As the chaplain at the Air Force Theater Hospital here at Joint Base Balad, Iraq, I often ask wounded soldiers what they are praying for.
Their answers contain some surprises. They usually are praying more for their battle buddies than themselves.
Army Sgt. Robert Stucki from Clarksville, Ky., was praying such a prayer when I met him earlier this month at the hospital.
As a member of the 194th Military Police Co. out of Fort Campbell, he was the truck commander in a convoy leaving Fallujah when he saw something thrown toward his truck.
The small “thing” was a grenade, and it packed a punch.
Fortunately for Stucki’s crew, they weren’t riding in an average vehicle. They were in a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle.
Lying in a hospital bed relating his story, Stucki told me the explosion was like a “welding arc in front of my eyes.”
” ‘We’ve been hit!’ ” Stucki remembers thinking. ” ‘I need to know about my crew.’ I started yelling for my driver to push through.”
Twenty minutes later, the MRAP pulled into the battalion aid station.
Stucki remembers “praying the whole way for my gunner and my driver to be OK.”
Only after Battalion Aid assured him his crew suffered superficial injuries did Stucki turn his attention to his own spiritual aid and requested his chaplain come and pray.
“I put my faith in the Lord and my trust in Him,” he told me. “I was just praying, ‘Take care of my guys and help me with the pain.’ ”
However, Stucki’s injuries were serious enough for medics to load him on a helicopter for transport to the theater hospital. With rotors turning, a lay minister from his church administered a blessing just before takeoff.
Minutes later, I prayed alongside his gurney as Emergency Room staff worked on both his arm and leg.
The next day, Stucki was making light of those injuries: “Comparatively minor,” he concluded, “compared to the potential of this attack.”
Minor? Really? I wondered.
“What should have happened?” I asked him.
Stucki looked away. A bit of moisture surfaced in the eye of this 15-year veteran.
“Let’s just say,” he answered, “that with this type of attack, our survival was a testament to God watching out for us.”
As he worked to regain some composure, Stucki explained his crew had traded their humvee for the MRAP two days before the attack. MRAPs are designed to protect occupants against armor-piercing roadside bombs.
“By the grace of God, we were in the MRAP, and the thing passed between my legs.”
Then with a glance at his legs — both intact — he said all he needed was “a few surgeries with plates and screws.”
As we finished our visit, the nursing staff were making preparations to load Stucki on the plane to Germany and then home to Clarksville.
“I don’t want to leave my guys,” he said. “They’re my family.
“I’m so grateful to be watched over like I was and to have my crew saved.”
Then, pointing toward the nursing station, with a noticeable break in his voice, he added, “The guys here are doing a wonderful job taking care of me; they are the real heroes!”