…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…
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.
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.
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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