Even though I have experienced many memorable events in my life, one that I will never forget took place on April 1, 2003. As a part of the First Marine Division, our battalion was pushing hard toward Baghdad, Iraq. We had already, as a part of the invasion force, been involved in several engagements with Iraqi army forces, but this one was different from the others.
We received word early in the day that there was a small bridge over a canal (the Saddam Canal, go figure) was guarded by a small contingent of Iraqi security forces. Our mission was to seize the bridge in the early afternoon so that follow-on forces could push through before dark. The intelligence reports indicated that by the time our battalion arrived at the bridge the soldiers guarding it would be gone and we would encounter little or no resistance. It’s funny how quickly things can change.
Since my platoon had the best mobility and heaviest weapons (ours was the counter-mechanized platoon with heavy machine guns and TOW missiles) we were the lead element specifically tasked with setting up a security checkpoint at the bridge while the rest of the battalion moved into position. It did not take long to figure out that we would have to deal with more than just a small, or non-existent, security force. As we got within about a quarter-mile of the bridge and could clearly see it in the distance, the road that we were on started to take impacts from mortar fire. Iraqi Republican Guard soldiers complete with machine guns, mortars, and a large anti-aircraft gun were waiting for us on our objective. Thankfully, our training took over and we slammed into that fortified position with all that we had.
It is always an amazing thing to watch U.S. Marines do what they are good at but this day they were spectacular. We overwhelmed the enemy with such force that in a matter of minutes we had moved past the first position and were now set up on top of the bridge. We moved so fast, in fact, that we placed ourselves in a position that had been pre-designated by the Iraqi’s as an ambush site. This “kill zone” was targeted with mortars and had an anti-aircraft gun less than 50 yards away. I will never forget the taste of the smoke from the mortars as they dropped around us and the feeling of the percussion through my body as they exploded.
It is amazing how clear things can be in an environment as chaotic as that one. We had to do something before everyone in our platoon would be killed. It was a miracle that it had not already happened but we all knew that it would if we didn’t move. Again, because of the skill of the Marines, we destroyed the anti-aircraft gun before it was able to do damage and move out of the kill zone before neutralizing the enemy mortar positions. Had it not been for quick thinking and equally quick movement, we never would have made it. This has become one of the most memorable moments of my life but could have been the last, if the wrong decisions had been made.
I have thought back to that day hundreds of times since it happened. It causes my heart rate to increase even as I write this when I think about what could have happened if I had made different decisions. My decisions put the platoon in a position that could have been catastrophic. Thankfully it was not but only because we were able to collectively evaluate our options and choose the right one. We could have stayed where we were, attempted to go back to where we came from or pushed forward in spite of the opposition. We did the one thing that gave us the advantage but things could have ended very differently.
In many ways, this single moment has come to picture, at least to me, where many of us find ourselves in life. Whether it is because we have made bad decisions or because someone made them for us, we are in a bad situation with very few options. Make the right decision and we go forward but make the wrong one and we may, at least in a figurative sense, die. We are caught in a “kill zone” of sorts and we need to quickly figure out what to do next.
Here’s the thing, most of us know what to do next! In the middle of the fight, at least in my experience, the RIGHT decision becomes clear. We may need some help knowing HOW to do the right thing, but, when the mortar rounds of life are falling around us we generally know WHAT needs to be done. The problem is not that we aren’t sure what to do; the problem is that we don’t WANT to do it!
As our world falls apart we consider our options and instead of going forward as we know we should, we look for a third option. We know that going back is not an option and going forward just seems too hard so we look for another way. A way that does not take us back but does not require the same dedication as moving forward. The problem with that, however, is that there is not a third option. We go forward, we go backward or we stay where we are and die. Since dying is not an option, the only decision we have to make is whether we want to go forward or turn around and go back to the place that got us here in the first place.
The Bible says it like this in Proverbs 14:12: “There is a way which seems right to a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” When we try to do things our way, the way that messed us up in the first place, we will inevitably end up worse off than we are now. The third option is the option that we look for when we don’t like the options in front of us. We often look for the third option in our relationship with God, our relationships with others, and the decisions that we make that will impact our legacy.
Looking for this third option is an arrogance that says we know better than scripture and loving counselors and our situation is different from everyone else. This is the reason people cheat on their spouse, steal from their employer and justify behavior in their own lives that they would never condone in the lives of others. The “I am different” argument that looks for another way is a lie that will always bring pain and destruction. None of us is exempt from the consequences of following our own way and none of us has a “special” situation that makes a third option OK.
As hard as it is, the only decision that will bring healing and purpose when we find ourselves in the “kill zone” of life is the decision to move forward as quickly and deliberately as possible. Follow the truth, trust God, and move. The Bible, again, puts it this way in Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” You can move forward if only you will. It will be hard, but everything worthwhile is. Saying it’s too hard is just another way to say, “I just don’t care enough.” If you care and want to be all that God created you to be, both in your life and in your relationships, stop looking for a third option and move.
The choice is yours: go back to where you came from, die where you are, or move to a place of success and purpose. What will you choose?