Amidst the recent controversy over Pentagon religious policy and the potential court-martialing of service members who share their faith, it is extremely important to understand the power of faith when faced with the unspeakable realities of war.
For many of us who have not experienced military combat and the loss of fellow soldiers, it is hard to understand or estimate the mental and emotional toll it can bring. People sometimes think they can, but the reality is, unless experiencing it first hand, they have absolutely no idea. For John Dale Gardner, Sergeant, USMCR, faith was what got him through those tough times, and there were many. He has since expressed that faith with a new book entitled Combat Devotions (Lot’s Wife Publishing 2013).
Gardner was a reservist when deployed to the Al-Anbar province of Iraq in August of 2004, 2nd platoon Charlie Company, 4th Combat Engineer Battalion from Lynchburg, Virginia. Although charged with many tasks such as building fortifications for the Iraqi National Guard, his main role was squad leader for 10-20 soldiers at any given time. Their job was to find and marginalize insurgents. Often times this was at night, and often times with just a few moments notice. He and his men engaged in house raids, specified target hunts, and general combat.
He began keeping a notebook. Gardner says, “During free moments, as I read through my Bible, I would write down verses that I felt applied to the situations we were facing and verses that were good for everyday life.”
He came home in March of 2005. According to Gardner, “a couple of years passed, but the notebook kept coming to mind. After a little research, I realized that devotional resources geared toward the military were fairly limited. I knew the Lord had put the tools in my hands to change the situation.”
The resulting book is a list of 30 Bible verses. Gardner explains his rationale for each, and suggests other verses and passages that complement each thought. His insight and ability to translate each verse to combat situations and life in general is striking, impactful, and inspirational. While he does not go into detail, the reader gets a sense of what he and his men were dealing with. The things he experienced many of us may never know, but the feelings and emotions that come from the words and from between the lines are a testament to the power of spiritual guidance when faced with the harsh realities of war.
John Dale Gardner is a quiet, humble, and thoughtful husband, father, and spiritual veteran of war. He and his men served their country proudly. The book is dedicated to Sergeant Jesse Strong, Corporal Jonathan Bowling, Corporal Christopher Weaver, and Lance Corporal Karl Linn, four brave soldiers his squad lost one night. These scriptures have served him well, and will no doubt serve many others.
“So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” –Matthew 6:31
In a combat environment, a verse this simple can be very complicated to apply. Your days are unavoidably filled with worries. Some of which are the worst human nature has to give… –J.D. Gardner