She felt the blast before she heard it. Deborah*, unarmed, instructed those around her to run to her office, a 40-foot container, where they huddled on the floor and waited for the explosions to stop.
Leaning against her desk, the U.S. Army logistician did the only thing within her power: She prayed. “It was a very simple prayer that day. The only thought I could put together was, ‘Jesus, save us!’ I had the assurance that if I asked it in the name of Jesus and it was the will of the Lord, it would be granted. I’m sure I wasn’t the only child of God who was praying that day while others fought.”
Right then, a young major moved to sit near her. He asked, “What should we do?” She calmly told him that she was praying and tried to reassure him. Sidling even closer, he seemed to find comfort and safety next to a believer who was interceding for the entire group. “Jesus saved all of us that day,” Deborah says.
Born to Serve
That was in August 2013. Deborah, in her mid-50s, was serving in Ghazni—a small Polish forward operating base in southeast Afghanistan—when the Taliban bombers ripped a hole in the outer perimeter wall and then penetrated the break. But military life started early for Deborah, a tomboy who preferred combat boots to heels, participated in scouting since the age of 8, and spent all four years of high school in Junior ROTC. “That really cemented my desire to serve my country,” she says. Three days after graduation, she sat on a Greyhound bus bound for basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. In the years that followed, her Army career ran the gamut from military intelligence (with training in counterterrorism) to civil affairs, ending her active duty as a lieutenant colonel after the first Gulf War.
What’s ironic about Deborah’s military experience is that she has seen more war zones as a civilian (in her position as a logistician) than she ever did as a soldier. Her job has taken her to Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan. It’s also led her into spiritual battles that have grown her faith and enabled her to be a strong witness for Christ.
Proselytizing and evangelizing may be forbidden in the military, but Deborah has no qualms about boldly sharing her faith when asked. The Alabama native was raised in church and was baptized at the age of 12. She, along with her parents and three sisters, attended church “like clockwork” until her father died (when she was 13). However, it wasn’t until December of 2002, when she was working alone in Europe and found herself questioning things she’d known her entire life, that she really began to listen to God’s voice. “I started researching, reading the Bible, finding out as much as I could on my own,” she says. “At that time, the Lord made clear to me what I needed to do and showed me what it was to be born again. So many people grow up in the church, thinking they’re Christians, but don’t know what it really means to be born again. I guess being alone over there enabled me to hear the Lord’s voice.”
Deborah believes God was preparing her for the war that would begin four months later when she was sent to Afghanistan.
“I’m not a hero. The soldiers are the heroes, and I feel like every single one of them is my child.”
A Solid Rock
Rocket and mortar attacks were an almost daily routine at Deborah’s new post, sometimes coming several times in a day. Late one afternoon, the alarm signaled to take cover. “I started over to the bunker and tripped over a rock,” she recalls. “It cut my left knee open to the bone, exposing the cartilage and kneecap. I thought at first I’d just skinned my knee. After I fell, I picked myself up and continued into the bunker. When I got there, I noticed that my uniform was soaked with blood. We were not able to come out of the bunker yet, so I stopped the bleeding myself by putting pressure on my knee with my hands.” After the danger was past, surgeons used 14 stitches to patch her back together. Her knee and left hand, on which she’d landed with force, are permanently injured, but she continues to receive treatment and doesn’t consider herself disabled.
Deborah says she wouldn’t have been able to face all these challenges without her faith and God’s Word to strengthen her. “I was supposed to go to Afghanistan a few times in the past but was always prevented. I feel the Lord kept me from going earlier, but this time He wanted me to go. I believe He even wanted me to be injured,” she says. “Everyone knew who I was because of my brace. There are a lot of young people over there from old Soviet countries—a lot of young girls. I was kind of everyone’s mom or even grandma, the only mother figure for some of the soldiers. People would talk to me.”
During the August 2013 attack, Deborah says, many people were terrified, but she knew she needed to stay calm. “If I’d fallen apart, they would’ve fallen apart. Most of those kids had been there for years, but nothing like this had happened before. I tried to be the rock for everyone because I was one of the older people there.”
Deborah, however, is modest about her bravery. “I try not to wear my uniform when I don’t have to. I’m not a hero. The soldiers are the heroes, and I feel like every single one of them is my child.”
Getting the Message Across
Deborah tries to live out her faith every day. She has always kept an In Touch Messenger and a Bible with her wherever she’s been sent, because often, while lying in bed at night trying to rest, her body would remain on high alert. “Every night I’d listen to the Messenger, and that comforted me enough to go to sleep.”
American soldiers are not allowed to display anything overtly Christian, so Deborah has always been impressed by some believers from other countries setting up altars around the forward operating base and filling them with crosses, candles, and flowers. “It is neat to me that others are not as afraid as we are to show they’re Christians; we’re too busy trying not to offend anyone. I have had to be more determined as a Christian in this career. But I’ll tell you: I didn’t give in to suggestions to not show that I’m a Christian in the Middle East, because Muslims respect Christians who live out their faith.”
No longer in active duty, she continues to serve as a logistician and has begun to focus her energy on a lifelong passion: writing. Deborah also cares for her 85-year-old mother, who became a born-again Christian just four years ago. “She attributes it to me talking to her about Jesus and God’s Word. We’re both faithful students of the Bible.”
In talking about how her faith and military career intersect, Deborah says the only difference between her and most people is that she’s run into multiple life-and-death situations. “We never know how we’re going to react, but I can tell you I wasn’t any less scared than anyone else would be. It’s just that you’re able to control the fear and do what you’re supposed to do. When the shooting starts, you wonder if you’re going to run away. You won’t. As a person of faith, you won’t do that even though you’re scared to death.”
Deborah’s first reaction in terrifying situations is always the same. She prays: “Jesus, save us!”
*Names and identifying references have been changed to protect confidentiality.