The Definition of a Hero

Layne has done the Army thing for a long time. When I talk to him about his service it doesn’t take long to realize that patriotism runs pretty deep for him. He is a member of the Special Forces and lives in the suburbs with his wife and kids. He loves projects (I talked to him in his garage while he was working on a project). He’s added a big addition onto his house, installed slate tile, put a central vacuum system in (yes, you tear holes in all your walls to put the pvc in), loves old Bronco trucks and works on them all the time. And he’s a hero. Let me tell you why…

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In the aftermath of 9/11 Layne was called up to go into Afghanistan. He was pretty sure it was going to happen, but this time it felt different. He could not shake the feeling that something was going to happen. He wasn’t coming home from this one in one piece. He could just sense it. It may not surprise you to find out that this troubled him a lot. He told me he prayed a lot looking for peace, looking for some kind of assurance that he was going to be protected. But it didn’t come.

He told me that he and his wife were sitting together one day, thinking about the future and looking for peace in their hearts, and a feeling came to him that it would be all right. That things would work out. For just a few minutes, then it was gone. No feeling of assurance that he would be protected, just that it would be all right.

So he went. He answered the call of his country and he went to Afghanistan.

Several months later he was in a fire fight in a small village. He was holding a grenade launcher waiting for his shot. He could see the arms of the enemy popping above the wall in front of him as they tossed grenades over the wall at him. One. Two. Three grenades. He ducked, one, two, three grenades detonated and he stood to take his shot.

That’s when a fourth grenade detonated 10 feet away from him. (3 meters)

The enemy they were fighting that day was using the “good stuff”. They had very modern weapons. When I think of grenades I think of those pineapple things from World War II. They are different today. Grenades today are spheres, about the size of a baseball from the hand motion Layne made while he was describing them. They wrap yards of scored wire around a small, powerful explosive. When that explosive detonates, all that wire turns into supersonic particles – many thousands of them moving in every direction. Hurray for the cleverness of man.

Layne had 12 of these grenades strapped to his chest when one of these same grenades detonated 10 feet away from him. He didn’t hear the grenade in the heat of battle, but he felt something hit his eye. He knew he’d been hit but he thought he’d been shot.

A flood of emotion and thoughts came to him as time slowed – he worried about what the back of his head looked like, he wondered if this made him a hero. He was impressed that he’d been shot and was just standing there. But then he realized that he was going to die a long way from home – then came the thoughts of his family and the crushing sadness that his kids would grow up without him. Images of them going to school dances, accomplishing things in church, and getting married filled his mind as the darkness and sadness spread through him. His wife and kids were going to have to do it all without him. He told me it was the blackest moment he’s ever experienced.

Then suddenly he was almost transported to that time months before when he and his wife sat pondering the future – he said it was like he was there again, and this time he heard the phrase “it will all work out, it will be all right”. As he heard this a warmth and peace spread through his whole body. He knew he would see his wife and kids again. He knew it.

Then he hit the ground. All of these thoughts and feelings had happened in the tiniest fraction of a second as he fell.

Layne lost the use of his eye that day. Of all the tens of thousands of pieces of shrapnel flying from that grenade, one hit him. One. It hit the bridge of his nose perfectly so it would loop around his eye socket and lodge in the other side of his eye. It cut the optic nerve as it did. But Layne laughs heartily. “That’s like a promotion”, he says “when you go from being dead to just losing an eye, that’s a promotion!”.

Now you know his story.

I believe Layne had a premonition of what was coming. I believe that God spoke peace to Layne’s soul there on the battle field. And I believe that when you put your own personal safety aside, your own personal desires to raise your family in peace, and put yourself in harms way so others can raise their families in peace – well that’s a hero.

How many heros have done that in the past? How many are doing that right now? Politics and personal beliefs aside, they leave what they love and serve. Heros.

The time I spent talking with Layne taught me a lot. I’m profoundly grateful.

One last note:

As we were wrapping up our conversation, Layne started telling me how great war is. “You get to go camping, you get to hang out with your buddies, you get to blow stuff up – oh yeah, war is great! War is a ton of fun until somebody shoots their eye out!”.

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