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The ultimate sacrifice

Arriving at Bravo Surgical for my weekly debriefing with the psychologist, I passed the concrete barrier where one of the Army doctors had lost his life from a mortar attack the day before his scheduled return home.

The memory drew my thoughts to a recent report of fallen Marines from another unit. Rounding the corner, I saw the corpsmen lined up, stretchers in hand, waiting in silence. Everything slowed down. 

As I stared into the faces of those who battle death daily, I knew something was terribly wrong.

Than I heard the news - ten killed and five wounded. Another chaplain was already there and he informed me that a third was on the way. I saw something in his face that told me what I didn’t want to hear: it was my unit that had sustained the casualties. The words cut deep. It was our third mass casualty since engaging the insurgents of Fallujah.

The next minutes seemed like hours as we waited for the injured to arrive. Reality hit me hard, somewhere between shock and awe at what the Marines had endured. How do you minister to these brave men at such an unbearable time?  I entered into their pain as closely as possible, moving the wounded from the vehicles to the surgical ward, grabbing the end of a stretcher, making contact whenever possible. Shoulder to shoulder, heart to heart, together we bore each other’s pain.

Then the vehicle carrying the dead arrived. Time stopped. The silence was deafening.  The brave souls, now standing in eternity, had given their very lives. The oath they had taken was fulfilled; they had given their all. Now it was time for us to honor them.

One by one, with the utmost respect and reverence, we removed each comrade from the back of the vehicle. Together we endured the burden of verifying their identities and praying last rites. Words were few as we acknowledged this incredible tragedy.

No words can describe the devotion, dedication, and courage of these faithful warriors. No amount of money or medals or parades can repay their service. Day after day, night after night, for more than six months—standing where few have stood—they endured, selflessly serving one another and their country.

The words of honor, courage and commitment—have taken on a new meaning. My prayer for you this Lenten season as you prepare for Easter is not only to embrace the Ultimate Sacrifice of our Savior, but embrace those warriors around you. Reach-out to those that have given their promise to serve with their lives. 

Invite them into your homes and hearts. Celebrate together the freedom we so often forget that comes with a price. Experience the joy of sharing your faith with another and never forget these words, “Greater love hath no man than this; that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

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