Friday, April 27, 2012
Invisible Battle, by Jocelyn Green
While compiling ideas for this series on what the church can do for our military and their families, God brought Jocelyn Green to my attention (via Pinterest). I asked her if she had stories she could share about soldiers fighting against the emotional wounds of war. She did. The following is an excerpt from a book she co-wrote with Jane Hampton Cook and John Croushorn, entitled Stories of Faith and Courage from the War in Iraq & Afghanistan.
Ambush at Roberts Ridge
Capt. Nate Self, Army Ranger, Afghanistan, 2002-2003; Iraq, 2003-2004
Around three o’clock in the morning on March 4, 2002, Army Ranger Nate Self and his thirteen-man Quick Reaction Force were sent to recover a fallen Navy SEAL in Afghanistan, a place teeming with hundreds of al-Qaeda fighters.
“There was no place on earth more hostile to U.S. soldiers and no place my team would rather be,” Self recalled. “We were there because we were Rangers, and we had a creed to uphold: Never leave a fallen comrade . . .”
Self and his team weren’t told that previous helicopters sent to the mountain (later named Roberts Ridge) had come under fire. When the Chinook helicopter was shot down in an ambush, a 15-hour firefight ensued.
Bullets whizzed past Self, rocket-propelled grenades ripped through the air around him. Bleeding from a shrapnel wound in his leg, Self began to plan a counterattack on the high-caliber machine-gun bunker.
Hours of fighting dragged on as Self and his men tried to stabilize the area enough for helicopters to come evacuate the wounded. In the meantime, their fellow soldiers lay bleeding in the snow all around them as they fought off the enemy at such close range they could see their faces.
Self and his men found the fallen SEAL, who had been killed with a shot to the head, and located the body of a dead U.S. serviceman from the first failed rescue attempt. Three of Self’s men were killed in that day's battle on the mountain. But if not for Self’s clear thinking and strong leadership, the casualties would have been even more.
Senior officers back at the base heaped praise upon Self and his team for being able to get off the mountain and kill the enemy without sustaining greater losses—especially since they had been caught unaware.
For Self, the battle resulted in a Silver Star for valor, a Purple Heart, and later, a position of honor as President Bush’s guest for the 2003 State of the Union address. To those watching, Self represented strength, resolve and success of the military.
But Self didn’t want to be honored. In fact, by 2004, he wanted to die.
“How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?” (Psalm 13:2).
Prayer: Lord, when I feel ambushed by uncontrollable circumstances, give me wisdom and guidance to make the right decisions.
Severe post-traumatic stress disorder had delivered a near-fatal blow to this war hero; he left the Army in late 2004, cutting short a would-be military career. Vivid nightmares, anxiety, anger and self-destructive behavior took hold of him.
“I just hated myself,” said Self. “I felt like I was somebody different. And since I didn’t feel like I could be who I was before and hated who I was now, I just wanted to kill the new person. I felt like I had messed up everything in my life. The easiest way, the most cowardly way to escape was to just—depart.”
Though he never asked for help or told anyone he was contemplating suicide, Self’s parents intervened to direct him to the help he needed. Christian Army chaplains trained in PTSD provided counseling and he went to group therapy sessions at the VA. But he also joined a small group at his church, First Baptist Church in Belton, Texas, for vets with PTSD. The leader was his chaplain counselor.
“At the VA small group, we talked about symptoms, but we were never allowed to talk about our experiences because they were so afraid it would trigger us. But it was those experiences we needed to talk about the most. At the church, we got in the Word, bathed all sessions in prayer, told our stories, wrote about and shared our experiences. That was extremely therapeutic. We looked at spiritual solutions and examples of warriors in the Bible. Turning my PTSD into Christian service has helped me get past to the other side of it, too.”
The writing that Self began at church developed into his memoir, Two Wars: One Hero’s Fight on Two Fronts—Abroad and Within (Tyndale House, May 2008). Self also helps train churches from New York to San Diego on PTSD by sharing his testimony through Bridges to Healing.
“There’s so many things in life we go through that God allows to happen for a most specific reason,” said Self. “We will be hurt by things we have no control over. That doesn’t mean it’s fair, but neither does it mean the pain associated with it should ever go away. God can use the thorn in the side; that anguish is there for a reason.”
“Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take [the thorn in my flesh] away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in weakness’” (2 Corinthians 12:8, 9a).
Prayer: Lord, help me allow you to shine through my weaknesses so people will see your glory.
Not in Bondage
Today, Self’s PTSD is much less severe, but some symptoms still remain. He still has haunting dreams almost every night, intrusive thoughts and certain problems with anger. He still feels somewhat emotionally numb. While he used to wonder if complete healing was possible, he has since decided that answer doesn’t matter.
“I don’t know if it’s right to say, ’I want to be healed from all this,’ because it’s a very humbling thing to be in this position and know that you’re being held in grace,” he said. “It equips you for better ministry and service. To wish away this thorn in my side would remove a significant portion of my testimony. It’s not that I have to be in bondage to PTSD. What matters is, now that I have it, what am I going to do with it?”
Self now works as a consultant on officer-training materials for the Army and is active in his own church’s military ministry, which serves 100 military families in their 3000-member church.
When Self was experiencing darker days with PTSD, members of his church reached out and listened to him. Now, he’s passing it along. “When soldiers come home, I’ll take them to breakfast or lunch as soon as I can,” he says. “They need people to be interested, to show that they care. If people think that the VA hospital will solve all the problems, you’ll overlook the greatest source of healing in any situation—Jesus. The majority component for recovery is a spiritual solution, more than any secular clinical answer.”
Even as Self works toward healing, he realizes that his symptoms may never go away, and he has a peace about that. “Look at Job,” he said. “All that stuff happened that he didn’t deserve. He kept asking God why until God said, ‘Look, don’t ask me why until you understand why I laid the foundations of the earth. You need to be comfortable with my sovereignty.’”
“Then Job replied to the Lord: ‘I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted’” (Job 42:1, 2).
Prayer: Lord, teach me to be more interested in your character and sovereignty than I am in securing comfort for myself.
Excerpt from Stories of Faith and Courage from the War in Iraq & Afghanistan (AMG Publishers 2009) by Jane Hampton Cook, Jocelyn Green, and John Croushorn. Used by permission.
Broken by War, Saved by Grace
Ronie Kendig—Inspiring Military Ministry
Jocelyn Green is an award-winning author, freelance writer and editor. While her husband served in the Coast Guard, Jocelyn realized the need for encouragement for those left behind. Along with contributing writers, she authored Faith Deployed, a 2010 Bronze Medal Award winner from the Military Writers Society of America (MWSA). Jocelyn is also co-author for Battlefields & Blessings: Stories of Faith and Courage from the War in Iraq & Afghanistan (AMG Publishers 2009), which took the Gold Medal from MWSA in 2010. She also edited and contributed to Battlefields & Blessings: Stories of Faith and Courage from World War 2 by Larkin Spivey, a 2009 Military Writers Society of America Silver Medal Winner. She’s a member of the Evangelical Press Association, the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association and the Christian Authors Network. She and her husband have two children, a dog and a cat.
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