose or the mission.

At some point, I graduated from sticks and fireworks to rifles and helicopters. At the age of 22, the nation entrusted me with the lives of 20 or so young men. My first platoon! I exalted in the call. Preparing for war was our mission.

All that changed on September 11th as Al Qaeda handed us a mission… “brought it up like room service,” you might say in your deepest, gravelly Martin Sheen voice. As such, I spent the next 17 years leading men in and out of battle and it was glorious. The crucible of combat, of a shared mission realized, drove my purpose, channeled my existence.

Fighting the bad guys. Defending our nation. Confronting evil. Destroying tyranny. It defined me, combat did, gave me a mission, a mission that resonated with vitality. Who was gonna do it, you? So don’t stand there in your ****ty white uniform and tell me what you think you are entitled too!…sorry, I get carried away.

And then it was gone, leaving me one very important query.

Now what?

A Worthy Call

Every man wants to matter.

I was reminded of the fleeting and fragile nature of life this week. A friend of mine from college died unexpectedly, at the age of 48. He left behind a wife and three kids and his death reinforced Paul’s words to the Ephesians, to make the best use of the time because the days are evil. (Ephesians 5:16)

Why are the days evil?

The days are evil because time, if left unspent, will spend itself. If not spent deliberately, time will still pass. And tomorrow, you’re going to wake up and be 40 or 50 or 60 or older, wondering where the days have gone. My 45 years, a mere vapor, attest to this reality, our inevitable march to the grave.

Approaching the end of life, all men must reconcile their legacy. They must answer for themselves a very critical question. Did my existence make a difference to anyone? Was it worthwhile?

Did I even matter at all?

Soldiering gave me many things—direction, structure, education, motivation. Most of all, it gave my life meaning, a purpose that mattered.

A Passing Call

I never wanted to be Joe Paterno.

Joe Pa roamed the Penn State sideline for 45 years! setting the record for most wins by a Division 1 coach (409). 45 years! As long as I have been alive, Paterno held the same job, coaching the Penn State Nittany Lions and the longer he coached, the tighter he seemed to cling to the job.

He came to define Penn State football.

They were inseparable. One could simply not imagine Penn State without Paterno. Unfortunately, the opposite became glaringly true. Without Penn State football, who was Joe Pa?

On November 9th, 2011, due to fallout from the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal, Joe Paterno lost the defining aspect of his life. He was fired. He died 74 days later, ostensibly due to lung cancer. Yet, I wonder about despair. The thing that had come to define him, Penn State football, had been torn from his life and the disgrace of the scandal threatened to forever tarnish his legacy.

Without this, who was he?

Who could he possibly be?

A Fleeting Call

At some point, you gotta drink the kool aid.

About the time you are eligible for retirement, the Army dangles a sweet promotion in front of you but you gotta buy in. It is this time that you make a call, either all in or not. The upper echelons of the Army demand a “new level of service,” to quote a former commander of mine who attained the second highest rank in all of the military.

At some point, you become a company man, and buy in lock, stock, and barrel.

And they own you, all of you.

I asked a General Officer I worked for once how much control he had over his existence. “About 5%,” he joked, “and that’s an illusion.”

Not that I would’ve qualified for the upper echelons. I was doing decent enough, but did I want to buy in for another decade? And even if I did, at some point, it would still be taken from me, leaving me still to answer…

Who am I?

A New Call

Men need a purpose.

Men need to do, to conquer, to attain, to move, to engage. I joined the military and found my purpose and took great satisfaction in closing with and destroying the enemy in battle, locked at the elbows with my brothers-in-arms.

In this purpose, I found honor. I took pride.

What could I do without it?

Thankfully, in March 2005, God called me to the true fight, the battleground of souls.

In Christ, we find our ultimate mission, an enduring mission, a mission that spans continents and countries, a purpose that supersedes boundaries and borders, a call that endures across epochs and eras.

The battlefield of the soul surpasses the most contested battles in history. Stalingrad, Antietam, Verdun: mere skirmishes compared to the battle for the eternal destiny of all men. Our enemy is not the flesh and blood. (Ephesians 6:12) He is organized and motivated, showing no quarter to even those claiming neutrality.

It is in serving Christ, loving my wife, discipling my sons, pleading with the lost to be reconciled to God, taking the Gospel to the nations, that some might be saved, it is in this that I find a mission, a purpose that transcends any previous call.

This purpose can never be taken from me. This mission can never diminish or change.

The fields are so white for the harvest, as the workers are so few. Beyond my former call to arms, the newer call, the superior call, it consumes me.

Absent such a call, I’m just not sure what I could do…or who I’d even be.

Bradford Smith

Bradford Smith

Author - Founder

Soldier, Pastor, Author – Bradford stays busy, with his wife Ami, raising their 9 children, serving the nation, pastoring, preaching, and writing books (#3 is due out October ’17).

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This is a powerful read in a small book. The subtitle hits the mark with its description of, "A Biblical Treatise on Adoption." The author poses a challenge to the reader to stop reading the book upfront if the reader does not want to be moved to action.

   Janice S. Garey  

The call that sounds for the incredible need of emotionally and physically abandoned and orphaned children and one that when answered manifests the love of Christ.

  Anne Rightler

This book is a must read for anyone affected in any way by addictions. So many of the situations in this book seem hopeless, but as Brad so clearly points out, Christ is the solution and the only hope of man. As long as there is breath, there is hope!

  Scott Doherty

In Scourge, Brad offers us more than cold statistics or a cautionary tale. Instead, he offers us the solution - faith backed by action - to overcome this insidious problem Insightful and provocative, Scourge is a warning flag, guide post and rally to hope for all of us.

 Chad Chasteen

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