In the aftermath of war, a Navy SEAL finds faith, hope, and love.
Howard Wasdin, author of SEAL Team Six: Memoirs of an Elite Navy SEAL Sniper (twenty-two weeks on the New York Times best-seller list), survived the firestorm made famous in Black Hawk Down only to return to a world without support, without a mission, and soon without his family. Wounded in Mogadishu and facing a torturous journey of rehabilitation and recovery, he came home to find his marriage falling apart and his world upended. When he met Debbie, an accountant emerging from her own trial by fire, he realized this might be his last hope, and the two together began a journey of rediscovering their faith in God and their ability to trust in God’s goodness.The Last Rescue is an unforgettable tale of brokenness and healing, going deep into the firing line of modern warfare, through the agony of broken marriages, and onto a path of redemption and love. With a clear-eyed view of the inevitability of heartache and the power of God’s faithfulness, Howard and Debbie remind us that no matter what our circumstances, we should never, ever, give up hope.
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About the Author
Joel Kilpatrick is an award-winning journalist and author whose work has been featured in Time magazine, the Washington Post, USA Today, CBS Radio, the Dallas Morning News and dozens of newspapers and magazines. He has authored and ghostwritten more than 40 books, including a New York Times bestseller. He has reported from disaster zones and civil wars in seventeen countries, and received numerous prizes for writing and reporting.
Kilpatrick has worked with many leading ministries including Rick Warren, Michael Hyatt, TBN, Joni & Friends, Nancy Alcorn, Convoy of Hope, the Dream Center and more.
Kilpatrick founded LarkNews.com, the world’s leading religion satire website which won the Dove award for humor (officially the Grady Nutt Humor Award) from the Gospel Music Association in 2005. He has won numerous awards for humor and reporting from the Evangelical Press Association. He was profiled in Time magazine, Christianity Today and on NPR, and has been featured twice in USA Today. LarkNews enjoys millions of visitors. Kilpatrick earned an MS degree in journalism from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York in 1995. He lives in southern California with his wife and five children.
Read an Excerpt
The Last Rescue
How Faith and Love Saved a Navy SEAL Sniper
By Howard Wasdin, Joel Kilpatrick
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2014 Howard Wasdin and Debbie Wasdin
All rights reserved.
A GOOD-LOOKING CORPSE
Mogadishu was hot, tense, and as volatile as the waters off the bay where sharks circled and occasionally dined on careless US soldiers. From a command center at an airfield near the ocean, members of SEAL Team Six and other elite forces were engaged in a prolonged, simmering confrontation with the local warlord who had run the city with violence and bribes until we got there and messed up his plans.
We were winning the war handily until one day in October 1993, in one of the most infamous battles in modern times, we ran headlong into a calamity that caused our government to turn tail and run, leaving behind a mess that would haunt us for decades.
Before that day, I was living in a safe house in the city with several other US operatives, monitoring the situation among the Somali people. The house belonged to a doctor, but he and his family had fled the country at the onset of violence. Thankfully, he left a cook who somehow turned the city's slim food pickings into gourmet meals each night. We needed those, because the days were punishing.
We were on our feet from sunup to sundown, dealing with everyone from clan chiefs to low-level informants sympathetic to the US cause or just hungry for pay-offs. Some of these folks came to the house in secrecy to make deals, and other times we went to them because it was too dangerous for them to travel to us. Some helped us for the money. Others held to a more noble cause: their country, their families, a stable society, justice for all. I admired those types because they put their lives on the line for an ideal. It motivated us to do whatever we could to help them wriggle out from under the hand of their mini-despot.
As a SEAL I enjoyed kicking down doors, but at that point we were focused more on gathering intelligence, taking the local temperature, monitoring how well the bad guys' recruiting efforts were going, and talking with possible informants. One big accomplishment of those weeks was discovering how the bad guys had been sending signals for mortar attacks on our airfields. We put the kibosh on that pretty quickly, and they were forced to scramble and change tactics. Up to that point, our efforts had been mostly cat-and-mouse, our hands tied by a feckless United Nations force and its lying, avaricious Italian contingent. The opinion on the American side was unanimous: we wanted to send in the big guns, win the war, and go home. That order hadn't come yet.
Word had gotten out that the Americans were paying for information, so people emerged from the woodwork to make an easy buck. One of my many jobs was to determine if the information we were getting was accurate or a bunch of Bravo Sierra. That often required an impromptu interrogation, knee-to-knee with volunteer informants, in which I promised them, "If what you tell me isn't exactly as you say, I'm going to come back and find you, and there will be consequences. I'm about to put American lives at risk based on what you say." I'd look them square in the eye and often they would admit, "I'm not a hundred percent sure." I'd get up and say, "I'll come back when you are a hundred percent sure. Have a nice day."
It's amazing how having a cup of tea and a simple, if strongly worded, conversation with local people brings out the truth. Once you know where people live, they don't tend to lie to you. I felt our efforts were going pretty well. We'd come back to the safe house exhausted every evening and ready for one of those meals from the doctor's cook.
But with the windows open in our safe house, we began to notice that the smell of something rotting engulfed the area every night. It was like someone had opened a crypt. We also heard death moans. They sound different from standard moans of pain. With death moans you can hear life leaving the body. It was spine chilling.
We finally got curious and disgusted enough to hunt around for the odor's source. We discovered that the family next door had a son whose leg had been blown off by a land mine while he was walking to school through a playground. Rival factions planted mines in playgrounds, hoping to wipe out the next generation of warriors before they could reach adulthood. This boy had lost his leg but not his life—yet. Every night the family put the boy on the porch so they could get some sleep without gagging on the stench from his necrotic tissue.
The kid was clearly going to die. If not for us.
One night as the smell wafted in, we quietly crept to the back door of the family's house. It was nicer than the typical Somali huts, which were assembled from available boards and pieces of metal, things Americans would toss in the trash without a thought. We didn't know who was inside, friend or foe, so we did a hard entry, kicking open the door and taking control of the house. There were three people: a mom, a dad, and some sort of aunt. At least that's what I took them to be. We had no idea who they were or where their sympathies lay. They could have been affiliated with the wrong clan, or with Al Qaeda. It didn't matter to me. Once the house was secure, our mission was humanitarian, not military.
Treating the enemy well is what separates us from them. Even then I knew that love is stronger than any other force. There are only so many bullets to go around, but if love and respect took up residence on all sides, all war would end. Love was why I was doing a rogue op, at the risk of getting my peepee whacked by my higher-ups.
The smell was almost overpowering, and now we saw the source: a boy whose right leg was wrapped in blood-soaked rags. His eyes registered both fear and a plea for help. We grabbed the parents, flexi-cuffed them, and put them on their knees with their foreheads against the wall. To get up they would need to make a double motion, first pulling their foreheads away from the wall, which would alert us to their actions. They never resisted, but were clearly perplexed and afraid.
The boy was on his way out. We found out later that he was being treated by a witch doctor, which was not improving his situation. We could have scrubbed his leg with a yard broom and urinated on it and it would have done more good. There was no time for relaxing and giving him a good bedside manner, so we went about the work efficiently and speedily. I unwrapped the leg and scrubbed away the necrotic tissue. My partner put antibacterial salve on the tissue and began an IV drip. Instead of sitting around waiting for it to drip in, we pushed the liquid in quickly, which did no harm but must have felt strange to the boy.
Before they knew what had happened, we were gone. The moans lessened just a bit that night.
The next night we returned to administer another rogue treatment, and the family was again startled, but less so. We treated him again, the boy watching us with wide eyes the whole time, and left under cover of night. Whatever you do for the least of these, I thought, remembering scriptures I'd learned in childhood. I hadn't lived perfectly according to Jesus' words, not by a long shot; but I understood compassion. If I felt the heart of God in anything, it was in helping the helpless.
We skipped a night to avoid setting a pattern. The third time we burst in, the parents were already on their knees and had hot water ready to prepare tea for us to drink. We had brought an interpreter this time and they told us, "We know you're here to help." In their own way they brought out the fine china, so to speak, treating us as honored guests. That tea cost them dearly and they gave it like the widow's mite. That night we took a little more time, instructed them how to change bandages, gave them some salve and medications, and didn't flexi-cuff them. The smell of rotting tissue had all but gone away. I also discovered that the boy's gums were bleeding; he had scurvy. I made a note of it in case we came back.
About that time the US strategy shifted to winning hearts and minds. We had mostly taken out the rival clan and brought safety to the streets; now we could begin helping the community in other ways. Our clandestine mission became semiofficial, and we began going to the boy's house in the light of day, varying the times so the bad guys couldn't plan for us. I brought him a bag of oranges to treat his scurvy, which is caused by a deficiency of vitamin C. I also gave him my MREs (meals ready to eat), making sure to remove pork patties because it was a Muslim country.
We stayed longer and gave him a little more TLC. I blanched his fingers and toes to see if blood was circulating, took my time peeling back layers of bandages, scrubbed more gently. The family did everything to welcome us, bowing their heads, putting their hands together, and backing up as if greeting royalty. They started doing a particular sequence of movements—touch the heart, touch the head, and open a hand toward you—that conveyed a powerful visual form of respect.
I was the one who picked the boy up and moved him around the house because he was comfortable with me. I learned he was fourteen years old. He probably weighed half of what the poorest fourteen-year-old in the poorest American neighborhood weighed. We established a debride station where we scrubbed the wound, and I would often take him outside for some sunshine. As long as I was close to him, he seemed happy and relaxed.
The smell had abated to the point that the family could keep him inside at night. Through the interpreter, the family let us know they were happy. Interestingly, they didn't talk about us as individuals but as "America." "We're happy that America is here." "We are so grateful that America is helping our son." "We want to say thank you to America." They would repeatedly bow, putting their hands to their hearts and heads in a now-familiar motion. What touched me most was the love and affection I felt in that household. This boy had a dad who loved him, which put him ahead of me.
I had never known my biological dad, and the thought always nagged me: How would my life and upbringing have been different, maybe better and less violent, if my real dad had raised me? I thought perhaps I would never know the answer and never see the man who was my father, but the question still surfaced every time we burst into that house. The example of this humble little family in a tragically torn-up country moved my heart because they had something so many people, including me, did not grow up with: an abundance of love.
Moved by these thoughts, I treated the boy and his family special. Once I brought him a bunch of Hershey's Kisses I'd received in a care package from home. He absolutely loved them. He may have been the only kid in Somalia to eat Hershey's Kisses that week, or year.
One day after changing his bandages I spent time doing range of motion movements with his legs. He wasn't walking, so to keep his body in good working condition I flexed his knees, hips, and ankle, taking his thin limbs in my hands and gently rotating them. He observed what was happening carefully as if he wanted to repeat it later when he was alone. The only sound was of our breathing and the table creaking slightly under his emaciated frame. I felt connected to this kid as if he were my own. What he thought of me, I didn't know.
Somalis are not outwardly emotional people, at least in my experience. I never saw them hug each other. Perhaps the war had driven them inside themselves. But when I was getting ready to leave that day, the boy grabbed my hand as I got up from his bed. I thought he might want to tell me something through the interpreter before I left, but he just looked at me, his eyes piercing mine with unspoken meaning. It was like staring into deep pools of gratitude. When I'd first met him, those eyes were glazed and shallow. Now he was a little boy again, the life inside of him pouring out toward me. I squeezed his hand, said something reassuring, and walked out, my heart riding high in my chest.
I went to sleep that night feeling more fulfilled than at any time since arriving for the mission. I didn't know it was the last time I would ever see the boy, or that soon I would be in far worse shape than he.
The next day we got a frag order to vacate the safe house. A frag order implies imminent danger and requires you to vacate without delay, taking only what is essential. We ripped charts off the wall depicting in detail where our agents were, and friendly and unfriendly houses. If we were attacked in the bug out I would find a way to eat the charts. We grabbed the voice-encryption machines and had a thermite grenade ready to incinerate them if we got overtaken. Within minutes we were in Humvees hauling back to the compound at the airfield. We arrived safely and walked into the hangar with several weeks' worth of beard on our faces. Everyone there was clean-cut and military issue. We stood out like vagrants at the royal ball, grinning.
The Battle of Mogadishu seemed at first like it would be a routine op. We massively outgunned the enemy with our 19 aircraft, 12 vehicles, and 160 men. We had crazy amounts of technology, training, manpower, and plain-old bullets. It was the best of the US military against a ragtag, drugged-up, Third World militia. I would have taken those odds any day.
Our objective was to capture two militia leaders from an enemy building and leave. Sounds simple, and I thought it would be. Not that they wanted to come with us, but overwhelming them didn't seem like a problem.
I was driving a "cutvee," a Humvee without a top, windows, or doors, and no special armor except a Kevlar blanket underneath to protect us from bombs. In the vehicle were three other SEAL Team Six guys and three Rangers. We missed the official briefing because we'd been in town setting up CIA repeaters and this op had popped up quickly, but our commander approached the cutvee and briefed us there. "Shouldn't take long. Good luck. See you when you get back," he concluded, slapping me on the shoulder.
We joined the convoy heading to the Olympic Hotel, and soon I found myself taking up a firing position in an alley where I would protect the Delta guys as they went in. I saw two enemy snipers, one behind a ground-level wall and the other five stories up on a veranda. I couldn't get a clear shot on them so a Delta sniper and I moved positions. I was suspicious already: the enemy seemed too well prepared. They were already firing on the target building where Delta assaulted. This smelled like a setup. But for the moment, my job was to protect our guys by taking out these snipers.
I didn't know that a mile west of us, the militia had gathered at a market to distribute smuggled weapons and ammo. A mile east, foreign fighters had arrived. We had driven into an ambush. The day wouldn't get any quieter.
The enemy ground sniper stuck his rifle over the wall and aimed his scope at the Rangers in my convoy. He had a good shooting position, with only his head exposed. I squeezed the trigger and relieved him of duty. His gun fell to the ground.
On the fifth-story veranda, two enemy fighters were firing AK-47s into the back of the target house where Delta assaulters were. The Delta operator and I moved forward twice to get into position, and then I lay prone while he protected the perimeter around me. I laid an ambush of my own, putting the red dot of my sight on the spot where the bad guy had last appeared. I waited for him to pop into view. When he did, my bullet hit his upper torso, sending him toppling through the doorway. He didn't reappear. A second gunman made the same mistake, stepping into my dot. I gave him the same treatment. If we hadn't nailed those snipers, they would have caused havoc among our Delta guys, shooting them like fish in a barrel.
A command came over the radio: return to the convoy. As I jogged through the alley to the cutvee, a ricochet hit me on the back of the left knee, knocking me to the dirt. The pain was worse than I thought it would be, and for a moment I couldn't move. It was the first time I had ever been shot. I got up and made it to the cutvee, where a medic stuffed my leg full of gauze. Within minutes I was on my feet shooting again. No harm done. If anything, my sense of invincibility climbed a little bit higher.
The blue skies were now filled with smoke from burning tires, a signal from the enemy to other fighters to join them and a way to obscure our vision. Enemy fighters with AK-47s were everywhere. As soon as I capped one, another would pop up like a game of Whack-a-Mole. RPGs ripped through the air with a shriek, leaving an acrid odor. One of the RPGs took out one of our 5-ton trucks. We blew the rest of the truck up with a thermite grenade so it wouldn't fall into enemy hands.
Then we heard over the radio that an RPG had taken down a Black Hawk. Our mission changed instantly from a high-value target snatch to a rescue op. Our guys were alive and on the ground. We loaded up our convoy and headed toward the crash site.
Excerpted from The Last Rescue by Howard Wasdin, Joel Kilpatrick. Copyright © 2014 Howard Wasdin and Debbie Wasdin. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ONE: A GOOD-LOOKING CORPSE, 1,
TWO: THE MIRACLE, 23,
THREE: THE NEW BABY, 37,
FOUR: REALITY CHECK, 63,
FIVE: TENNESSEE, 89,
SIX: AMBUSHED, 111,
SEVEN: THE NEW GUY, 125,
EIGHT: COMBAT TESTED, 145,
NINE: A NEW DIRECT ION, 177,
TEN: RUNNING FROM GHOSTS, 207,
ELEVEN: BIN LADEN AND THE BOOK, 229,
TWELVE: LAST BATTLES, 245,
ABOUT THE AUTHORS, 263,
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