Monday Morning Boost: An Iraqi Shepherd at Christmas

Monday Morning Boost: An Iraqi Shepherd at Christmas

The Journey of the Heart continues as I share once again the story of the Christmas I spent in Iraq. My Christmas in Iraq was cold and scary, warm and sacred. Few experiences have touched my heart as deeply as that Christmas.

As we remember those serving our country around the world (including our son Cody who is currently deployed) and as you remember your own loved ones who are unable to be home for Christmas, it seems fitting I share this story again, my most requested story of all.

It’s a true story of a shepherd who had a flock of sheep.

I hope you enjoy.

Merry Christmas Friends… I love you!



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, scared, 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, a small indicator of the harshness of war we would yet experience.


Christmas Eve, I attended my first-ever Catholic mass. I was invited by two soldiers who were newly assigned to my crew, Sergeant Luis Armijo and Specialist Luis Martinez. 

The Christmas Eve Mass was held in the base chapel, a hastily constructed small tin shed with wood planks for pews and a crude wooden cross hanging above the door.

An Army Chaplain, who was also a Catholic Priest, flew in on a Blackhawk helicopter for the service. We prayed together, sang carols, and worshipped.

After the service, Sergeant Armijo went up to the front of the chapel to be blessed by the priest.

When Armijo returned, he presented me, a Latter-day Saint amidst his Catholic brothers, with this 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 while I was in Iraq, and I’m grateful I made it home.

St. Michael hung around my neck for many years before the soft metal wore out and the chain hook broke. I repaired it once and have now replaced it and continue to wear it as a reminder of our common Christian faith.


The following day, Christmas morning, Sergeant 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 flock 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 his 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 he was 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, even the Baby who would be the Savior Jesus Christ.

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.

Photo by Patrick Schneider on Unsplash

Like my own experience finding peace in the midst of war, you can also find peace in the midst of your turmoil of life through a baby born in a manager. 

If you find yourself feeling casual in your relationships with divinity, if it seems God is not listening, then seek to feel closer by moving closer. 

If you seek answers you have not yet found, if you desire peace that seems far away, if you feel that gentle tug on your heart, I urge you with all the fervor of my soul, to immerse yourself in the beautiful peace and joy of the Christmas season and feel the love of eternal Shepherd.

That gentle tug at your heart is trying to tell you something, softly whispering eternal truths of peace and hope.

As you listen to your Shepherd, exercise your faith to follow Him, and turn your heart to the Savior, I can promise you a new heart you will receive because that is what the Lord has promised.

“A new heart also will I give you,” the Lord told the prophet Ezekiel from the Old Testament, “and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26).

I have felt the stone heart being taken away, replaced with a heart of flesh, a heart healing from being a wandering soul.

I share with you a piece of poetry I wrote about my Christmas in Iraq. It’s a true story of a shepherd who had a flock of sheep, and it’s a true story of how I found the Shepherd, even the Prince of Peace.


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

Have a beautiful Monday. Merry Christmas, friend. I love you!

Les Patterson

p.s. Take 13 minutes today to feel the Peace of the Christmas Shepherd.



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