I was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the United States Army 10 years ago upon graduating from the United States Military Academy. The path that lay ahead was not planned but promised. The attacks of September 11, 2001, happened as I began my Yearling (sophomore) year at West Point. I remember the somber phone call with my parents, Carol and Nancy Carpenter, and vividly remember the conversation that would change my life forever.
No one knew that our armed forces would be immersed in two wars before I graduated, but the possibilities were evident. My immediate feelings were not those of fear, but anticipation. I didn’t know what the future held for me—but traveling overseas to a foreign country went from a future possibility to a determined inevitability between my Calculus and Physics classes.
Honestly, I knew the possibility of seeing combat was possible when I entered the Academy, but it was not apparent until that morning. I deployed to Iraq in 2005 as an Armor officer. Upon landing in Iraq, I was welcomed by other classmates who had graduated a year earlier and were headed back home. I learned what I could from them about the area and what my tour would be like. “You’ll get a platoon,” they assured me. “Don’t be too comfortable in the Headquarters.”
I learned all I could from them and was excited when I found out a platoon leader slot had just opened up in Alpha Company 1-13 AR. We were based out of Camp Taji just North of Baghdad in the, then named, Sunni Triangle—a very anti-American area that had most recently escalated their use of IEDs or roadside bombs. I met my platoon on the first day of patrols in this area. Our training to this point was engaging the enemy in combat through direct fire, but we soon learned that our mission was going to focus more on protection of the main supply route through Iraq.
We patrolled that main supply route 8 hours a day, 7 days a week for the next year. My group patrolled during the cover of darkness from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. Ambushes were common and protecting convoys from roadside bombs became an everyday occurrence. We went through every patrol expecting the worst. Some soldiers saw this as just another day at work, but many were motivated not out of hate for the enemy but for the protection of our brothers and sisters that drove that route everyday moving supplies.
This is what brought me the greatest strength during this time. We tried not to talk about the politics of why we were there. Nothing would change the fact that others needed us every day. This is where I learned that love for each other was a greater motivator than hate for any enemy. We did the best we could with what we had.
The brutality of war cannot be exaggerated, but the opportunities to share the gospel were constantly presenting themselves. My mother and a group of women and men, from our home church, First Baptist Church of Columbus, MS, began stuffing, sewing, and shipping “cold collars” to send to my company in Iraq. The water-soaked rag would keep our necks cool during patrols and acted as a phenomenal way to share the love of Christ with fellow soldiers. While many loved using these rags, they received just as much enjoyment from the encouraging letters included in these packages.
I was blessed with a Christian family and community willing to comfort and encourage me as a child but I know now this lifestyle is, sadly, an exception and not a rule. Many of my brothers and sisters in arms were overwhelmed that someone was willing to take the time to make sure their personal comfort was a priority.
The patriotism of these Christian brothers and sisters is equally as important to protecting our nation and its freedom. In World War II, citizens bought war bonds, and during Operation Iraqi Freedom, they made neck collars and sent countless care packages. While that sounds flippant, the thankful sentiment is real. These people couldn’t ease everyone’s pain—but they did the best good where they knew they could make a difference, through an exercise of love.
I feel the same way about patriotism in America. We as Americans are at our best when we seek to aid those in need through love and compassion instead of through demonizing and belittling anyone different from us. My wife and I continued this when, soon after we married, we began making sack lunches for the homeless during the first years of our marriage. We knew we couldn’t end hunger but we could make a difference in people’s lives with what resources we had.
In the last 13 years, our nation has seen a renaissance of patriotism. I’m thankful for this, but patriotism does not equate to salvation. We can make a difference every day—through actions done with the abilities and resources that God has given to each of us. We live in a wounded world and the only way to make a permanent and lasting difference is sharing the love of Christ one day at a time.
Luke Carpenter is a 2004 graduate of the United States Military Academy. He was deployed from Fort Riley, Kansas, to Iraq from 2005 until 2006. While in Iraq he was promoted to Captain and served as a Platoon Leader of an Armored Division. Luke was awarded the Bronze Star Medal. He now lives in Canton, Ohio, with his wife, Raena, and their one year-old daughter, Jane. Luke is a Project Controls Analyst with Access Midstream.