Homeward Christian soldiers
Memorial shows love to trio back from Iraq
By Allen Palmeri
March 10, 2005
JEFFERSON CITY – Memorial Baptist Church, Jefferson City, is celebrating the return of three sergeants in the Army National Guard who recently came back from combat duty in Iraq.
Mark Thompson, Mark Jones and Kelly Murray all came home within a two-week period in late January and early February to loud cheering in the Memorial sanctuary when Pastor Ken Lumley noticed them in attendance.
“Our church has several veterans in it, and some of them go all the way back to World War II,” Lumley said. “We’re pretty mindful of that here in our church. I couldn’t be more proud of them as people, as Christians, and as Americans, not only for what they did but the way they conducted themselves while they did it.”
Thompson, a deacon, spent a year in Iraq as part of a seven-man movement control team, the 711th Transportation Detachment. Jones and Murray, who regularly attend Memorial, were deployed with the 835th Corps Support Battalion (CSB), a logistics support unit that coordinates transportation. Scattered Iraqi insurgents have used deadly force to disrupt American convoys, but the three sergeants said God protected them during their entire wartime service.
“I knew of eight churches praying specifically for my unit,” Thompson said. “That’s just a great sense of peace, really. I wasn’t really scared. I felt like I was just in God’s hands the whole time. The prayer support was overwhelming.”
Murray and Jones were stationed at Camp Speicher, at an undisclosed location in Iraq. They went out on convoys over roads where Iraqi insurgents have used mortars, rocket-propelled grenades (RPG) and improvised explosive devices (IED) to kill dozens of American soldiers.
Murray said his group of 4-5 vehicles faced one attack by insurgents while the Americans were bringing supplies to Iraqi schools. He was on gun duty in a Humvee when an RPG exploded about five feet behind his vehicle. Guardsmen responded quickly with their M-16s.
“We were all safe,” Murray said. “We did return fire, and then we got out of there as quickly as possible.”
Jones said he is thankful that God delivered his unit out of extreme danger.
“I think we went through the worst period of the entire war,” Jones said, citing two months in 2004 – March (53 deaths) and April (138 deaths) – as the two highest casualty months overall. As of March 1, 1,643 coalition deaths were confirmed by U.S. Central Command.
“We had a convoy where IED was found on the road. We had IED blow up in front of us and IED in back of us. Anytime you went out on any patrol you were always under the possibility of being ambushed.”
Thompson said his unit faced about 10 long-distance rocket attacks throughout the year, but none of those randomly fired missiles ever hit a target.
“It was kind of uneasy for most of the year, just thinking, ‘When is he going to come back? Is he going to come back?’” said Thompson‘s daughter Tara, 17. “But I knew God was there. He was with us, and he was with them.”
All three sergeants said media coverage of the war tends to focus too much on the negative and not enough on the positive.
“The media misrepresents our cause over there and when we see it, it breaks our heart,” Murray said.
Thompson said that for the most part, the Iraqi people are glad the American soldiers and other coalition forces are trying to help them form a stable democratic government. Thompson was stationed at Marine-controlled Al Asad Air Base in northwestern Iraq, and one of the last things he experienced during his tour of duty was the Jan. 30 Iraqi elections.
“We’re helping in so many ways that the media doesn’t portray,” Thompson said. “There’s just that small number of extremists that don’t like us in their land.”
“Power was restored in a lot of places,” he said. “A lot of the kids went back to schools. We rebuilt a lot of schools over there. I think basically we gave the people a sense of dignity and a sense of empowerment for themselves.”
Back home, Marda Thompson, Mark’s wife, said the love of Memorial church members helped pull her through 2004.
“I fell down the bleachers at the high school and cracked my ankle, and a week later I could hear lawnmowers outside,” she said. “One of the small groups at my church was cutting my grass.”
Jones said that words cannot express how thankful he and his wife, Tina, are for the Memorial body.
“Without that church, I don’t think that my wife would have made it through, and I don’t think that my faith would have even become as strong as it is now,” Jones said.
Murray has a praying mother, Goldie, who has been a member at Memorial since the early 1960s. She said the Lord gave her “a sense of peace” the whole time her son was in Iraq. Kelly Muray said that he is simply an ordinary man who tried to hang on to his faith under difficult circumstances.
Contrary to what the media often reports, our cause is just, he said.
“God wants everybody to have freedom,” Murray said. “If we’re over there to tell these people that they can have freedom, then we’re over there for a good reason.”