Monday Morning Boost: An Iraqi Shepherd at Christmas

Monday Morning Boost: An Iraqi Shepherd at Christmas

I love sharing Christmas stories, and today, as is tradition, I share again the story of the Christmas I spent in Iraq. It’s one of my most memorable Christmases.

As we remember those serving in harm’s way around the world, and as you remember your own loved ones who are unable to be home for Christmas, it seems fitting I share this story again.

It’s a true story of a shepherd who had a flock of sheep. I hope you’ll enjoy.

Les


AN IRAQI SHEPHERD AT CHRISTMAS

Christmas morning 2004 found me standing watch in a guard tower in middle Iraq.

The weather was cold and rainy. The desert sand had turned to mud and clung to our boots with weighted force. We lived in old caravan-type tents which did little to keep the rain out. The field showers were almost always cold.

The days were long, and tensions were high. I was cold and lonely, and deeply missing my family.

We had crossed the berm into Iraq earlier in December and made our home at FOB MacKenzie, a forward operating base near the Tigris River and the Iraqi city of Ad Duluiyah.

We were welcomed to Iraq with the fierceness combat is known for. Before Christmas arrived, three of our soldiers were wounded in an RPG attack on their Humvee.

ST. MICHAEL, MY PATRON SAINT

Christmas Eve, I attended my first ever Catholic mass.

My new friends Sergeant Luis Armijo, that’s him in the picture above, and Specialist Luis Martinez invited me to attend with them. Services were held in a hastily constructed small tin shed that served as the base chapel.

An Army Chaplain/Catholic Priest flew in on a Blackhawk helicopter for the service. We prayed and sang carols.

After we worshipped together, a Mormon amidst his Catholic brothers, Sergeant Armijo went up to the front of the chapel to be blessed by the priest.

When Armijo returned, he presented me with a St. Michaels medal he asked the priest to bless on my behalf. St. Michael is the patron saint of the warrior.

Armijo promised me I would make it home to my family if I would wear it every day in faith. I’m grateful for his faith, and the love he showed to me. I wore the St. Michael’s medal every day, and I’m grateful I made it home.

St. Michael hung around my neck for over twelve years before the soft medal wore out and the chain hook broke. I have repaired it once; now must be the time to replace.

CHRISTMAS MORNING

The following day, Christmas morning, Armijo and I were standing watch in the first guard tower on the main road to the base. There was always lots of traffic and we knew the possibility of danger was high. We watched with vigilance and trusted no one.

For several days we had been closely watching a man with a bunch of sheep roaming the open expanse in front of us. Was he a potential threat, we wondered, or just another Iraqi with a bunch of sheep.

We discovered the answer Christmas morning.

Standing in the guard tower that cold Christmas morning, I carefully watched the man through a pair of field glasses. His actions magnified, I noticed his peculiar trait of watching over his flock of sheep.

He didn’t chase them, as I did in my youth, nor hit them with his staff, nor yell at them.

Rather, as I finally observed this Christmas morning, he walked in front and the sheep followed.

Though his voice I could not hear, I seemed to sense his soft calls singing out.

He knew his sheep.
They knew his voice.
And they knew their shepherd.

My mind was cast clear of worry and my heart rejoiced in the immediate love I felt of another Shepherd whose birth we celebrate this Christmas season.

Tears of gratitude, hope and peace filled my aching soul and no longer did this lonely sheep feel cold and all alone that Christmas morning.

Merry Christmas my friends!

Have a great Monday! Thanks for letting me share.

Les Patterson

p.s. Take 13 minutes today to share a Christmas story of your own.


A Shepherd, Whose Watch, We Also Keep

He was just another Iraqi
Who had a flock of sheep.
A threat to us? We wondered
Or to those whose watch we keep?

Wary eyes, and trained machine guns
Watched his every move.
With triggers at the ready
Guarded sentinels sought to prove.

For just days previous
Wary eyes were not enough.
As pains awarded Purple Hearts
Tore into three of us.

Was he just another Iraqi
Who had a flock of sheep?
Or something more, a threat
To those whose watch we keep?

Christmas morning, 2004
Middle Iraq, Samarra Region.
Posts were guarded, sentinels stood
Silent prayers our fervent chaplain.

Glasses magnify
Eyes behold.
A whispering wind
The tale unfolds.

He was just another Iraqi
Who had a flock of sheep.
But now, to us, something more
And to those whose watch we keep.

A shepherd’s voice
We silently heard.
Calling, leading,
His flock to herd.

Another Shepherd
This Christmas day.
His voice we also heard
As silently we prayed.

He was just another Iraqi
Who had a flock of sheep.
But now, to us, something more
A shepherd, whose watch, we also keep.

Les Patterson
December 2010


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