Courage under fire isn’t always being literally under fire.
Though for Tom Christianson, a retired lieutenant colonel and former US Special Forces soldier, and current senior historian to the US secretary of defense, bullets were involved.
Christianson, a former Collingwood resident, was the guest speaker for this year’s South Georgian Bay Civic Prayer Breakfast held May 13 at Bear Estate. His talk was called “Courage beyond fear in leadership.”
“Courage is not fearlessness,” said Christianson. “Courage is acting in spite of fear.”
He told the crowd of local business owners and churchgoers courage is a misunderstood word, and it can exist even in a terrified individual.
And he would know, having been on military tours in Grenada, Panama, Afghanistan, and Iraq – where he commanded armoured tank divisions during Desert Storm.
During operations in Afghanistan in the 1980s, Christianson’s unit taught Mujahideen fighters how to fire Stinger missiles in their conflict with the Soviet Union. Following one lesson, Christianson and his men were asked to help with a patrol in an area considered clear. They were ambushed and the two point men were shot – one in the leg and the other in the lung.
From the safe cover of a boulder, Christianson told a fellow soldier to get their point men to safety. Bullets screamed past their heads as they made a run for it.
“I thought, ‘I’m probably going to die, but I do have faith,’” he said, adding he prayed and read scripture often before a day on the battlefield or in a conflict zone. “What actually went through my head was, ‘The worst thing that could happen is I could die, but would that be so bad?’”
Christianson reached the soldier with the chest wound and patched him up with cellophane to stop the blood loss. While dragging the wounded soldier to safety, Christianson felt a twinge in his ankle, but chalked it up to a sprain and carried on. A helicopter arrived for the wounded and their attackers fled.
When calm resumed, his colleague pointed out the blood on Christianson’s ankle. What he thought was a sprain was a bullet still lodged in his flesh. Christianson’s men all survived, including the two point men who were badly injured.
“Courage isn’t limited to the battlefield,” said Christianson. “The way you become courageous is by having someone – in this case the Lord – behind you.”
He encouraged the crowd to be courageous in their everyday lives by drawing strength from their faith.
This was the third-annual Civic Prayer Breakfast, the first featured as guest speaker Paul Henderson – a hockey legend known for scoring the goal in the 1972 Summit Series Canada versus Russia game. Last year’s speaker was Lorna Dueck, the host and executive producer of Context with Lorna Dueck, which explores current affairs from a Christian perspective and airs on seven TV networks.