You Gotta Be There
Sometime after midnight, the Army airborne platoon met for the pre-mission briefing. In moments they would board aircraft in Kandahar for action against insurgents. This particular mission involved working in coordination with an elite commando unit.
At this time in Afghanistan, such missions were carried out every night that there was (1) good weather and (2) good intelligence. This night, they had both.
The paratroopers were to leave first, land a few kilometers from the target, and walk in without being detected to take up strategic positions around the target. Then, when the airborne troopers were in position, the commandos would land right on top of the target to try to capture a certain insurgent leader alive. But they had to be ready for anything.
As was customary for the airborne unit, after the briefing and just before their departure, their chaplain stood before them to read a Bible verse and offer prayer.
He quoted Joshua 1:9—"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go"—and commented briefly on God's continuous presence in all situations, whether acknowledged or not, and then he prayed for the troopers, the mission, and the safety of any civilians that might be in harm's way.
"While soldiers may not be openly religious at other times, they listen intently at moments like this," the chaplain, who asked that his name not be used, would later tell me. "They're at their most spiritually calibrated because they are probably going to be shot at. They did not want to skip this ritual."
After the paratroopers left, the chaplain noticed the elite commando unit boarding vehicles to head to their helicopters for the mission. While he prayed regularly with the paratroopers, he'd not met these guys before.
"They were in full 'battle rattle' and were checking their equipment, body armor, weapons, night vision goggles, and all the rest," said the chaplain. "I asked the master chief if I could have a word of prayer with the team, and he said, 'Sure, just make it quick.' Then he turned to get the latest intel report."
"Men, let's gather for prayer," the chaplain said. No one responded. Everyone just continued checking weapons and adjusting communications gear. "Guys, let me pray for you," the chaplain repeated. Again, no response.
"I didn't know anyone in this unit, and they didn't come to any of our Bible studies or services," the chaplain said, but he had not expected this kind of total non-response. He looked over at the master chief, who noticed what was happening and unleashed a profanity-laced tirade: "You @*#%s! Get the @*#% over here so we can have a @*#% prayer so we can get going on this @*#% mission!"
Not a standard call to worship, but it worked. The team quickly gathered, and the chaplain said: "Men, you guys are tough, and you are well-trained. You are as fit as any professional athlete, and as prepared as you can be. You may not think you need God, but you do. So I'm going to pray for you tonight." Then he prayed for the team, for the helicopter pilots, for safety, for the success of the mission, and that no innocent civilians would be hurt.