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Navy SEAL-turned-seminarian reflects on looming Iraq crisis

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–He was one of the U.S. Navy’s “quiet professionals” trained in the arts of underwater demolition, marksmanship and escape and evasion. He participated in classified operations.

Today, combat veteran Scott Russell has a different mission — he’s looking for a pulpit to fill. The former Navy SEAL will graduate from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in May.

Even though his days currently are filled with exams, term papers and making plans for life in a pastorate after graduation, Russell said he cannot help but reflect on his past in light of the current situation in Iraq. He served in the Gulf War of 1991 and believes that military action against Saddam Hussein is justified again.

Russell cited the Iraqi dictator’s track record in torture, his failure to honor the treaties and agreements into which he has entered and the horrible oppression of his own people as reasons for war. Still worse is the danger Hussein poses to the world should he use weapons of mass destruction, Russell said. Hussein, he added, would never give up such weapons voluntarily.

“It’s a total fallacy. It’s just not going to happen, and it’s got to be done by force. I think it’s a necessary war. It’s a just war. I just hope and pray that a lot of people don’t have to die but, unfortunately, that does happen in war. I think a lot of people that are a bit hawkish forget that.”

Strange words from a former U.S. Navy SEAL? Not hardly, Russell said.

“I think we need to look at circumstances as to why we’re doing it, and whether it’s a just and honorable thing. There are some just wars, and this to me is one of them. On the other hand, we should never be too quick to go to war. We should always exhaust diplomatic and peaceful ways to resolve conflicts,” he said.

“I think you can make a strong case from the Old Testament that there are times when we are required to fight war, and there are some wars that are righteous. God pronounces judgment on those who stand by and let the weak be oppressed, and he also pronounces judgment on those that commit war crimes, like the Assyrians, or the Nazis as a more contemporary example.”

A second war against Hussein still prompts Russell to ask the questions he and many other members of the armed forces asked at the end of the Gulf War: “Why didn’t we finish the job? Why didn’t we go into Baghdad and take out Saddam Hussein?” With these objectives achieved, Russell said, another war could be averted.

Nevertheless, Russell stands by his former commander in chief and understands the political calculations that made Hussein’s removal from power untenable in 1991.

“Of course, President Bush had his reasons at the time for doing it [stopping short of Baghdad],” he said. Among the reasons for the decision, Russell said, was the fragile U.S. coalition with allied Arab nations.

“We liked the way that President Bush gave us the budget and the materials we needed to wage successful warfare, and to let us do what we were trained to do,” Russell said. “… He gave us, the military as a whole, a clear, direct mission. He kept the press and politics and all of that out of it,” the seminarian said, contrasting the Gulf War with the Vietnam War.

Russell, now 33, entered the military directly out of high school with a strong desire to test himself.

“I knew I wasn’t ready for college. … I wanted to see what I was made of. The thought behind that was that if I achieved this goal that very few people achieved, then I knew there’s nothing I couldn’t achieve in life.”

Russell appreciates everything his days as a SEAL operator taught him, but said the experience left him largely unfulfilled.

“It wasn’t what I thought it was going to be. It left me kind of empty. I thought that was going to fulfill my life.”

When he returned to his home in Georgia after the war, Russell was restless. At the invitation of his mother, who had become a Christian during his time in the SEALs, Russell attended a revival service in November 1993 at Annisstown Baptist Church in Snellville, Ga. He finally found fulfillment in Christ.

“From that point, I had to start learning how to live all over again. I was a worldly man living in a secular world, and now I was a Christian man living in a secular world,” Russell said.

Russell soon was serving as an intern at the church under associate pastor Jim Crutchfield who, along with the church’s youth and music ministers, was a graduate of Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. When Russell felt God’s call to fulltime vocational ministry, they encouraged him to visit the seminary’s campus. He enrolled in January 1999.

Russell still has a heart for those serving in the military and especially for men in special forces units. “There wasn’t really a high evangelical presence when I was in the SEALs, and as a whole in the military you really don’t get a lot of strong Christian people in those circles. I think that’s unfortunate and that it’s a tragedy,” he said.

Russell said he is proud of his accomplishments in the military, and yet humbled because he knows that apart from Christ all of his goals were empty ones. Russell also recognizes the hand of providence that guided and protected him through his perilous days with the SEALs.

“I’m very thankful to the Lord that he didn’t give up on me, that he saved me, because there were numerous times where I could have been killed. It is a dangerous environment. We’re very safe. We train very hard. We operate as safely as we can. Our casualties are relatively low, but it does happen. I’ve lost some friends along the way. I’ve had some friends that are permanently crippled. And that could’ve been me. So I’m very thankful for God’s grace and mercy and protection,” he said.

Many of the things Russell learned as a SEAL continue to serve him well in his Christian walk. “To this day I still have things from the SEALs that impact me in terms of dedication, duty, honor, commitment, keeping your word, a priority on friendships and brotherhood and doing a good job for the sake of doing a good job without thought for reward.”
Vedrrone is a writer for Southwestern Seminary. (BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: SEAL SECURES HIS FAITH.

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  • Gabriel Verrone