It was April 2007. I was stationed at Naval Station Norfolk doing trash duty. I had done a year of shore duty to get a medical workup, due to some lingering pain and difficulty breathing. For more info on that, read When the Grim Reaper Calls. It was time to pick orders to the next station. I had about a year and half left, and I was looking forward to finishing up and going to seminary. Picking orders was always exciting…and scary. You know, it was a change — something different, but it was also a move, new coworkers, and new leadership.
“Wagen. Come to my office.” Chief said.
“Close the door behind you.”
He looked at me, squinted his eyes a little, and said, “We got your orders in today. How do you feel about combat?”
“That’s what I signed up for. Let’s get the terrorists!”
He stayed stoic. “Well, you have orders to work with the Seals. You will be running VBSS (Visit, Board, Search, and Seizure) operations off Florida. How does that sound?”
I was taken back. I didn’t know what to think. Why would they give me orders to work with Seals, now? Why not when I was 17 and healthy? Ever since I was really young, I wanted to become some sort of assassin or special agent. I had already missed a chance to be a mercenary (more on that later), so I wasn’t going to let this one pass.
“I’m interested. What needs to happen next?”
“Well, I’d advise getting into the best shape you can. Qualify for 2nd class swimmer, and be sure to work out every day, even if you just do a few sets of push-ups and sit-ups.”
“Yes, Chief. I will do it.”
I started swimming…and hard! I was taken into the ER twice in one week for dehydration. The second time I went in, they gave me two bags of fluid via IV, and I was still registering as dehydrated on my TILTS. I worked really hard to get ready for these orders. Even to the point that I was risking serious bodily injury.
After two months of punishment, I was able to pass my test in the water. I reported this back to Chief, and decided to pry further.
“Hey Chief! I passed my swim test! Do you have a moment to talk?”
“Sure, come in my office.”
I entered the office and sat down.
“Can you tell me more about the orders? I had someone tell me I should make sure I don’t have to extend my contract.”
“You will have to extend your contract by 3 years, and you will be running anti-drug operations.”
“What about the terrorists that I sign up to extinguish?”
“These are the terrorists. Their drug money supports terrorism, son.”
At the time, I didn’t know how to respond, but I know better now. Drug money usually doesn’t support terrorism. Normally, it goes to gangsters and corrupt cops and/or government officials.
“Well, given that I have to extend my contract, and the fact that I will be putting my life on the line for drug operations, I will kindly request new orders.”
I didn’t know how he would react. Usually orders aren’t something to be negotiated.
He thought for a minute and said, “OK. I will let them know. We will find you different orders. Thanks for sharing your concern. We don’t want anybody going into combat unless they want to.”
“I want to, just not for drugs.”
He didn’t pry, but I wasn’t willing to kill or be killed over drugs. Plain and simple. I was expecting to fight so I could stop things like 9/11 from ever happening again. I wanted to make a real difference, not just have a legal excuse to kill people. Call me an idealist, if you want, but it’s how I felt.
My situation reminds me of a scene from Black Hawk Down. They were all in the hangar at the beginning of the movie. Eversman, played by Josh Harttnet, was being asked by one of his crew, “Weren’t you trained to fight, Eversman?”
He responds, “I was trained to make a difference.”
His subordinate responded, “You see, the man is an idealist!”
I signed up to make a difference. In short, I don’t believe I made that difference. There are two things that make me believe I AM making a difference:
- Leading people to Jesus.
- Educating people regarding liberty.
I can say with all honesty, that I feel like I am making more of difference now, than I did while serving. I was their drone — their “stone cold killing machine.” Their property. Thankfully, that is behind me, but I press onward to freedom…making a difference. Wagen, over and out.