Missouri soldier understands power of prayer
By Bob Baysinger
April 27, 2004
|Sgt. Fred Marsh takes a break in the Iraqi desert. Marsh is a member of the 235th Engineer Group that was welcomed home during special ceremonies at the state Capitol April 8. Marsh is a member of Concord Baptist Church, Jefferson City.|
JEFFERSON CITY – When Fred Marsh saw the flash, he knew it was too late. Too late to duck. Too late to run. Too late to pray.
“I first thought the flash was an RPG (rocket propelled grenade) going off,” said Marsh, a Missouri Baptist who recently returned from a 10-month tour of duty in Iraq with the Missouri National Guard’s 235th Engineers Detachment. “It was when I heard the shells hitting the wall of the nearby guard tower that I knew it was a sniper shooting at us.”
Fortunately for Marsh, 43, and the other soldiers no one was injured.
“The Iraqis weren’t very good shots,” said Marsh, a member of Concord Baptist Church, Jefferson City. “But I believe God made them bad shots on purpose that day. They had ample time (to aim and fire). I knew deep down that God had intervened in that situation.”
The close call that hot afternoon occurred in Tikrit, hometown of deposed Iraqi Dictator Saddam Hussein. Tikrit, along with Baghdad to its east and Mosul to its northeast, form the so-called and very dangerous Sunni Triangle. In fact, Hussein was captured just seven miles from Marsh’s post.
Marsh’s close call with the Iraqi snipers was just one of several incidents that made him aware that there was power in all the prayers that were being lifted up back at Concord for himself and other members of his unit.
Maybe the first sign that God’s hand was covering the 235th was their third night in Iraq.
“We arrived May 9 (2003) in Kuwait,” Marsh said. “We spent three weeks at staging bases in Kuwait and, from there, we made a convoy north to Tikrit. It took two days. The trip was uneventful, but our third night there we were hit by mortar fire.
“No one was injured and, looking back, it was kind of humorous. We were lying in our bunks about 11 p.m. when the mortar shells hit. Everybody jumped up in their skivvies. We were all running around with our helmets, weapons and flak jackets. It was a very interesting night.
“Luckily, the Iraqis are incredibly bad shots. There was one person from our unit who was injured during our entire stay. One of our men got a shrapnel wound in the calf of his leg.”
The 235th was stationed inside Hussein’s palace compound at Tikrit. The compound – four miles long and almost one mile wide – was located along the Tigris River. The main palace building inside the compound was hit early by bombs from U.S. planes attacking Iraq.
From this compound, Marsh’s unit often made excursions to various job sites. The Missouri Guardsman remembers one day, in particular, when the convoy was cancelled because of vehicle problems.
“They held us back and let somebody else go. The convoy that took our place got hit by a roadside bomb,” Marsh said.
One of the greatest fears of U.S. military personnel is the use of IEDs (improvised explosive devices) by Iraqis who are opposed to the U.S. presence in their country, he said. The device consists of placing an artillery shell inside a manhole cover or disguised as trash along the road.
“They detonate the device as the convoy passes,” Marsh said. “They learned how to use such things as garage door openers to detonate the IED. They became very sophisticated after a while.”
Marsh said he never lost sight of God’s intervention.
“When we went to chow every day, we went the same route. I remember the one day that we were headed to chow when somebody stopped me and said there is a guy looking for you.
“While we were stopped, some mortar rounds flew over our heads and exploded right in the area where we would have been if the guy hadn’t stopped us.”
For Marsh, it wasn’t a matter of foxhole religion.
“I don’t talk a lot about it,” he said, “but when we left last year, I turned it all over to God. I told Him that if it was His will for me not to return, that I was ready to die. And if I didn’t return, I asked God to take care of my wife and kids.
“Between my constant praying and the people praying for me, I could sense God’s protection.”
While in Iraq , Concord Baptist adopted the soldiers of the 235th. Sunday School classes regularly sent packages and cards to the soldiers. The church also supplied Marsh with Bible study material which helped him lead a Bible study group in Saddam’s former palace.
The military took note of Marsh’s leadership during the 10-month assignment.
Marsh, who worked as a policeman in Jefferson City before activation, was awarded the Bronze Star because he provided security for more than 25 convoys while in Iraq.
“He has been an essential part of ensuring that there was no loss of life or injuries in the convoys,” said the letter accompanying the award. “His training has improved the overall safety for 235th convoys. He has performed his duties in a truly outstanding manner while serving with the 235th Engineer team in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in Tikrit, Iraq.”
While he is grateful for the award, Marsh confesses that God was at work throughout his tour of duty.
“The Bible says we are to pray endlessly, to pray continually,” Marsh said. “I’m convinced even more now that prayer works.”