Pondering a Pair of April Fools’ Days, For God and Country

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1LT Davin Fischer / U.S. Army

Zabul province, Afghanistan, March 2012.

April 1, 2010. Dallas, Texas, USA. I ran to the mailbox. I had seen the letter online but wanted to read the real thing, live and in person. My fingers trembled as I tore open the envelope, unfolded the single sheet of watermarked paper, and read the letter. I read it a second time and a third time, just to make sure. It began in my hand as it began online:

“Dear Cory”—That’s me!—“It is my pleasure to inform you that you have been accepted to the Master of Arts in Religion program at…”

April 1, 2012. Nawbahar District, Zabul Province, Afghanistan. I plumped down on a box, leaned forward, and put my elbows on my knees and my head in my hands. I sighed and closed my eyes.

The bullet was fired from my left at point-blank range. It passed in through the triangle my upper left arm, chest, and left thigh made on the left side of my body, across my chest, and out through the triangle my upper right arm, chest, and right thigh made on the right side of my body. It cut the front of my uniform like a scissors—it even cut through my zipper—and turned the notebook I carried in my right breast pocket into confetti. The bullet burned my right arm and right leg on its way through my right triangle. It happened so fast: I felt the burn before I heard the bang.

How did April Fools’ Day in Dallas lead to April Fools’ Day in Zabul, only two years later?

What took me from a lifelong dream-fulfilling acceptance letter to a nearly life-ending AK-47 bullet?

coryisaacs

Cory Isaacs

I enlisted in the Army instead of enlisting in divinity school.

I became a man of Infantry instead of a man of God.

When I am making small talk at cocktail parties, my decision to trade a trained-to-save clergyman’s life for a trained-to-kill infantryman’s life is easy to explain: I wanted to follow in the footsteps of my Christian-apologist hero, the great defender and explainer of the faith, C.S. Lewis, who served as an infantryman during World War I before becoming the smartest Christian the world knew during World War II. (Even after too many cocktails, I make no claims of Lewis-like erudition or creativity—I am much more Wormwood than Screwtape—but I have always built my castles in the air.)

When I am having a heart-to-heart over a couple of beers, however, my decision is difficult to understand, much less explain. It was and is a mystery; I suppose it will continue a mystery. I make sense of it only by unpacking it—step by step, from the outside in—and by thinking as much about what I was not thinking as what I was thinking.

At the time I joined the Army, our country was warring in two countries, so I understood that becoming an infantryman, a front-line, ground-pounding, combat soldier, was dangerous. I like life, I value it and appreciate it—I think it a gift and a blessing—but I do not have an undue regard for my own skin, and, as a result, was not overly worried about getting hurt or worse.

And although I thought about taking another’s life—I considered it, pondered it, weighed the prospect of it—it would be too much to say I struggled with it. To me, kill or be killed is more a matter of common sense and self-preservation than a subject open to serious discussion.

Besides, I hate ivory towers: history tells me the transcendent can pull off turning the other cheek, but the more human among us only suffer when we try it. Turning the other cheek can be a good tactic, but never is it a good strategy. I knew that when push came to shove, as I surmised then, and know now it often does in war, I would not hesitate to kill somebody who was trying to kill me or my friends.

And while I had strong opinions about our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, I have never mixed my religion and my politics or had any use for those who do. I echo the words of another of my Irish heroes, political seer Edmund Burke: “No sound ought to be heard in the church but the healing voice of Christian charity.”

Apropos of Christianity, I am a believer but am far too ecumenical to appreciate fundamentalism in any form. Too often, my God devolves into my God right or wrong, which is infamous, or my God is always right, which is imbecile, so I did not view our crusade as another Crusade.

I have been too proud for as long as I can remember, and I remember thinking an impersonal organization like the Army could make me humbler, more obedient, maybe less self-absorbed. I also thought the day-to-day ignominies and indignities of enlisting—the modern-day contractual equivalent of legalized slavery—just might shake the attitude right out of me.

No such luck: I am more insufferable now than ever.

Another reason I joined the Army instead of attending divinity school was that I wanted to do my part, to make a contribution to something greater and bigger and more important than myself. As a citizen, I felt it the right thing to do. I still feel it the right thing to do, but this idea boomeranged as badly as did my I-will-join-the-Army-to-become-less-of-a-jerk idea.

No matter how many times nice people in nice airports say nice things to me, I am concerned about the growing disconnect between the minority who fight and the majority who do not; and I wonder about better ways democratic societies can share the responsibilities and risks of national security.

Clearly, my hindsight is not 20/20.

Although I know several reasons that did not affect my decision to join the Army and at least two reasons that contributed to my decision — but which blew up in my face — I know little else.

The bottom line is I did not suffer moral dilemmas or struggles of conscience or crises of faith. I did not make late-night visits to my church or random calls to my minister. I did not pray and read the Bible any more or less than I did before. I was fine when I signed on the dotted line: I might have been a mess, but I was a confident mess.

I think I struggle to understand and explain my choice, because I do not think of it as a choice. I want to serve, and I want to love, and I do not see a fundamental difference between serving and loving the members of a little Methodist church, and serving and loving the members of 2nd and 5th Squads, 3rd Platoon, Alpha Company, 2/3 Infantry. If I had become a minister, I would have served and loved my congregation. I became an infantryman, so I serve and love the guys with whom I went to war.

Army Specialist Cory Isaacs, a Texas lawyer and an infantryman, is a member of the 2nd Infantry Division’s 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team. He recently returned from a year-long deployment to Afghanistan, and is stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. The views expressed here are his own.

37 comments
puddin911
puddin911

This is crap because he was a lawyer that lost his license because of child porn issues they found on his computer.  He was a lawyer in texas and his sister is a detective in Abilene Tx that is married to her partner that was married. Nicole Hill look her up

MerandaConnor
MerandaConnor

One can rarely pinpoint a life altering choice down to a moment where the skies part and the little light bulb goes on above our heads. To be a man of God or stand at the front lines defending your country are at their essences very similar fields. Instead of standing in a building speaking to those who have come to hear your words, you chose to stand in a dessert and defend others so they have the right to speak whatever words they choose. You did not leave your faith behind and nor did you stop believing in your goal simply because you chose one path over another. A man of God is with God no matter where he goes. As a man of Camo you are everything that one expects to find: brave, confident, secure, and above all else selfless. But under those layers is a man just trying to do what he thinks is best with his life, and how it will affect those around him. And that at its core that is what makes you a very honorable man, no matter which path you would have taken.

SimiX
SimiX

Wow. Thank you for your article! I have respect to those who are willing to serve to their country. Hope loads people will read your article. All the best!

SimiX

PabloRivera
PabloRivera

I think it's a great article and reflects many of the things we as humans take the decisions of doing without expecting anything and without having a full understanding of which end

sjake
sjake

There are few of us who can articulate our passion and sacrifice so well to those who have not had the opportunity to experience it for themselves.  Thank you for the article. We needed this.

SATX1994
SATX1994

I understand your passion...I respect it...and certainly I think our military needs that kind of intensity and aggressiveness. But I think you miss my point. In an all-volunteer military, what can we do to encourage more quality people to serve?

I don't know Cory, or you, for that matter, but his example only means that the exception proves the rule: not enough people are willing to sacrifice.

BethWoods
BethWoods

It's stories like yours that people really never know that makes me appreciate the men and women that serve our country. My brothers girlfriend lost her son 6 yrs ago in the Middle East.

TravisWaters
TravisWaters

To the other comment SATX1994, of course it's a choice. Instead of laying under my blanket at night and thinking "No way could I deploy for a year to a foreign country and get shot at all the time, too scary." I thought, "Sounds fun, I think I'll be an Infantryman." 

TravisWaters
TravisWaters like.author.displayName 1 Like

Well first SATX199,4 its an introductory article with more to follow I assure you. He's not just writing an article to pat himself on the back, it's to give a background so you have a reference when you see him again. "Unimaginative followers?" That's not only an out right insult to the people that defend your country but a slap in the face to myself and Cory. Cory is one of the brightest and witty people I have ever met in my life. He has more degrees than you probably have of anything. "Seriously, who really thinks the best and the brightest join the American military? Isn't it true that many don't have other options?" Well you just read the article, i'll let you decide who is brighter. An esteemed prosecutor from Texas who rose to the task of defending his country, or a guy who likes to fantasize on a comment board of TIME online that he is more intelligent than the people providing the blanket of freedom he sleeps under? 



SATX1994
SATX1994

Ultimately you volunteered, right? Like all other people currently serving, you were not drafted or forced into this...you chose to do it. And who knows why we make the choices we do?

SATX1994
SATX1994

I like the article, but isn't there more to it? Aren't you just patting yourself on the back--albeit subtlely--a little too hard?

I mean I'm glad you aren't Screwtape. He was a high-level demon in Hell. But you say you are Wormwood, or are closer to Wormwood than Screwtape. Wormwood was, of course, a young devil's apprentice--an evil follower.

I get your point, I really do, but isn't one of the huge problems with the American military that it is full of unimaginative followers?!

Seriously, who really thinks the best and the brightest join the American military? Isn't it true that many don't have other options?

Just food for thought...

Knowndad
Knowndad

Both my wife and I just read this article.While I cannot comment for my spouse, I can tell you that I found it to be very well written and remarkably insightful. It illuminated, albeit just a little, the strength of your love of both God and country. You are obviously a wonderful person with strong convictions.Thank you for your service and may God bless you.

hannah1970
hannah1970

just my little opinion...  FIRST absolutely fabulous articule...and SECOND... whatever path you WOULD HAVE chosen you have left your mark...  BUT  the path you DID CHOOSE few will EVER commit to.. and for that  THANK YOU  and still that IS NOT EVEN ENOUGH!!!

AMD
AMD

Cory, thank you for your sacrifice and service for our country. What an amazing article! Our country is in dire need of men with character, integrity, dedication and faith in God.

God Bless you.

Sportsboog
Sportsboog

These are very deep and powerful insights and feelings that most would find difficult to verbalize.  These are not the typical comments one might expect from military personnel; however, if you were able to dissect the mind and soul of other soldiers it would be enlightening to learn if they actually harbor similar thoughts.

Soldiers who have seen action, and are willing to share, expose the scars of their experience - physical and mental; some are life-changing.  We wonder if your military experience has been life-changing in some way.

With your commitment to the military and your love of your comrades, your brothers-in-arms should be grateful that you are on their side and at their side.

From those among the majority who can only know by listening - we thank you for your service. 

TravisWaters
TravisWaters

Still very happy that this was posted. Those of us with Cory at the Unit are glad we have a voice and can be heard. You guys keep a look out for more of his stories as time goes on. Great guy, it has been a pleasure to work with him. We are glad to have Cory as a friend and now as a voice for us in 2-3 Infantry

NedaMyraDarious
NedaMyraDarious

Very impressive ! You are very determined, more than infanteyman more than a lawyer and you definitely deserve to achieve your higher goals !

NedaMyraDarious
NedaMyraDarious

Very impressive ! You are very

Determined, more than an infantryman more than a lawyer and you definitely deserve to achieve your higher goals !

footprintz1
footprintz1

Well written, insightful. Thank you for your dedication to the service to our country. It is clear you do this for your country and not personal gain, commendable. You have made lives richer just by being part of them.

Cherd
Cherd

I would like to begin by thanking you, for your sacrifice for our freedom. You are one of the minority that I call my hero.

You chose a path that many struggle with. In return you have been given a testimony that can possibly help many. I feel that you are doing another great service by sharing this. Hopefully it will find its way into the right one's heart and help guide them (through their struggle) down the path they are led to go.

You are obviously still a strong disciple for Christ, even after all that you have been through. I know that some of the ultimate tests have been before you. For that, I salute you.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God."

Mathew 5:9

LynnBeard
LynnBeard like.author.displayName 1 Like

To those led by the Spirit into service, there is no choice at all. Luke said it best in his gospel (12:48): "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked." The decision to enlist in the Army instead of Divinity School is simply choosing where you want to fight. Both are callings into the service of the Lord (or should be anyway). The United States Armed Forces are the greatest fighting force ever assembled. No other group in the the history of our planet has been more of a force for things that are good and just, with the arguable exception of a band of believers fighting for the souls of others, irrespective of whether they are believers or not. Service in the US Army and service in the Lord's Army are both callings, and you Specialst Issacs embody the best of both forces. The truth is, there need not be a distinction between the two at all.....God Bless you sir!



Read more: http://nation.time.com/2013/04/01/pondering-a-pair-of-april-fools-days-for-god-and-country/#ixzz2PJmFBgJE

Mosc
Mosc

Excellent reading… thanks for your dedication to our country. It is apparent that you don’t do it for the money, are a team player, enjoy the company of your comrades and love the Lord. I retired from USAF after 22 years of service and truly enjoyed my time serving. It’s converting knowing that soldiers like Specialist Isaacs are protecting our front lines. It makes me proud to be an American…Thank you Lord, for blessing Specialist Isaac and our entire Armed Forces.

Deerwood
Deerwood

An insightful, honest commentary . I am eager to hear more!

Deerwood
Deerwood

Thoughtful, surprising and insightful. A great read. What a sacrifice!

threeponds
threeponds

I only wish the Commander and Chief was made of the same moral fiber. Our military needs many more top leaders

with the integrity as Specialist Isaacs and as important or perhaps more so our country needs many more of it's citizens

to have the courage to honor both our Republic and God.

AngéliqueMichelle
AngéliqueMichelle

Well written, very thought provoking... "a Texas lawyer and infantryman", and clearly a man with heart who remains still, obviously connected to God. Your 'path' is still a work in progress, one with many forks and detours along the way.

"God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world" - CS Lewis

Your perception and experience remains an asset, to which upon you, we will never find deaf ears. Keep sharing, God too is listening.  

Regards, 

Angélique Michelle 

Toronto, ON CANADA

KellyDownRiteDiva
KellyDownRiteDiva

Corey, I admire your dedication and want to thank you for your sacrifice in your decision to bravely serve and protect our country. When you told me that you had enlisted I just could not understand why, and now I do. You are a wonderful example to all Americans. You are serving your country as well as God. My hope is that all Americans will remember that we are "One Nation Under God. I am very blessed to call you my friend. 

Cort809
Cort809

Terrific read!  I enjoyed seeing your perspective, not only from the side of a soldier, but also from the side of the man of God who chose this path.  Each of these things would be considered "a calling" and it appears you've found a balance that serves you and your country well.

FSHOE
FSHOE

I thank Specialist Isaacs for his commitment.  With over 20 years in the military I can appreciate his loyalty to his country and love for fellow man.  From the article, it appears there were many easier paths Specialist Isaacs could have gone down in life and I am greatful for the path he decided.  Thank you Specialist Isaacs.

XinLoi
XinLoi

The choice to be a leader by willfully serving others is to be applauded but it appears you are probably the type to accept that type of praise.  Thank you for serving this great country and for contributing such a well written, thought provoking article. 

JWARD
JWARD

@XinLoiThe choice to be a leader by willfully serving others is to be applauded but it appears you are probably the type to accept that type of praise. 


I believe it takes a man of tremendous character to humble himself enough to reach out and share his experiences with those who might not see eye to eye with what has happened over the past 10 years. I dont feel its as much about the praise of the individual, as it is the praise for the untold stories to come. This appears to only be the beginning of SPC Isaac's story, and I believe he is speaking less about himself and more about those he serves next to.


Read more: http://nation.time.com/2013/04/01/pondering-a-pair-of-april-fools-days-for-god-and-country/#ixzz2PFcu2PmG

JWARD
JWARD like.author.displayName 1 Like

I really enjoyed this article. As a former US Marine who served two tours in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, I too felt it difficult to explain why certain decision where made in my life. Looking back, it was the decision out of high school to serve my country that also drives me to continue my service to my fellow citizens state side. Although, not schooled in the art of advanced infantry, I often found myself in direct support of the men and women in firefights late at night, as the rest of America slept peacefully. The real doubt in both my service and my faith came the next night when I was tasked with bringing my fallen brothers and sisters home much earlier than planned. Since my return home, many hours have been dedicated to reading reports, books, and experiences such as Specialist Isaac's. What I have learned is this, the everyday American will never know exactly how WORTH it each boot on the ground has been in either Afghanistan or Iraq. As a man of Faith, I can look at the wars King David fought or the many battles the Israelites faced and know, that war is part of the curse we inherited when we as mankind first sinned. Keep the Faith Specialist Isaac's, keep up the hard work, and remember, your everyday sacrifice is appreciated.        

Meg1977
Meg1977

As a person of faith...Do you think we should be in Afghanistan? Has it been worth it?

NicoleHill
NicoleHill

What an interesting story! I wonder how many others make such a choice?  Or, as the article says, maybe it really isn't even a choice after all....

DougWrenn
DougWrenn

A great read! You have a profound internal perspective. Having you lead, serve and love your fellow infantry members is a true blessing to this great country. Thank you for making that choice! 



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