News Articles

FIRST-PERSON: Unwanted fireworks on the Fourth

DALLAS (BP)–The Fourth of July always brings memories of war for me. Fireworks remind me of an arcing transformer sending electric ash to the ground. The next thought is that of an Iraqi male about 40 years old running and screaming in Arabic, carrying a little girl who is bleeding profusely.

No one had planned for fireworks on this particular Fourth of July, but unfortunately, war brought them anyway.

The day started when one of my tanks took RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) fire and it turned to engage the enemy. A terrorist with an RPG on his shoulder crouched and prepared to fire again. The tank commander quickly fired at him, causing him to get behind a wall. The tank commander switched to a main gun round and with a massive blast the wall fell down. Not only that, but the tank round skipped off the wall, hit a transformer that was behind the wall and caused the transformer to explode. Sparks and fire shot into the air. The tank crew moved closer to where the terrorist was to investigate, but found nothing. Another one had slipped away.

After receiving this report, I decided to move out to the scene and see if we could find any clues or if the people had any idea as to where this RPG shooter had come from. I found the fallen wall, the transformer spilling fire on the asphalt and the people gathering in the alley.

I dismounted my tank and met SFC Gondek on the ground. He and a squad of infantry evacuated some minor casualties caused by the blast. We interviewed those in the streets. But before I could ask questions, they demanded to know why we had blown up their transformer.

“Why you shoot for no reason?” a man asked in broken English. I wanted to grab him and ask, “do you really think we shoot for no reason?”

My questioning returned no answers. Frustrated, I turned back to my tank. A man came running at me as fast as he could. He held out a little girl no older than 10. She was bleeding and her breathing was labored. SFC Gondek took the girl in his arms and raced back to the Bradley. I radioed ahead to prep the surgeon.

She didn’t make it.

This event brought victory for the terrorists as it put more of a wedge between us and the Iraqi people. Resentment toward us built in that little girl’s family as our effort to protect them from terrorism had failed. My men’s hearts ached for that little girl’s life. No one got up that day thinking a little girl would die. This would be another haunting case for PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).


That question arose a lot in Iraq with my men and my conversations with God.

Why let this happen? However, the reality is that this world is broken. It is contaminated by sin, leaving every single one of us in a depraved state. That depravity expressed itself on the Fourth of July for that little girl and for the lives of her family and the lives of my men who would be changed forever knowing she died on their watch.

Psalm 119:81-82 says, “My soul faints with longing for your salvation, but I have put my hope in your word. My eyes fail, looking for your promise; I say, ‘When will you comfort me?'”

The psalmist David understood our heartbreak and longing for the world to be made right. He had seen death of innocents far too often.

That memory is four years old, but still fresh for me and many others. Today, violence no longer rages in the Al Anbar province as in 2005. That gives me hope and confidence that those people might have peace. As we know, freedom always comes at a price.

We gained our freedom from sin and death at Calvary. And that moment now overshadows any pain of the past as I look forward to Jesus coming back. I find hope in His words in John 16:33 “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Chris Plekenpol was a military commander in Iraq and is a speaker and the author of “Faith in the Fog of War” and “Faith in the Fog of War, Volume II.” He is a student at Dallas Theological Seminary. He also is the community organizer and conference director for IamSecond.com.

    About the Author

  • Chris Plekenpol