The internal war starts after the last bullet is fired.

Pastor Jeff Struecker

This sermon is talking specifically to warriors. But I’m not just talking about Marines or airmen, sailors, soldiers, or law enforcement officers. Actually, I really want this service today to talk to anybody, anywhere in the world, who has had some connection to the military. 

Maybe you were around in 1975, and you remember the scenes of those last couple of South Vietnamese people grabbing onto the skids of a Huey helicopter as the last aircraft left the embassy in Saigon, and the US pulled out of that country. And many people struggled with what they saw on the news that night. 

Maybe you watched the news as the US military pulled out of Iraq, and months later, ISIS rolled in and started to just brutally murder people in the northern part of Iraq. Many of you who served over there started asking, “What did we do all that for?”

But really, the timing of this service today, is because people all over the world have watched NATO spend 20 years (and I mean dozens of countries) in Afghanistan. And then after the last troops pulled out, 11 days later, the entire nation fell to the Taliban.

My phone started ringing, and text messages started coming in. People were emailing me, and warriors and their families were struggling, especially those families that lost somebody in Afghanistan. They were asking some really tough questions, some questions that have been asked over and over again through human history.

What I really want you to understand right out of the gate is, this service is designed to talk directly to people who are struggling, who are wrestling with the internal war, because every warrior who has been shot at, or a law enforcement officer, maybe you’ve served in the military, anybody who’s been shot at, knows it’s only after the last bullet is fired that the real internal battle starts.

The internal war starts after the last bullet is fired.

Now that the last forces have left Afghanistan, and now it looks like that country’s just gone back to before September 11, 2001, many people are struggling. So, even if you’ve never served in the military, even if you’re not in a military family, what I hope today will do for you is to educate you a little bit on the military. -the military families, not just US military, but any family who puts somebody in harm’s way, and especially those families who have lost somebody in combat, not just in Afghanistan. 

What I originally wanted to do is to get a panel of leaders on this stage today, and I didn’t have the chance to get them because of the timing and their schedules. I didn’t get a chance to get them to come on the stage. So, they did the second best thing for me. I called in some favors from some people that I highly respect, and I asked them, “Would you help me? Would you help me just answer a few really honest questions?” 

I. What was it all for? 

Today, we’re going to try to answer three questions for people who have the internal war going on now that the external war is over. The first question that some of them are asking, looking back on it and all of the blood, all of the tears, all of the sweat, they’re asking, “What was it all for?” 

I couldn’t think of anybody better to answer this question than a couple of special forces leaders who were in the Republic of Viet Nam. So, I called a personal friend of mine, Stu Weber, and I asked Stu and one of his friends, Mike Ash, if they would answer this question for you:

“Hi guys. My name is Stu Weber, a pastor for the last 50 years. But the most transforming period of my life with 5th Special Forces group. I have with me today, one of my battle buddies. We didn’t know each other, though we were in Viet Nam at the same time. We discovered that years later that we were within a hundred yards of each other. Mike Ash was with MACV-SOG, the real Green Berets, the tip of the spear, if you were operating way beyond the fence in Cambodia and Laos and North Viet Nam and saw more than his share of action.

We’ve been battle buddies together for a long time now, and on the day that we watched Afghanistan go down, which you undoubtedly did too, we were struck by some strong things. Mike watched, and he called me immediately and he said, “Are you having feelings about this day?” I said, “I am. -some anger, some betrayal, some frustration… all of that kind of thing.” I’ve asked Mike if he’d sit here with me, if we could maybe describe what happened to us when Afghanistan went down. Mike, help us.

Well, it’s true. When I saw what was happening in Afghanistan, I also felt disappointment, just embarrassment… and then anger. And the anger started building up, and I suddenly realized that it isn’t probably just me that’s having these feelings. Stu, I called you, and I called some others, veteran friends. I called a father that had a son that is deployed six, seven times in Afghanistan and called Scott Mann. Scott Mann is with Rooftop leadership, and he does a lot of work with post-traumatic stress. He told me about what was going on there, and I’ll talk about that a little bit later, but it gives me a little hope. But I was really frustrated with that.

It brought back for me what happened in Viet Nam. When I was in Vietnam, like I say, I work with 5th Special Forces and specifically MACV-SOG, and the soldiers that we had with us were indigenous Montagnards, they were Chinese Nungs, and Cambodian mercenaries, and we called those as special commando units. They probably provided 75% of our, we called them ‘trigger pullers’. They were the fighters, and they were so absolutely loyal to us. We promised them, we made big promises of, “You work with us and provide your services, put your life on the line. We’re going to take care of you.” Particularly the Montagnards put their families at risk. There were about 60 Montagnard tribes in different locations, sites anyway…. and very primitive people.

They put their families at risk when they worked for us. And the way we left Viet Nam was a total abandonment of those people. And not only the leave-no-man-behind thing bothered me about Afghanistan, but leaving our … they were our men. It bothered me for 50 years. 

The results of that, I’ve been told that three million people were incarcerated. Some were tortured. Some were re-educated. A number were executed. A number were executed, and that’s something that we just don’t hear about, but those of us in Vietnam, we came back with those experiences, and we’ve been harboring those feelings for many, many years. So, what it’s done for me is to bring back those bad memories that I have, the embarrassment and shame that our actions in Viet Nam as we left.

And probably what was hardest for some of us, there’s all that personal relationship with the local people. There’s also the sense of betrayal by our leaders, what was called by General McMaster’s in his thesis, dereliction of duty at the very top. It feels like those of us who are willing to stand struggle the most because of those who are not willing stand, that are commanding us. That’s a very difficult thing. 

I would also point out guys what Mike mentioned right at the start, that when you’re facing these kinds of emotions, the wisest thing to do is find your brothers. Don’t go into that kind of battle alone. You remember Maximus, just before they entered the arena, he says to the other gladiators as the enemy is going to come at him, he says, “Whatever comes through those doors, stay together and survive.” And that’s a major lesson that we would offer you today. 

Mike, tell us some more about the aftermath and what you experienced in not only your own family, but just in general relationships and the temper. You and I both have tempers, and they jump out of us at times. We don’t know why, except there’s something there.

Well, the experiences I think we all have coming back from war, if you will, are a little bit different, but I think most of us have anger issues. We don’t understand why we sacrificed so much, put our lives on the line, lost so many of our good friends and these friends, they’re not just good friends. They are so close. I can’t even explain it. It’s like no friendship you’ve ever had for your battle buddies, and when you come home and you’ve been embarrassed, you’ve been betrayed like we were in Viet Nam, like I feel in Afghanistan, that led to the post-traumatic stress issues. Many of us harbor that inside.

I know I harbored it for many, many, many years, and it isn’t until I was able to get back together with my battle buddy, somebody I could trust that I understood what was going on, that I could get my feelings out there.Don’t go into the huddle alone. That was the first lesson of Ranger School. You two Ranger buddies are going to stay together. You’re going to go out together and come in together. And if you don’t come in together, you may not come in, either one of you. So, stay together. That’s the first lesson. 

Tell us, Mike, about the days things turned around for you when you heard Beikirch, if you will. Let me tell you this, Beikirch is a medal of honor recipient, a Green Beret medic on the team at Dak Seang, April of ’70. Mike was there in ’70, I was there in ’70. And so Gary is kind of one of our battle buddies from a distance, and he not only got the medal of honor. He also got a horrific case of PTS. Tell us when you met him.

Well, I met Gary when he came out of here to Good Shepherd in about 2009 or 2010. He was speaking about his experience in Viet Nam and how he came to the Lord through that experience. He’s got an excellent, excellent story. I sat up there in the balcony watching, I was searching for who I was, who God was, and what that was all about and Gary’s story … because I knew Dak Seang. I knew exactly the day when Dak Seang was attacked and Gary’s actions led to the medal of honor. He was drug around the battlefield, which was there a special forces aide camp, by two 13 and 14-year-old Montagnard tribesmen who were their soldiers they provided us, drug around the camp because he’d been injured to the point where he was paralyzed. -just an amazing story.

So, that whole story about being in combat, he was special forces with the Montagnards. I knew right there that was something, it left a huge hole in my heart, and I immediately went down and approached Stu and Gary as they came off the stage.

Mike’s exact words were to me, looking me in the eye, with both of our eyeballs sweating a little bit, “You got to help me get God in my life.” That’s what we’d like to leave with you today, because there’s only one man who has experienced unbelievable betrayal and experienced unbelievable battle scars, and that’s our savior, Jesus Christ. Gary found him. His pilgrimage began in a hospital in Pleiku, when the chaplain said, “Do you want to pray, Son?” And Gary said, “Well, I’d love to pray, but I don’t know how.”

The chaplain said it beautifully. He said, “Well Gary, it doesn’t matter how you pray, because God’s a really good listener.” So, our encouragement is, stay together and start searching for God. He is visible. He is find-able. You can locate Him, and Gary did, and Mike did, and I did. I’d like to recommend, actually, as we leave you, Gary’s book it’s about Gary written by Marcus Brotherton called Blaze Of Light. It’s called Courage For Battle, Faith For Crisis, The Inspiring Story Of A Green Beret Medic, Gary Beikirch, Medal of Honor Recipient. Gary will tell you his life changed when he discovered Jesus Christ. Because when he prayed, he began the search, and he found Him. So, that’s our greatest gift to you. Yes, stay together. Yes, deal with these issues. But seek God, and watch what happens to give you victory over this.”

I love the fact that warriors don’t cry; their eyeballs sweat just a little bit. When you hear guys use language like anger and embarrassment and betrayal, some of you out there may start to get some political anxiety. So, I just want to say this right out of the gate: If you are a Republican, what I’m not going to do today is condemn President Biden’s plans to withdraw. If you are a Democrat, I am not going to condemn President Trump’s negotiations with the Taliban. What we’re going to talk about today is not the politics. We’re not even going to talk about the external battles in Afghanistan or Iraq or Vietnam or even Somalia.

What we’re going to talk about today is this internal battle, and you heard it beautifully from two warriors who realized, “I’ve got to stick together, and I stick together when I’m getting shot at, but I also have to stick together with my brothers after I’m getting shot at, because now the internal battle is starting.” Did you know that this idea of sticking together is a biblical idea? It actually comes from the Old Testament. 

When God’s people were getting ready to march out to battle, God gave Israel some instructions for the army. And He said, “Hey, tell your officers to get in front of the army, and if there are some guys out there that have just got married, tell them, ‘You can just go ahead and go home. Spend some time with your new wife. You don’t have to go fight this battle.’ “

Then immediately after that, the officers would look at people in the ranks, (Deuteronomy chapter 20, verse eight), and they would make this statement: ”Stick together, or you can leave right now.” They would say:

Deuteronomy 20:8 The officers will continue to address the army and say, ‘Is there any man who is afraid or cowardly? Let him leave and return home, so that his brothers won’t lose heart as he did.

If he doesn’t leave and return home, his brothers might lose heart like he does. What those leaders were saying is, warriors are forged as a bond in battle that’s unbreakable. So, you’ve got to stick together when the bullets are flying. What I want you to hear from Stu and Mike today is, when that internal war starts after the bullets stop flying over your head, that’s when you need each other just as much, and you’ve got to stick together there too.

II. Was it worth it?

The second question that I got asked a lot, and I’m still getting asked this question a lot about Afghanistan is, Was it worth it? I lost some buddies, or families, gold star families. If you don’t come from our country and you don’t recognize that phrase, it means the recognition that our government gives to a family who lost a member in war. For those gold star families, those warriors, they’re asking the question, I just lost something extremely important to me. Was it worth it what I just lost? And at the essence of this question, it’s describing internal struggles. “I’m struggling on the inside, and I don’t have peace, not necessarily peace about what I did, but peace about the results of what I did.”

So, I asked a friend to speak. For anybody who’s been connected with 2 Cities Church, he doesn’t need any introduction. I asked a friend who could speak to this perhaps better than anybody I know, if he would answer this question and give you a little tough love if you’re struggling with this. Listen to Keni Thomas’ answer.

I’ve asked Keni to help out with this part of the sermon, because Keni, you got a chance to do something that few warriors will ever get a chance to do. 2013, 20 years after leaving Black Hawk Down in Somalia, we got a chance to go back. In just a second, I’m going to show everybody just a short clip of us returning, where we got a chance to go back. Then I’d like for you to just talk honestly, to guys that are struggling, who are watching what’s going on in Afghanistan and wondering, What’s it going to be like 20 years from now? So, let me show this clip. And then would you just talk to folks?

Well, so after going back and watching that, I remember you and I had a lot of talks about what our expectations of what we were going to get out of going back to Mogadishu. I think what we both hoped we would see was this thriving metropolis, where there was power restored… and by power, I meant electricity, not clan power. But that people were dancing in the streets and that they were happy to see us. That just wasn’t the case. 

I mean, we went back, and the first thing we had to figure out was armed security. I think those Toyotas that we were in, the things were all armored. What you didn’t see in that video was the goal was, we were going to go back to the crash site and then jump out, take some pictures, and then an leave, and that would be the documentary. The problem was, as we got into town, we got right back into the market, and the guys were like, “We’re looking at … ” You and I both knew, “Okay, this is the intersection of… there’s the target building right up there.” 

And the dude takes a left turn, and here we go again, right back in the market street. And here’s Jeff. Jeff is a pastor at this point, and he gets on a radio and says, “We need more weapons.” I’m thinking, “Yeah.” And I did not want to be there. All of a sudden the idea of jumping out and taking pictures was silly. We were like, “Let’s just get out of here,” because you could feel it.

The reason that Jeff and I were feeling that way was because we were by ourselves. We were alone. We did not have our Superman costume on, we didn’t have our uniforms, we didn’t have our weapons. But most importantly, we didn’t have the guys on our left and our right, which is the invincibility of who we are. That’s our strength, and if you ever had to sit down and talk to either one of us and said, “Well, what’d you get out of your time in the military?”, it’s going to be, it was the value of the people that were on our left and our right, and the accountability to those people. 

We all know it’s just to surround ourselves with good people, but we forget we’re the good people that others surrounded themselves with. That for me, is the one lasting thing that I took from my time with the Rangers.

When we left Mogadishu, I struggled for about a minute with it, like, “God! What was the point?” -because I remember we went right by one of the buildings and there was still bullet holes. They never fixed it! You’re just like, “It’s their country. It’s not the way that I would have done it, and it’s not what I would have liked to have seen happen,” but I was only upset about it for about a minute in my struggle in what was it all for? 

I can tell you with absolute certainty, and I think you already know this, and point that I’m getting to is, if you’re struggling right now with the end state of, “God, what was it all … ” you need to go back to why you signed up to begin with. The difference you made was here and here.

I don’t care how far you go back into the history of the United States, whether it’s you go back to the Gettysburg and those boys on both sides of the line, neither one of them would tell you, “I’m fighting for the end of slavery,” or “I’m fighting for the institution of the free state or keeping the union together.” Nobody was fighting Hitler and the atrocities of the Jewish nation. My dad was not fighting Vietcong and the spread of communism. None of us were fighting Sunni clan fighters and the end of world hunger. No one’s fighting ISIS, Al-Qaeda, we’re not fighting against Taliban, we’re not fighting against the war on global terrorism. The only thing you’re fighting for is each other in that moment. That’s it.

If you can remember that, then this part of it is … I don’t want to use the word acceptable, but this part of it is not on us, and this is something that you can let go of. If you’re still fighting the struggle, then there’s something going on internally that’s a deeper issue. What I encourage guys, and I think Jeff would tell you the same thing. He has the word pastor attached to him, but he and I are the same dude. I would tell you, I don’t have any answers as to why it went down the way it did in Afghanistan, and I don’t have the answers as to what you’ve got to do to make yourself right, but I do know the One who does, and that is where I would point people. 

And where I would start, it’s as simple as just, “Hey God, I’m struggling with this. Help me out.” You may not like the answer that it gives you, but He’s going to make you take a hard look at yourself and maybe how you’re treating the people to your left and your right.

Who are your battle buddies now? Is it your family? Is it your community? Is it your church? Are you feeling like you’re not part of something? He’s going to make you take a hard look, and then you’re going to be like, “Oh, okay.” And through that process, you’ll start to realize that what happens down the line in Afghanistan has zero bearing on the purpose and what the blood and the guts, and the heart that you put into the time you wore the uniform, because the only reason you were fighting was for each other. I can promise you that.

I’ll leave you with this: I think the road to, I guess, it’s the recovery of being at peace with where we went and what we did, it has to be a spiritual thing. Look Y’all, the VA right now is plagued, rampant with PTSD diagnoses in the system, and I’m one of them. But when you go and you look at the numbers, it’s not like we don’t have something like that. There were experts that sat down and said, “Oh yeah, you’re kind of screwed up.” 

Why is that? I know what the answer is. It’s because you’re not part of something anymore, where you at your basic human connection, the need to be part of something and connected to one another was so real and so basic when you were down range, and then you come back into the real world, and sometimes you don’t even get that with your own family, and you don’t feel it.

If that’s the case and that’s the outlook, “Keni, you’re onto something there,” I’m going to tell you what’s missing. There’s a God-sized hole. The only way you can fill that hole is to go to God. But just like any kind of rehab, it’s hard work, Man. I know Jeff isn’t going to be one of the churches that says, “Hey, come inside our doors, and you come to Jesus and it’s all going to be easy.” You come here, it’s going to get a little bit tougher, but it’ll make more sense to you, and you will come into a place where you’re at peace with who you are, what you were part of, and why it’s going down the way it’s going down. Because since when has that ever been why we signed up in the first place?”

Hey, I can’t say thank you enough to Keni for giving his thoughts on this thing. Most of you are probably aware of this, this broadcast today is October 3rd, the 28th anniversary of this battle that he and I took part in. But the reason why we did this video today has nothing to do with Black Hawk Down. 

The truth is, what Keni has been trying to say, what Stu has been trying to say, is people tend to go to war for various different reasons, but when the bullets start flying, the thing that becomes the unbreakable bond is brotherhood and sisterhood. You do it for the guy or the gal that’s on your right and left. That’s why you serve. That’s why you sacrifice. You do it for the people on your left and on your right.

The truth is, you’re going to deal with some struggles and some frustrations if you went off to battle, whenever it was, wherever it was, hoping that you were going to forever change another nation. But there’s no military force in history, nobody has ever permanently changed the future of another country. 

Now, some countries were changed for decades or generations, others for days, but no country stays that way forever. The Bible really wants us to remember there is only one person in the universe that can permanently change human hearts, and if the heart changes, the nation changes. This, of course, is the guy we call King Jesus around here. The book of Psalms says it this way in Psalms chapter 20, verse seven: 

Psalm 20:7 Some take pride in chariots, and others in horses, but we take pride in the name of the Lord our God. 

A modern-day analogy is, some armies will go to the battlefield with great hope in their technology, in their tanks, and in their bombers, and their helicopters, but not God’s people. When God’s people go on to the battlefield, they placed their trust in something that is much bigger, and only this can change the human heart. We take pride in the Lord our God, in the name of the Lord, our God. And folks that are struggling with the question, What was it all for? Or was it worth it? -you’re asking questions about internal war. A struggle, and it’s describing a lack of peace.

III. What happens next?

So, the third and final question that I want to answer is, What does the future look like? I really wanted to call in my favorite living US general, a man that I have the greatest respect for, but he’s a little bit busy. I’m talking about General Colin Powell. I wanted to use a video that he did to describe his thoughts on war, and specifically his thoughts on Afghanistan, but I wasn’t able to use that video. So, I’m just going to try to talk you through a little bit about where humanity is right now and what the future looks like for us. 

As Keni said just a second ago, I’m going to give you a bleak outlook, because Jesus gives a bleak outlook about where humans are until the heart changes. There will always be war until something changes in the heart of men and women. And only after the heart changes does war change. Here’s how Jesus puts it in Matthew chapter 24. And I want you to remember, he said these words 2,000 years ago, but they are more true today than ever. Jesus was talking to his disciples, and they were asking him questions about, “When is God going to fix this mess that we live in, Jesus? Is it going to be today? Is it going to be tomorrow? Is it going to b