Friday, July 4, 2014

The Cost of Freedom's Ring...

Recently I read the book Lone Survivor. It was one of those books I just could not put down. This is saying a lot coming from me because I really don't like to read all that much. It has to be a fantastic story line to get me past chapter two! However, with this story I found myself taking the book with me wherever I went so I could pull it out and keep reading during any down time found in the day. I was captivated by it. 

In the book, Marcus Lutrell explains his experiences as a Navy Seal. It starts with his torturous "hell week" in Navy Seal training and then you are thrown into an intense and horrific battle with Al Qaeda in the dry mountainous landscape of Afghanistan. The Navy Seal training in the first few chapters to me was just almost unrealistic. Honor. Courage. Commitment. That’s the motto of the United States Navy Seal. After reading the details of their training though, I'd probably describe more as Severe Pain. Mental Torture. Intense Suffering. The five-point screen test to even see if you have an opportunity to go through training to be a Seal is... 

1. A 500 yard swim in 12 minutes and 30 seconds
2. 42 push-ups in two minutes {real push-ups people} 
3. 50 full sit-ups in 2 minutes {ain't nobody holding your feet folks}
4. 6 dead hang pull-ups 
5. A 1.5 mile run in 11 minutes 30 seconds while wearing boots and long pants {and this is after you are completely fatigued from the first 4 tests} 

There are only certain soldiers who can survive hell week and as the details of the training unfold you begin to believe that there are particular men who were just made for battle. Marcus was one of those men. He graduated a Navy Seal and soon after in March 2005 he was sent to a US Naval Base called Bagram in Afghanistan. There he joined several other men that formed Seal Team 10. 

During his stay at Bagram there were a number of missions in 
Afghanistan set on the pure motive of stopping the Taliban and their brutal attempts of conquest. U.S. platoons went out night after night into the peaks of the Hindu Kush trying to halt the insurgents creeping through mountain passes. These Taliban bearded fanatics would try to slide through the darkness from Pakistan into Afghanistan intent on nothing short of murder. They came armed with AK-47's and knives; ready to slit your throat if you created any kind of obstacle to their mission. These Muslim extremists think nothing of slaughtering thousands of people. They've stabbed and mutilated young American soldiers and won't think twice about cutting off your head in front of others; making sure you ingest a great spoonful of fear.

The insurgent Taliban warfare and attacks on innocent lives had to stop. So where do you start? At the top. Who's in command? How do you halt the locomotive driving this bloodthirsty train? Every soldier on the Bagram base knew it was their job to study the enemy and find out who was chief among the Taliban troops. Through strategic surveillance they would be able to identify the highest ranking and most dangerous of men among a list of potential targets. The teams and officers at Bagram would watch the insurgents regrouping, striving to find the top commanders of these evil outfits and arrest or kill if need be, leaders of the Taliban force. Among the chief targets was Sharmak, a mountain man responsible for several lethal attacks on the U.S. Thus Operation Redwing was formed. 

Operation Redwing, a mission led by Seal Team 10 - Lieutenant Michael Murphy, Officer Marcus Luttrell, Officer Danny Dietz, and Officer Matthew Axelson {Axe}. These four brave soldiers were to head into the mountains and spy on two Afghan villages where it was believed Sharmak and another young guy who was a high explosive expert were residing. They had great intel both through satellites and the FBI on this kid who was a master at creating IED's {improvised explosive devices}. Operation Redwing was a go.

Seal Team 10 

Dropped by a rope from the rear of a Chinook 47 helicopter, the Seal Team entered pitch black darkness and freezing rain. Apparently, to get into position above the villages there was a grueling four mile route that would take the team seven hours to hike. They all fell down the mountain at different intervals during the first half hour with little to grasp on to on a moonless cloudy night. Steep cliff faces, loose footing and sheer drops with hardly any bushes or trees to grab hold of explains the length of time it took. Not to mention the fact they had full rucksacks and rifles strapped on in over 100 degree heat once the sun came up.

Once in position they were to look for the two main targets, take photos and asses the threats of the situation. If there were no more than say four bodyguards then they swoop down, capture them so they could be taken back to base and interrogated. If the situation posed a greater threat with a surrounding Taliban garrison, the boys would call for a proper flying force back up to fly in and take care of the problem.  

However, this story takes a great unexpected turn for the four Seals lodged into the steep cliffs of this desolate dessert. While in position, a goat shepherd and two young men headed for their village come strolling along the mountainside and run right into Marcus, Axe, Mikey and Danny. The boys are forced to silence them and tie them up. Then they are faced with a very tough choice. Do they kill them or let them go, knowing they could possibly alert the Taliban of their position? Lieutenant Michael Murphy calls the shots on this one, and so they let them go and the operation is now compromised.

Heading back to the pick up spot they have faulty reception on the radio. Under a compromised operation they had to find the pick up spot and fast. Almost to the spot, their worst nightmare comes true. The goat shepherd doesn’t keep their secret and so the Seals encounter a huge army of Taliban soldiers. I won't go into detail of what happens next but as you can imagine the book is called Lone Survivor for a reason. I will say this; they fought with bravery, gumption and amazing courage. The odds against them were staggering. It was estimated that the fight was more than unfair at a ratio of 140 men against 4. 

Read the book. It's amazing. Watch the movie too. It will open your eyes as to what these guys went through and give you a new appreciation for the pillow you'll rest your head safely on tonight. 

Defeated and mourning the loss of his three best friends, Marcus finally finds some water at the base of the mountain he fell down twice. Battered, bruised and shot up in the leg with shale scrap metal; he is found by a man named Sarawa, the village doctor. In rough English he convinced Marcus he was "no Taliban, no Taliban". After lifting his shirt high and opening his arms wide to prove he had no gun or knife on him, Marcus takes his hand. Sarawa and his son safely help carry a wounded Navy Seal back to their village. 

Marcus is carried to a peaceful Pashtun village. Unsure at first why this man and village would risk so much to help a stranger, he later learns there is a Pashtunwalai tribal law called Lokhay. This word not only means providing care and shelter for the wounded, but it is an unbreakable commitment to defend the wounded - even to the death. It was not just for Sarawa, but the whole village. Lokhay means the population of that entire village will fight to the last man, honor-bound to protect the person invited to share in their hospitality.

Bottom line, they kept Marcus safe from his enemies no matter what. Even when the Taliban came searching for him they hid Marcus in a nearby cave so his life would be spared. What I found most amazing was that one of the elders of the village who knew Marcus was in no shape to make the journey, set out on foot to the US base at Asadabad to inform them of Marcus’ whereabouts. This was not a small hike; it was a thirty to forty mile trek alone in the mountains. Who does that for a complete stranger based on a law called Lokhay??

As this story unfolded before my eyes I couldn’t help but think about our God. Did Jesus not take a long walk into the desert for forty days and nights without food or water for us? Jesus knew He needed the mental strength to fight our enemy of evil; the desert was His training ground, His “hell week”. Did Jesus not travel all over that very same region to share the good news that we were finally safe? No matter what we had been through up until that point, when Jesus found us surrounded by our enemies and sinking into the mud and mire as Marcus was, He pledged his devotion to protect us at all costs. He too would hide us. It might not have been a cave but it was under the shadow of His wings. He too would be willing to lay down His life so we would be found and rescued.  

On His bare back, Jesus suffered under the lashing whip of hatred from our enemies. He wore the crown of thorns so the painful prick of death’s sting would be felt upon only His head. Jesus bled and died a horrible, gruesome death at the hand of our enemy. In doing so He overcame evil. He gave us victory over the enemies chasing us down. I can understand Lokhay a little better now when I think about the man on the cross who gave His all to rescue me.

I also realize that there are thousands of women and men who have laid down their very lives so I might live in the land of the free. It is also called the home of the brave because of the bravery of our U.S. Soldiers. Our freedom in this country is not free; it has a very high cost. On this 4th of July as we celebrate our independence and freedom, I bow my head in solemn prayer with an overwhelmingly grateful heart as I ponder the sacrifice of so many who have fought for our United States of America. To those who continue to fight for our freedoms and shelter us from our enemies, I pledge my deepest gratitude.

I find my salvation at the nail pieced hands of my Jesus....

.... and my freedom in the folded American flags of the fallen. 

There is no greater love than to lay down one's life for one's friends. John 15:13

God Bless our Troops and God Bless America

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