“I am ordering you to take the shot!” rang in his ears. As a U.S. Army sniper on overwatch protecting his comrades, Andy knew that lives were at stake on both sides. But Andy had the best view of the situation and something “didn’t feel right. . . .”
Recently I sat down with Andy, a family friend and one of my former basketball players. Andy grew up at Bellevue Baptist Church under the preaching of Adrian Rogers, and I coached him in youth sports at the church. I had not seen him in years, and as we caught up on life this particular afternoon, time sped by as he told me of his travels and his journey of faith.
Church League Basketball
“I admit it. I am very competitive. Judge me now if you must.” – Coach Mike Spradlin
I was coaching youth, church-league basketball, and Andy was on my fifth-grade boys’ team along with one of my sons. It was late in the season, and we had a chance to win the league championship. On this particular Saturday morning, the flu was going around and only five boys showed up for the game. In basketball, that is the minimum number of players to start a game. So that day no one could quit, and no one could foul out.
Team Photo: Bellevue Conquerors, Andy #34 back row, second from left.
I made my pregame speech to the team and told them of our predicament. I informed them of our desperate situation and what was required of them on this day. When I asked the players if they understood me, Andy raised his hand and said, “That means we get double refreshments today.” Yes Andy, and double the glory, as well.
Late in the game, the score was close and, during a timeout, Andy told me he couldn’t go on. His throat hurt, and he was so tired. This next part comes from Andy’s parents (who are now church planters in Upstate New York). They recently reminded me of what happened in this all-important game.
When Andy told me he couldn’t go on, (according to his parents) I tilted his head back and poured a bottle of water down his throat. I next told him, “Get back in the game, Son, you’ll be fine.” We took the shot and won the game.
Apparently, this incident propelled Andy on his chosen career path. He is a now a United States Army Drill Sergeant.
Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way
Now for the most amazing part of the story. When Andy brought me the photo of him I had requested, I asked him to stay and talk. We visited about family, friends, and his experiences in combat. I was stunned and amazed at his life and his stories. What follows is my recollection of our conversation. Any errors are mine to bear.
2008: The Iraq War Zone
Relatively new to the Army, Andy was sent to Iraq in 2008 as a part of a campaign he called The Surge. Through a series of events, Andy found himself thrust into leadership. Being new to combat and new to leadership placed an incredible strain on his life. He saw the horrors of war firsthand. After a difficult period of combat, he returned to the States, but he entered a dark time personally trying to process all that he had seen and experienced.
At this moment of personal crisis, the Lord Jesus did a great work of grace in his life and reminded Andy that he belonged to Him. With his renewed faith and personal focus, Andy went on to sniper school and completed the Army’s difficult mountain warfare course.
Deployed again, this time leaving a wife and newborn daughter behind, Andy returned to Iraq as a part of a QRF (Quick Reaction Force – the cavalry that comes to the rescue). One of the units he supported was made up of Romanian speaking soldiers which made communication and coordination extremely difficult. When Andy realized that the Romanian language was based on Latin (and he had two years of Latin in High School), he and one of the Romanian officers developed a Tactical Card with words and phrases to help them work together smoothly. Another day in the life of a U. S. Army Sergeant/sniper.
What do soldiers think of when they are under fire in combat? Well on one occasion Andy and his men were under fire and a sermon from his boyhood pastor, Dr. Adrian Rogers, came to mind. Andy remembered Dr. Rogers saying, “There are no atheists in foxholes.” Andy thought to himself that this would be a perfect time to see if that saying were true. Didn’t they have an atheist in their unit?
Andy decided to move down the line to check on his men and every time his radio antenna was seen he heard the crack of nearby rounds fly over his head. He asked where this certain (atheist) soldier was and moved on to find him. After all, this would be a great time to see if atheists turn into prayer warriors under fire. When he got to the (atheist) soldier, the soldier was laying there but didn’t seem to be praying. The (atheist) soldier noticed Andy looking at him and asked, “What do you want, Sergeant?” Andy replied, “Just checking on you.” Oh well, Dr. Rogers, maybe next time.
When most soldiers are in combat they are shooting back at people who are shooting at them. Sniper teams often have a far different perspective. They have to make decisions to shoot or not to shoot based on the best information they have at the time.
When Andy hears the call over the radio, “I am ordering you to take the shot!” he knows what to do. He has the confidence to deal with the most difficult of decisions. In deciding whether to proceed or to delay, Andy believes that he has served his country with his honor and integrity intact.
Now moving on to the next phase of his military service Andy looks forward to training up the next generation of “11 Bravos” (the U.S. Army designation for infantry soldiers). Andy has the credibility that comes with experience and the conviction to do right that comes from his faith in the Lord Jesus.
Andy and his wife have even talked about life after they retire from the Army. They may move overseas and serve in an orphanage in Africa or even back to Iraq.
Well done #34. I am proud to know that people like you and your family serve our country and our Lord. As far as my advice goes, I would tell you to never quit and to follow your dreams. In other words, to take the shot.