At the tender age of seven, Brian Vanderpool experienced a life changing moment when he watched the movie, Saving Private Ryan. It left such a deep impression on him that he decided to become a Marine. He found out later the movie actually depicted Army personnel, but he had his mind made up.
Recently, Lance Corporal Vanderpool, now 20, returned home on leave from an 8 month tour of Afghanistan. He was not expecting to be greeted by a cheering crowd at Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix, Arizona, which, in his words, “left a big grin on my face.”
Early on, Brian began to prepare himself for his chosen military career. In school, he played football and ran cross-country. He joined the Firebird Young Marines when he was 11 years-old and eventually “retired” as a Young Marine Gunnery Sargent. All of his physical preparation helped, but the Young Marines gave him the edge he needed to succeed in boot camp, where he became a “guide.” The guide is the head recruit of the platoon and has four squad leaders under him.
Brian and his family attended a local church. In his junior year, his youth group went on a retreat near Big Bear Lake in California. It was during this retreat that Brian gave his life to Christ. Although he didn’t realize it at the time, his faith in Jesus was also preparing him for boot camp, and much more.
“It made it a lot easier having the Lord on my side throughout boot camp, throughout training, throughout Afghanistan,” said Brian. “I’d pray all the time, read my bible when I could, and it would help give me the strength to get through the next day, reinforcing the fact that I knew I could get through it because God was helping me out.”
Brian’s battalion was stationed at Camp Leatherneck, a 1,600 acre United States Marine Corps base located in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. They were responsible for disrupting enemy movement and crippling supply lines of materials the Taliban used to make IED’s. His platoon would pray together before each mission. He, as well as other Marines, carried a small bible in their BDU pants pocket. Brian kept a card with Psalms 91 printed on it in his shirt pocket. His platoon had the opportunity to interact with the local population, working to win hearts, while looking for Taliban fighters. To his knowledge, no one had the opportunity to share the Lord with any of the Afghan citizens.
Personally, Brian was not aware of any persecution of Christian Marines while serving in a Muslim country:
“The military can take a lot of things away from you, but one thing they can’t take away…is freedom of religion. They can’t force us not to bring a bible with us, and if they did, we’d do it anyway. That’s the one thing the Army, the Navy, the Marine Corp, will never mess with. That’s really how a lot of infantry men stay sane.”
Brian’s battalion suffered three casualties, and IED’s were a constant threat. As for combat, Brian said it is a very different experience than what he expected:
“Being in the heat of the moment, you don’t think about being shot. You really think about finding cover and getting to the best possible position to get them (the enemy). But afterwards, when you get off the helo and get on the bus to be driven back to base, you’re like…there were some close calls out there!” When the fighting was over, Brian made it a practice to pray for the families of the enemies he encountered on the battlefield.
When asked how his Christianity came into play during combat situations, Brian answered thoughtfully:
“Out there, you could make a lot of bad decisions. They gave us a lot of occasions to where we could have just killed everybody, but in my mind, I knew it was the wrong thing to do. So, that’s one case where I kind of sit back and say, ‘I know I have the chance to do this and I know I’m really pissed off right now, but I’m not going to do it because it’s the wrong thing to do’. So you…have Christ in your mind. You don’t go overboard. You just stop.”
Brian has done his best to live the Christian lifestyle while servicing his country.
“The Marine Corp is a dirty, grimy place. It’s really easy to loose your faith. The way they talk, the way they act. The way they do things. Marines drink copious amounts of alcohol, then do crazy things. It would be really easy to loose your way if you fall into it.”
Although they tried to get him involved, his fellow Marines respected his decision to not engage in Marine Corp fun. Brian said, “It’s not easy being the one dude not participating.”
However, Brian wasn’t alone. He had the support of another Christian Marine with a great sense of humor who helped him tremendously. Prayers from home, which he said he could actually feel, and the “insane” number of care packages he received, all helped him stay strong in his walk with the Lord.
Brian has this to say to other Christians serving in the Marine corp (and it applies to all the branches of the military), “…I know it’s tough to keep your faith in the Marine Corp. There are so many demons out there that can really come get you, but you got to stay strong. Keep on praying, keep on reading your bible, keep seeking the Lord’s wisdom and he’ll get you through it. And your faith won’t waiver. It’s possible.”
Psalm 91 NIV
1 He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
2 I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”
3 Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence.
4 He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
5 You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day,
6 nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.
7 A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.
8 You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked.
9 If you make the Most High your dwelling– even the LORD, who is my refuge–
10 then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent.
11 For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways;
12 they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread upon the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent.
14 “Because he loves me,” says the LORD, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
15 He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him.
16 With long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation.”