Grief & Loss

A Soldier's Journey to True Peace

Chris Plekenpol

November 26, 2019 | 5 minute read

22 Days of Peace brings you the stories, perspectives, and insights of writers and guest bloggers from many backgrounds. Here, they will tell you how they chose peace, when they found Jesus. Click HERE to find all the articles in the series.

Sometimes, I regret not saving that guy’s life. I mean, sometimes, I sit there and I’m like “you know that’s probably what a Christian would do.” And yet, I didn’t have the guts to do it.  You think you really know God. There is just those moments where I went from this place of being a fan of God, when I was 22, to just having this incredible faith. Where life went from black and white and turned to color, and it just became such a powerful thing. The army kind of sometimes runs a little contradictory to that. So, I just made this call and decision that the only thing in life I wanted to do was share the gospel [of Jesus].

So, I find myself getting out of the army and I’m in Korea and the Colonel gives me a call. And he’s like, “Chris, I want you to take command of this company.”  

So, there is that moment, “Sure, I’ll do one more year. What’s it going to hurt? It’s great leadership experience.”

Well, twelve days after I take command, my Colonel gives me another call, “Hey Chris, I need you to take an assessment of your men. I can’t tell you why, but you can probably figure it out.”  

Figure what out? Well, he told me I was going to war. I was going to Iraq.

A couple of months later I find myself in the sandbox of Iraq. I am now the commander of 100 men, 21 tanks, 7 Bradley’s, which are like mini tanks, a handful of Hummers. I’m standing outside my command post for that first day of combat. I was watching heat waves, I mean it’s hot. Heat waves are bouncing off – it’s 120 degrees outside. And there are my tanks, we’re all out in the sector. I mean, I’m doing this – this is real.

There are three letters that you never want to hear creep across the radio in combat. And that’s KIA.

I glance down at my watch to make sure everything is okay and boom, a massive explosion erupts about a quarter of a mile out. Smoke and fire billow into this mushroom cloud about 250 feet high. Immediately, I run into my command post and I’m trying to figure out from the situation report what exactly is going on.  There are three letters that you never want to hear creep across the radio in combat. And that’s KIA, killed in action.

The first four minutes, I lose my first soldier. Immediately, I run and go grab my M4 carbon rifle, my 9mm pistol. I put my flak vest on and sprint down to my tank. I charge that 50 caliber machine gun, my loader takes a 45 lb., 120mm round and puts it in the breach of the main gun. Then my gunner toggles the switches on the computer, while my driver pushes that 72 ton beast of a machine 42 miles an hour into the west gate.

I align three tanks to pound the north shore with everything we got. These terrorists start to withdraw to the north. I send two tanks across the river to follow. I follow in my tank. 100 men behind me start searching house, to house, to house, to house. And after 7 hours of searching, we find nothing.  

You got one job as a military leader, and that is to bring back everyone home alive. In the first four minutes of that, I fail.

I’m emotionally drained. I go home, back to the barracks and write a letter home to his wife, Kaila, and his 13 year old daughter, Sara, and explain how I let her father and husband die. You got one job as a military leader, and that is to bring back everyone home alive. In the first four minutes of that, I fail.

Spiritually, I’ll be honest with you, it kinda felt like God took a day off. When I came to faith in Christ at 22, we kind of had a deal. Here I am 6 years later and it feels like that whole thing about “I’ll never leave you or forsake you”, it’s kinda church jargon now. But where are you in the moment where my company is in battle, in combat, and I lose somebody and there is that sense that you’re on vacation.

I was constantly out of sector. My uniform is wet with sweat. I’m frustrated. I’m tired. I don’t even feel like I’m a Christian at all. I feel like I’m not praying. I’m not reading my Bible. I’m struggling here. Ultimately, I made a decision and went up to my second-in-command, my executive officer and I said, “Adam, check it out man, I am going down to the chapel in the morning.”

I figure that God is big enough for my worries.

I take a chair and set I set another chair [in front of me]. I just sit there and I talk to God. And I am like, ‘You know what, I’m frustrated. I’m tired. I don’t know if I can do this. I’m lonely. You know, there is no one I can express this fear with; everyone looking to me and  I’m carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders here.

So that frustration kind of mounts and I’m just letting Him have it. I figure that God is big enough for my worries.

This one time, we are out in sector and all of a sudden this terrorist takes a car bomb. It’s not like he has a uniform. He looks like everybody else. He takes this car bomb and he plows it right into one of my men’s tank. The car doesn’t explode. In fact, there was something wrong or he miscalibrated somehow. The detonator didn’t work and he rams the car straight into the tank. You know, this is a 2 ½ ton car running into a 72 ton tank. He loses. He’s knocked out.

The entire gas tank explodes. We have this massive inferno moving from the rear of the car to the front of the car, where these bombs are. So, this terrorist rolls out of the car. He wakes up because the heat must be just incredible. He’s starting to roll away from the blast. And there is a moment. I’m not going to lie to you. I could have saved his life. I saw it, but I didn’t do it. There’s that moment, I was not willing to die for my enemy right now. I’m not willing to do it. And so I watch him. The explosion erupted and we watched his body ripped apart. After the explosion, the dust settles. I jump off my tank and I sprint up to his body. I watch crimson fill the sand.

I’m that terrorist.  When it comes to how I’ve affected my life towards God, I’ve been an enemy of him and yet he didn’t sit back in his tank and just watch me die. He decided to come from heaven to earth and take that blast for me. Life is so short and so urgent. We just have this need to share the hope that we have with people who have no clue. I look at that terrorist and there is no way that I would ever go and save that guy’s life, because I am not that kind of hero. I am not willing to go and risk my life for an enemy. Yet Christ did that very thing for me. I owe him everything and that is why he is first in my life, because he was willing to do what I was never able to do.  

I am Chris Plekenpol and I Am Second.  

Want more on Peace? Order the new I Am Second book, I Choose Peace: Raw Stories of Real People Finding Contentment and Happiness. In stores everywhere. Click HERE to order or learn more. 

Chris Plekenpol

Chris Plekenpol

Chris Plekenpol is the Lead Pastor of Wells Branch Community Church in Austin, TX. He is the author of Faith in the Fog of War I & II. Watch his White Chair Film at

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