A Marine I served with in Iraq in 2007 told me this story. In 2006, he was in Afghanistan in the Korengal Valley, where his Forward Operating Base was constantly under indirect fire. Anytime he or his Marines were outside of their hardened positions they had to wear their flak vests.
These vests had ceramic plates inserted in the front and back to protect them from shrapnel and sniper fire. Late one night as he went to use the head, he donned his flak vest and stepped outside his berthing. Immediately, he saw a muzzle flash just a few feet away, followed by the instantaneous feeling of a sledgehammer hitting him with full force in the chest. A Taliban insurgent had somehow infiltrated the FOB and shot him point blank in the chest. However, because he was wearing his flak vest the bullet was stopped and he lived.
In Ephesians 6, Paul discusses putting on the whole armor of God. One of the items Paul refers to is the "breast plate of righteousness.” Over the course of many years, I have learned the protection that comes by living a righteous life. I understand that we “all fall short” and make mistakes, but we can and should strive to live a virtuous life. Additionally, while some things that affect our happiness and quality of life are out of our power, there is much we can control.
Imagine the consequences for my Marine friend if he had not put on his “breast plate of righteousness.” Learning to make righteous choices takes discipline. It isn’t always easy to do the right thing. Not doing it though can have devastating costs.
There is a story about a kite that is flying high above the country side. As the kite zooms around enjoying the view, he begins to think, “I could go so much higher if this string were not holding me back. This string is surely dragging me down. If it wasn’t for this string I would be so much happier.”
The kite then begins to strain harder and harder thinking if he can break the string he will be free. When he is finally successful at breaking the string, he is shocked as he spirals out of control toward the ground, where he crashes. I have witnessed this same phenomenon as individuals think they will be happier as they violate eternal laws, believing doing so will make them free and will lead to happiness.
Across the major faith traditions are codes of conduct that are all very similar. In the Judeo-Christian tradition we have the Ten Commandments. Even in secular institutions we have codes of conduct designed to protect us and keep us safe. In the Navy and Marine Corps, we have Honor, Courage and Commitment. These codes, if followed, serve as our “breastplates of righteousness.” A few years ago I visited a sailor in jail every month because he ran a red light while drunk and killed a 19-year-old woman. I have counseled with many Marines and Sailors over the years that have broken their marriage vows. The heartache and pain caused by their choices is nearly all consuming. These and many other consequences could have been avoided by wearing the “breast plate of righteousness.” So please, follow the admonition of Paul and put on the whole armor God, especially the “breast plate of righteousness.” God Bless and Semper Fi.
Editor’s note: The Chaplain’s Corner covers everything faith related. Facts not attributed are purely the opinion of the writer.