A Thankful Sergeant

By Neil Earle

Sgt. Herrera on second Iraq tour. Click to enlarge.

Private Gabriel Herrera of the U.S. Army’s Third Division was on patrol in Baghdad on October 25, 2005 when his humvee drove over a road bomb. His commander was killed and he himself was later awarded a purple heart for his wounds.

Was he ever glad to get back to Southern California after that 18 month tour. But night sweats, panic attacks, depression – being up all night with his wife and children convincing him he was safe and sound – these were part of his daily ritual for too long.

“To me the real heroes of the Iraq War are the wives and children. No one will ever quite appreciate what they have to go through. My wife is my hero.”

Then came the Surge. In 2007 Sergeant Herrera was back in Baghdad on a 14 month tour. Before leaving his home in Rialto he told his wife he had premonitions. He felt sure he wasn’t coming back. “Make sure to teach my kids about Jesus,” he told Indira, “and you should come to the Lord yourself.”

Sergeant Herrera had survived one IED but was certain this time his number was up. “The fear bothered me so much like it never had before,” he told me on my DCTV Cable TV Show “A Second Look,” “It was driving me nuts. So I thought to myself: If I die that’s not the problem. It’s what happens after. Hell or heaven. So I realized it was God I really had to deal with.”

Hole left by car bomb. Click to enlarge.

Gabriel put in a phone call to his cousin, a born-again Christian, in Claremont, California. Over the cell phone from Baghdad to Claremont, his cousin told him what to do, as millions of people had heard before: Call out to God. Repent. Ask God to accept Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on your behalf.

Gabriel did just that. He didn’t notice anything different until the next morning. “It was like a load was lifted off the middle of my chest. I’d also asked God to restore my innocence, my love for life and people because I was getting hard, really hardened with all that was happening, just trying to survive in Iraq day by day.”

The next morning he woke up, relieved, ready to go out on patrol and thankful that he had a wife and three children waiting for him back home. Indira, too, had come to Christ and on his return they were both flown to Washington to receive a “Hero of the Surge” Award from General Keane.

It’s quite a story. It’s not a new one but the circumstances are as fresh and up to date as this morning’s sunset. Jesus Christ is working even in the Triangle of Death in Baghdad.

Damaged humvee, Oct. 25, 2005. Click to enlarge.

Sergeant Herrera’s story parallels the outcry of another lost soul, one who was a soldier and a poet, the Warrior-King David of Israel: “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; O Lord, hear my voice…If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness…I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning” (Psalm 130:1-6).

Sergeant Gabriel Herrera of the U.S. National Guard knows these words are true. In this season of thanksgiving he is the most thankful person I have met. He is now finishing his education and hopes to become a U.S. Army Chaplin. From what I heave seen, he and his wife will make a good one.

“O Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love…he himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.”