It’s hot. Like an opening an oven and sticking your face in.
And it’s dusty. My contact lenses don’t like the heat or the dust and I’ll probably have to change them out tonight.
And it stinks. There are columns of smoke behind me from the fires where someone is burning trash and human filth. It smells like nothing else on earth.
But I’m not worried about the heat, the dust, or the stench.
I can feel the compression of my vertebre under the weight of body armor, gear, radios, ammo, and water. About 40 pounds, I think–but this is a short patrol and we aren’t taking packs, so at least that’s a bonus…
But I’m not worried about the weight of my gear.
What worries me are the machine guns that are trained on me and following my patrol’s every step.
Photo Credit: Ash Clements
I’m in the no-man’s-land that separates Iraq and Syria, looking for “rat-lines:” small paths and hideouts, sometimes in mini-canyons that have been cut out of the dirt by torrential rains, used by smugglers and foreign fighters to get into Iraq without being seen. My team’s job is to cut off the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq, using any means necessary.
But the Syrian border guards that watch over the no-man’s-land don’t like the fact that I’m there. Maybe they get a kick-back from smugglers or terrorists. Maybe they take their job seriously and don’t want some American patrol wandering into Syrian territory. Maybe they would just love to have a story to tell their kids how they showed the Americans who was really in charge in the desert.
I don’t want to be part of that story.
So my men and I get out of range of the machine guns. Quickly.
I’m brought back to that scene often as I think about men and women who believe they are committed to do hard things in this world. Maybe they’ve heard the call to serve: They’ve been moved enough to sign on the dotted line and dedicate their life to a higher calling. Maybe they’ve geared up–they’ve been through training and they’ve got their equipment. Maybe they’ve made it to the front line…
But there’s still a no-mans-land to be crossed.
And that’s usually the hardest step to take.
It’s going to be dangerous, it’s going to scary, and we might take casualties. But the no-man’s-land must be crossed in our lives. It’s the obstacle that awaits us any time we decide to follow our mission and dreams. It takes on many shapes and sizes.
Sometimes it takes the shape of criticism. I get it—it’s hard to keep following our mission if we can be offended by criticism or verbal opposition.
Some times the no-man’s-land is difficult terrain. Our mission may include a challenging task or a hard duty. Unfortunately, we don’t have the luxury to disregard our given mission.
Some times the no-man’s-land is full of enemy trenches. We could receive active resistance from the forces of darkness: sickness, death, fear. However, we still must fight, encourage and strengthen each other, and advance the line.
We’ve all got a no-man’s-land to face. But let’s commit to not be afraid of the unknown or from doing our duty.