Today’s blog is courtesy of Chaplain (MAJ) Philip C. Willis Jr, and is a true lesson about fear in action- Ron Heisey
“Bravery is being the only one who knows you are afraid.”
—Col. David Hackworth
I have to admit there were times I was truly afraid. I had not known real fear until my journey through Iraq. All previous experiences, by comparison, could have been categorized as making me nervous. Standing in front of a large audience doesn’t qualify after I went through those moments in Iraq. Spotting a mouse in the corner might be unsettling, but it doesn’t qualify for the kind of terror war can create.
On one occasion while on a mission, I was so charged up and on edge because of the danger that, had something happened at that precise moment, I am not sure if I would have been able to control my bladder or the pounding tempo of my heart. In the moment of true fear, some reactions are involuntary. If you can resort to your training, if you can resort to your faith, you can link with a source of decision-making necessary for survival and neutralize the fear. The more training and preparation you have for the things to come, the more likely you are to react constructively to the presence of fear rather than resign as a result of it.
I met Jerry toward the end of my tour. He came in as the new Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) director. It was important for me to make the connection because we would need to continue to use his theater for our worship services.
As Jerry and I began to connect, he opened up to me about his experiences. Jerry stands about 6’ 2” and looks like a fun-loving grandfather, but there was a time long ago when his large frame was ripped with muscles and carried an M60 machine gun in the Company P, 75th Infantry Airborne Ranger unit in the Vietnam War. I would have never guessed. His quick laughter fell from a soft, rounded face supported by a jiggling, corpulent belly.
He said his specialty was demolition. One day his team of five had set up near the Ho Chi Minh trail, where he had laid a trip wire, and they were set for an ambush. They waited for hours, but no one came. They figured they had been misinformed, so he went to disable the grenade. Just as soon as he pulled the pin on the grenade, a Vietcong appeared from the shadows with a brutal assault. His buddy Olsen started firing back, and his other buddy on his flank did the same. At the same moment Jerry pushed the pin back into the grenade, Olsen was hit and fell back on Jerry. Sometime between the trip wire being unsettled after the fall and the mishandled grenade there was an explosion that injured both Olsen and his buddy. Because Olsen was covering Jerry, Jerry was not injured at all. He got up and started shooting his M60. The M60’s rate of fire is 550 rounds per minute, and he sent a barrage of fire down range to provide cover for his buddies. He soon fell back himself to retrieve his fallen comrades. He said when he got to Olsen, he found that he was nearly cut in half from the shrapnel, but he grabbed him and his other buddy and dragged them both uphill, where there was an evacuation helicopter waiting. He said during the entire episode, his training took over and he just acted on it. When he was sitting in the helicopter, that’s when he realized the presence of his fear. As he checked himself over, he found that he had been hit by a bullet fragment. It must have happened during his retreat. Even Airborne Rangers feel the sting of fear, but it did not stop Jerry from doing his job. It didn’t cripple his progress.
During my tour, I chose to face doubt and fear as impostors. I went outside the wire and on missions where soldiers died, but I still managed to get out there and do it again and again. The only way I could have understood the soldiers the way I did was to be with them. The beautiful thing about God is that He promises in fearful situations, “I will be with you.” It was because of this that I did not hold back one bit in the face of the dreaded intelligence reports. As a result, I made spiritual connections with soldiers who would have never set foot in a chapel had I not gone with them into the depths of danger. What kept me going was that I stayed plugged in, locked and loaded with my ultimate Source of strength, my strong tower, the Lord of hosts. Along with training, I relied on my faith in Him.
Chaplain (MAJ) Philip C. Willis Jr., M.Div, MSW