Another Fictional Story, or is it?
When I was a brand new platoon leader in the Army, I took a quick assessment of the guys in my platoon. For the most part, they were great guys. I looked at my sergeants. If I were to have success, I knew I had to have good sergeants, and I needed to support them. I had some of the best. Since we were essentially a Construction Platoon, we also had a lot of skill. I had one of the only masons at the time. I was blessed with great guys on whom I could rely.
Of my sergeants, I had one that had been in the military for a very short time. He received stripes for skills. Sergeant Smith was such an interesting person, I was amazed by his odd combination of being fun-loving and strict military bearing (when appropriate).
On a couple of occasions, I had the pleasure of driving down the autobahn with him, and we got to talk.
Sgt. Smith had been a lacrosse player at Pennsylvania, an Ivy League school. He felt invincible. He dabbled in drugs, losing his scholarship. He had great grades, but no money. He joined the Army. In the Army, he found a secure home, and a haven against the drug scene. He had structure, thus his penchant for being overly perfect in certain aspects of military life. Then within that safe structure, he allowed himself to cut up. He was the guy with whom everyone wanted to hang out, unless they were thinking of a few beers. Sgt. Smith did not drink beer, wine, or do any kind of drugs. He was a holy terror if he caught wind of others doing so, but he stayed in his room with the door locked when not on duty. He had a couple of close friends, but most of the platoon saw him as a mystery.
During inspections, I noticed that his reading material was different than the other guys. While others had the latest adventures of Spiderman or a mystery novel, Sgt. Smith had Nietzsche and Kierkegaard. In noticing his reading material, I asked if he wanted to go to officer’s school. I would put in a recommendation.
He became agitated. “No, Sir. I’m fine. I did college once and screwed it up. I couldn’t do that again. I need structure to keep me straight. The enlisted ranks in the military gives me that structure. Don’t do me any favors, Sir.”
I thought that was odd, but I never brought it up again. With the structure of the Army, even as an officer, he could stay sober and excel, but he feared his own nature, if he lost that structure. It was as if he was performing an eternal penance. His problem was that he was doing it all on his own power. He had no support from a loving God, and he refused support from the parents that he had disappointed. He felt that he had to win back their favor.
Sgt. Smith had two lacrosse sticks in his room. One day during free exercise, he invited me to do some lacrosse drills. I learned a lot about face-offs, if that is what you call them, including how to play dirty. We played catch, since we each had a stick. Once I had the hang of that, he suggested a running passes drill. The running passes drill was worse than wind sprints in track and field. Two people run in the same direction and you flip the ball from your stick to theirs, ahead of them, trying to judge how fast they are running. This causes them to run faster. They then flip it back. For you to catch it in your stick’s net, you have to run faster. I don’t think I’ve ever run a hundred yards any faster, and I was flipping a ball with a lacrosse stick, playing catch with another guy. He wasn’t even winded.
Once, I invited him, along with another guy, to my apartment in the officer’s quarters. He was very polite, but he was uncomfortable. He preferred sitting in the kitchen, talking to my wife instead of talking to me. Maybe he saw how we were just a normal family. I didn’t sleep in the barracks with the guys. My platoon sergeant and I had normal lives outside of work. Did that frighten him? Did it show that there was the potential of being in the Army without the structure where he felt safe?
Well, time moves on. I was only a platoon leader for a year and a half. My platoon sergeant and I both moved on, but my platoon sergeant kept up with his favorite guys, even after he retired. I kept up with the platoon sergeant. We had become quite close. I was able to catch up with Sgt. Smith years later. He was now Sergeant Major Smith. He was an experienced sergeant, getting ready to retire.
Years later, my platoon sergeant suggested a reunion of the platoon. He had heard that Sgt. Smith had retired, but my platoon sergeant only had contact information for a family member. The contact person said that after he had retired, he had become a recluse. He wanted nothing to do with anyone.
I pray for Sgt. Smith and all of my guys in the platoon. My platoon sergeant has passed on. Since he had ways of finding people, I lost that connection with the rest of the guys.
I often think of Sgt. Smith. Did he become a recluse because he lost his structure? He had faith that the Army structure would keep him from getting involved in drugs and alcohol. Without God to be by his side, would he be able to cope outside the comfortable structure of the Army?
What would I say to Sgt. Smith, if I had one more chance? I’d like to say that I love Jesus and Jesus can be the rock that you turn to when the system, structure, or order in your life turns upside down or deserts you. Sometimes, going to church and being a good example are not enough. You have to be prepared to tell your own story of faith.
Most companies prohibit that these days. You spend more than a third of each work day, over half of the time that you are awake in an environment that prohibits you from carrying out God’s Great Commission. It sucks the life out of you and leaves you with regrets.
When we talk to someone about Jesus, we don’t know whether we’ll ever see them again. It puts an entirely different level of urgency on spreading the Word of God to the people that you know and love.
It is wonderful when you feed the poor, fix someone’s house, build wheelchair ramps, and any number of other caring things. They can see God’s love in what you do. But don’t pass up a chance to say how God has changed your life. You may never get another opportunity.