“If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me
fast.” Psalm 139:810
Few people know God’s grace like Brett Claycamp. Even those who have been filled with it, had it pour out of their soul, their marrow, and through their living skin, have had their faith so tested, and found it so undoubtedly secure. When someone loses a job, a home, or a loved one, they’re faith can become strained, fractured, doubt replacing the joy they felt in the certainty of their conviction. In fact, when tragedy strikes, most of us feel like striking back, if only for a second, if only to prove that whoever’s responsible is wrong for putting all these people through all of this hurt. But Brett knows better.
His trial began on May 16th, 2013 in the Wardak Province of Afghanistan, 12,000 feet above sea level and surrounded by snow capped mountains. This was his second tour, the sand, wind, and sun of Iraq already leaving his skin leathered, his mind that of a warrior’s, tempered and eager. He’d built up a momentum toward duty, toward the nobility of willful sacrifice for the greater good. He had found his place, his home in the Army, the men around him brothers fighting a war by his side, fighting for the common goal of their other families they’d left in the United States.
He’d spent three months in this inhospitable environment, intermittently patrolling around the compound between stints of working Base Defense Operations, meaning that they were on monitoring duty of the cameras surrounding the complex and acting as security, ready for whatever the Taliban wanted to throw at them. Every so often the satellite phones would work and some of the soldiers would be able to make phone calls back home, the juxtaposition of their daily lives to those with which they were in contact fueling their resolve and helping them maintain the reasons why they were there in the first place. Brett would use these times to call up his fiancee, a woman he’d known since he was twelve years old; a woman of such courage and dedication as to stand by her soon-to-be husband while he was fighting thousands of miles away.
On this particular day, he’d had to make a hard decision: Should he reenlist, prolonging his career with his brethren in the noble fight for peace? Or go home to his loving fiancee, whose yearning for him from such a distance was taking a heavy toll, but also to a world that had nothing else to offer him. He did what he always does when confronted with a hard choice. He prayed. Not to hear a voice tell him what was the right decision. Not for some sign that guided him toward alleviating the responsibility of the harsh choice before him. Brett prayed solely to feel God’s grace; to be reminded of all the glories of the Earth, as well as the wonders of the kingdom of Heaven that waited for him. And through this, he found his answer.
His reenlistment papers had already been drawn up and signed, waiting patiently to cement his trip further into war and the Hell that follows. So when he placed that phone call, he could feel the hurt in her. He could feel that pain, frustration, and sadness that she felt. He could hear her choking back tears as she spoke to him. He felt like she needed him, that something just wasn’t right. There was a bittersweet pride in him as she told him “I know I can do it, but I’m tired of doing it.” But he felt the tug of the Holy Spirit directing him to another place, so he told her the decision had been made. He had too much fight in him. Too much love and youth to let it slip from his fingers.
So he became angry. Not at his fiancee, given that it was her love that brought about this pain, but at the difficulty in finding a peaceful resolution to such a difficult problem. Brett didn’t want to hurt those for which he cared so deeply. He wanted to fight for them like he had for years. Like he had done earlier that day on patrol through the rocky, dusty landscape of a foreign country filled with people that wanted him dead. So when this anger finally boiled over, Brett did something he regrets to this day.
He hung up on the woman he loved. Stubborn and filled with rage, he grabbed his M4 and stormed toward his barracks room, the stretch of doors filed out in monotony just one hundred yards from the Base Defense Operations building. He reached his room, proffering the key to the keyhole of his door… and his life went black for a second, loud, then light slowly found its way back to him, accompanied by a ringing in his ears so incredible that it overcame all other noise. He stared at his hand, holding out the key to a door that was no longer there. And then, in slow motion, he fell, his elbow slamming into the dirt as the ringing in his ears was slowly replaced with the frantic yelling of his comrades, his squad leader approaching with “Claycamp! Are you fucking okay?!” He started feeling around his body, assessing the damage while they began cutting off pieces of his clothing, one guy not able to control himself exclaiming “Oh shit!” Finding holes in his stomach and chest, Brett reached his bloody fingers up to his neck to find space where there was once a part of him. As the ringing cleared more, so did the acknowledgment of his own screaming. After the full reality of the situation kicked in, Brett did what any good Christian would do. He began to pray. Out loud and for the world to hear, Brett prayed. And he didn’t stop until after they’d carried him on a stretcher to the helicopter that would take him to an Aid Station miles away. But as he was praying, something came over Brett, something strange and soft and comforting.
He realized that he was going to be alright, no matter what. He’d come to terms with death, with the destination in which he was invariably going to go. He knew he was loved and that God was taking him to a better place, where he would bask in the majesty of the Heavens as was granted anyone of such assured faith. It wasn’t that he had a vague idea, but rather that he knew it in his heart and soul, beyond a shadow of a doubt, and with the fortitude of the righteous. Once his praying subsided, secure that God was looking after him, a man from Army Special Forces began digging into the holes in his body to reassess the damage and call it in to the Aid Station for preparation of his arrival. Brett looked up with concerned gratitude, groggy from the drugs he was given and still concerned with the hole in his neck, and asked “Am I gonna die?”
The man reassured him and, due to the drugs, his genuine faith in the goodness of common people, and that he was filled with the Holy Spirit, he told the “Army Special Forces Guy” that he loved him. And the man showed him why he should, by bringing Brett to FOB Shank, an international base of operations that includes triage for those wounded in combat. While he was there, Brett woke up to an Army captain who, as a nurse, was tending to Brett’s wounds. The first thing he said to the man was “Call my fiancee.” So the man brought in a satphone and patiently waited for Brett to give him her phone number.
The ringing on the other end must have seemed like an eternity and when he heard his soontobe wife’s voice, his heart skipped a beat. But the connection was poor and, given that the man sounded like a Kenyan telemarketer, she promptly hung up the phone. He looked at Brett, smiled, and tried again. She answered and before she could say anything, the man said “It’s Brett.” And with that, she lost her bearing, but only for a second. You don’t grow up loving a warrior without turning into one yourself, after all. She asked what had happened and the phone was given to Brett, who explained the devastating circumstances with the skill of anyone on that much medication. “Hey! I scraped my knee pretty badly but I’m good. I’ll probably go back and be with my platoon pretty soon.” With this, the captain left, giving the two the privacy needed in times such as these.
His fiancee knew better, knew something was wrong, but Brett wouldn’t have it. He wouldn’t, that is, until a couple of hours later, when he called her back. He was slowly acknowledging what was happening to him, slowly coming to terms with the aftereffects. So he broke the news that he was caught in the explosion of a 107mm rocket attack, no one else was hurt, but he would be coming back to the States soon enough. She did her best to maintain her composure and she did a great job, but Brett knew his future wife. He told her to call her father for support until he could return to America. 72 hours later and he was on his way. On hour 73, she was by his side, a wreck of a man physically, but having grown stronger through his faith. Blown up, but whole.
At no point did Brett question God’s motives. Not while he was going through remedial therapy to begin using his right arm again. Not while recognizing his love of working out was stripped away. Not when the Army was taken from him. Not when he laid in the shower, crying because he didn’t understand. He had arrived home, safe and with an opportunity at another life. God had shown him a new path. One devoid of such hostility and casual death, where negative aspects of himself were lauded. He looks at his life now, surrounded by those that love and respect him, a wife that stood by him through the worst trials life can offer, and two dogs that greet him at the door every day. He’s now a key member of Upstate Warrior Solution, a nonprofit set up to help veterans, and still fighting, but on a different front.
Not all of us bask in the glory of God. Not everyone can find solace in their faith, especially during the hardest times of our lives, our audacious nature searching for answers to questions we don’t fully understand. Yet there are those who can endure, having suffered loss and still finding strength in the Holy Spirit, even when tragedy has befallen them. However, in the midst of those righteous and true, who have been chosen to carry a burden most don’t even think about, few people know God’s grace like Brett Claycamp.