A Story of Service from Sgt. Benjamin Daniel of the US Army
In the War on Terror in Iraq, a common difficulty was finding the enemy. The only way to identify the enemy there was to bait him and draw him out. One tactic often used by my platoon was to set a predictable pattern of operations for three to four days and then break it. This allowed the enemy to observe our patrol pattern and plan an attack against us. However, the enemy would not predict our break from the pattern and would be caught unaware.
On one such patrol, our platoon had set a pattern of driving through a market area built on a curvy stretch of road for about three days. On the fourth day, we arrived at the market area about two hours earlier than we had during the previous patrols. The market was filled with men wielding rifles and pistols, pulling together hastily made road obstructions of barbed wire, cement blocks and barrels. It was apparent they were setting up an ambush for our platoon. These men were not prepared for us when we arrived and, as one would guess, a firefight ensued. Most of the men ran from us, their morale immediately decimated by our intrusion into their poorly planned ambush. We pursued the enemy and detained many of them with little resistance.
Later I was assigned to guard a few of those we had detained. While many military forces have made their place in history, one key difference that sets the American military apart is in their treatment of detainees and prisoners. Once under our control, all prisoners are expected to be treated civilly, and provisions such as food and water will be given as needed.
One of the men sat blind-folded and cross-legged on the ground before me, his hands bound behind his back. He spoke the word “Ruah” which I had learned to mean something close to “water” or “thirsty”. I retrieved a bottle of water from one of the platoon’s humvees, poured a portion into a metal bowl, knelt down in front of this pitiful soul and lifted the bowl to his lips to drink. The thought crossed my mind that just moments before, this man was intent on my destruction. He had shown no good will toward me or my comrades, yet here I was ensuring his safety and well-being.
This is the moment I had a sort of personal revelation: this is what it means to love your enemies. This man had been hoping he would be the victor that day. Had things gone differently he could have, right then, been standing over my dead body and declaring, “Allah Akbar!” with no shame or remorse for the actions he’d committed. And yet I was giving him water. He wanted to harm me and I was intent on protecting him. I was sustaining his life when he wished to extinguish mine. I was loving my enemy.
I have replayed this scene in my mind many times since that day several years ago, and a sense of clarified humility always comes upon me. I stand in awe that in the middle of all that chaos and distress I was able to boldly represent my faith and my country with honor and integrity. I am grateful to God for the experience, and even more grateful to return home in safety to enjoy the freedoms that our great republic holds dear – freedoms unknown to so many others in the world.
Only one phrase is suitable in such a situation, and no matter how many times it is used it will always be true and will never become cliché: God bless America!