Doing The Harder Right - The Warrior's Journey®

Doing The Harder Right

Author: Chaplain, COL Scott McChrystal, USA (Ret.)

Virginia Guard chaplain support teams support military personnel in Louisiana. Photo by Coast Guard is licensed under CC By 2.0

Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey — whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? (Romans 6:16)

Anyone who has served in the military understands the importance of obedience. From the beginning of basic training, recruits quickly learn that obedience is key to survival. As service members progress in their training and experience, they learn that obedience has many advantages.

To demonstrate that obedience is vital in all services, consider that the word “obey” appears in every version of the oath of office that both enlisted and officers are required to execute. The oath of enlistment into the United States Armed Forces is administered by any commissioned officer to any person enlisting or re-enlisting for a term of service into any branch of the military.

The officer asks the person or persons to raise their right hand and repeat the oath after him. In the oath are these words: “That I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me.”

Obedience to the Lord is vital as well. I have seen firsthand how obedience to God has paid big dividends for those serving in the military. This obedience can take many different forms, but one area involves telling the truth.

I remember the phone call from my battalion commander at Fort Bragg. One of our engineer noncommissioned officers was being brought up on charges — serious charges. When he told me the name, I could hardly believe it. The individual was Staff Sergeant Smith*, a highly respected leader in the unit. My commander asked that I meet with SSG Smith.

* Name has been changed.

He reported to my office. I invited him to sit down as we began our conversation. I learned that he not only was being charged with possessing drugs, but also with acting as a drug distributor. If the charges were proven to be true, his career was history. All the hard work and great service he had done was down the drain. From my years as an Infantry officer, I had developed a rather direct approach in matters of this sort. After listening to SSG Smith, I asked this question: “SSG Smith, are you guilty of the charges?”

I followed that with this statement: “If you can’t speak the truth to me, I can’t help you. I must know the whole truth.”

Without batting an eye, SSG Smith looked directly at me and answered: “Sir, I am guilty on both counts. I have made a very serious mistake and I am ashamed of my actions. I have disgraced myself, my unit and the United States Army.”

An amazing thing happened. By leveling with me and telling the truth from the beginning, we were able to focus immediately on the next steps to take. The first was to talk about his relationship with the Lord. SSG Smith didn’t know much about matters of faith, but he believed in God. As I shared further, he asked clarifying questions. Within a few minutes, he asked me to lead him in prayer to accept Jesus into his life. No pressure, no coercion. This soldier knew he was a sinner and wanted to make things right with God.

Next we talked about his legal situation with the Army. He had committed a serious offense, and he was going to get hammered. No question about that. Amazingly, however, because he accepted full responsibility for his actions, he saw no need for a lawyer. He would simply confess his crime and ask for mercy.

Honestly, I wasn’t sure mercy would even be part of the equation as the military authorities dealt with his case. But his willingness to openly admit his wrongdoing without excuses caught the attention of his leadership chain of command. It caught my attention as well.

When SSG Smith appeared for his court martial, he had many supporters to speak on his behalf. To a man, the leadership in the battalion was convinced that SSG Smith had learned a hard lesson. If there was any way to restore him back to active duty, they unanimously recommended that he be granted another chance. The legal decision handed down at the Courts Martial hit him hard. Two years at the Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Following that, he would be given a dishonorable discharge from the Army. That decision didn’t seem to be wrapped in mercy. And by the way, he was reduced to the rank of private.

Private Smith didn’t let the decision deter him. He decided to trust God and attempt to make the most of the situation. He promised to keep me updated with periodic phone calls detailing his progress. After several weeks, I received the first call. To my astonishment, he sounded upbeat about his experience and indicated that the cadre at the prison seemed inclined to support him as much as possible. He voiced his strong trust in God.

It was the second phone call that got my attention. His performance as a prisoner proved to be so stellar that the Army was now reconsidering its decision to discharge him following the serving of his sentence. He asked me to pray.

As the months rolled on, the situation seemed to change to the point of being miraculous. Not only was it looking like PVT Smith would be given a chance to remain on active duty, but he was now candidating to join the elite Army Rangers.

Unfortunately, I lost communication with PVT Smith when my family and I moved to Korea. The last communication I had with him indicated that he would be resuming active duty for sure, most likely with one of the Army Ranger battalions. Is obedience important to the Lord?

It is so crucial that Jesus spoke these words: “If you love me, you will obey what I command” (John 14:15).

SSG Smith had clearly been disobedient once. But he asked the Lord for forgiveness and proved his sincerity by being obedient to the truth. SSG Smith chose the harder right over the easier wrong. He chose obedience.

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