The words on the radio brought a chill to my heart. I will never forget them.
A little earlier, the radio sent a MEDEVAC request from an Army unit north of us that had been hit by a landmine. A HUMMWV had driven over the mine, which exploded, killing one soldier and grievously wounded another. Two other soldiers awaited emergency medical attention as well.
It was my turn on watch. Like every other day, part of the duties of the guard on watch is to monitor the radio, listening for calls to our FOB from our higher command. Because many commands use the same satellite network, we constantly hear calls to and from other Army units. In this case, the unit was an infantry unit on a convoy.
The unit that had been hit had trouble contacting the group which sends the request for MEDEVAC. Precious minutes ticked by as the radio operator tried to have another station on the net contact the MEDEVAC group. A situational report went out reporting the patient’s status: “Low pulse, pulse is fading.”
Despite the urgency of the situation, the radio operator remained calm, focused. He knew from training that hysterics did little to remedy the emergency. He focused on contacting the right element to get the helicopter there to save the soldier’s life.
I said a prayer. I sat there, helpless, and cursed the ineffective radio comms. I was transfixed, waiting and hoping for a positive outcome.
Then came the words that made my heart sink: “No pulse.” There were no other words. It was a simple statement, a report of the patient’s condition to his higher command.
The radio traffic continued, with the radio operator at the other end continuing to coordinate the medical evacuation. Map grid coordinates were given, along with a report on enemy conditions. The radio traffic continued. I walked away in disbelief.
How could such an advanced communications network fail so badly? How could we mess it up at such a critical time? How could such a simple task as asking and getting emergency medical assistance become so boggled up? We failed this soldier - we failed him and his family. We failed badly.
I learned later that the man who died was a medic, one who was trained to deliver emergency medical care. Another soldier died with him this day. A day later, another soldier would lose an eye because this medic was not there to help him - what should have been reported as a medical emergency was misdiagnosed by nonmedical personnel, because this medic was not there to treat him. He was dead.
I burned with rage at our own ineffectiveness. One of my teammates had to calm me down - he said, “We need you to stay focused, to stay in the game.” He was right, of course, but the anger remained.
My anger turned from us to our enemy, the Taliban who had done this. This same day, 40 Taliban attacked another convoy, using motorcycles to attack and quickly escape. More roadside IEDs were planted this day; fortunately most were discovered. The next day, another explosion would cripple another vehicle and cost a soldier one of his eyes.
I have come to hate the Taliban. When I came to Afghanistan, I was opposed to them because of their evil acts. Now I am filled with anger towards them.
I realize that Christians are to love our enemies. I also see how Jesus lashed out in anger at the moneylenders, and spoke with anger against the hypocrites. I am angry at those who kill and terrorize in the name of God. If they will not stop, I want to see them stopped, destroyed if necessary.
Later, I sat on a log, numbly thinking of the grief that must be felt by the soldiers’ families. In my mind, I felt the voice of a soldier speak to me: “Don’t worry, I’m in a better place. Keep fighting the good fight.”
With all my heart, I will. I will not let them die in vain. And I will never let this happen to one of my teammates.
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The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and
Executive Director of CrossCurrents.
He is the author of God and Science (John Knox Press, 1986).
A revised and expanded version of the book is appearing here. God and Science (Hypertext Edition,
He is also editor of a new book, featuring articles by world class scientists and theologians, and illustrating the leading views on the relationship between science and religion: Faith, Science and the Future (CrossCurrents Press, 2007).
Charles also tracks the boundry between the virtual and the real at his blog: Next World Design, focusing on the mediation of art, science and spirituality in the metaverse.