When you're in a war zone, you have to forget the possibility that the next breath might be your last. The possibility that I didn't prepare myself for was the death of a friend. Here's what actually happened.
I remember the night very well. It was the first day off I had had in a long time. I was going about my business, and as I came back to the barracks, many faces were somber. I soon learned that a friend of mine had been struck point blank by a roadside bomb, and it didn't look good.
I guess most of us are pretty self-centered, especially when we get in a dangerous situation. I know I was. I finally had to convince myself after I got to Iraq that I couldn't worry about that next rocket or mortar or roadside bomb, I just had to tell myself that the likelihood of 'it' happening was relatively small, and if 'it' happens, 'it' happens. It's a completely different feeling when 'it' happens to a close friend.
I began to curse myself for not having been there. What that would have solved, I can't say, but my personal guilt was palpable just the same.
Just the other day--now that I'm back in the United States--I got a visit from that friend of mine, Sergeant First Class Daniel Gubler. It was good to see him again, especially wondering those first few hours after his injury whether it would be until the next life before we would get to see him again.
Dan's doing extremely well, and in a way that only he and God can completely understand, he is grateful for the blessings and experiences that he has received and undergone since that dark November evening in 2005.
How Dan lived through the explosion is a whole different story. By all rights, with how close he was to the bomb, he should have been killed. For those of us who believe that God has things in store for people according to His omniscient timetable, this is our explanation of why Dan is still with us.
Dan did lose his left arm above the elbow that night. Additionally, a shard of hot metal that barely missed his face grazed his forehead and punctured his kevlar helmet. Conscious through it all, his first concern was that the bombing might have been the first phase of a coordinated attack by insurgents. Once others told him that all crew-served weapons were being manned, only then did he take the time to wonder not just what it would be like to live without a left arm, but whether he would ever see again.
A fellow soldier administered to him what we in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints call a "Priesthood Blessing". In the blessing he was promised that he would survive and that his eyesight would be restored. I've seen a few miraculous recoveries as a result of priesthood blessings over the years, but this one is likely the most miraculous.
Dan expressed desire to return to duty in Iraq to perform the job he had trained to do, that of a platoon sergeant for a howitzer platoon. With only one arm, I have no doubt, he could have done the job. Instead Dan spent some days in Germany and then found himself at Walter Reed Army Hospital in the US.
When Dan began to feel better and the sight in his right eye gradually began to return, he strolled around Walter Reed trying to bring cheer to others who had been injured in the service of their country.
One of the common reactions we fellow solders had shortly after we found out about Dan's injury was that if anyone could make the most of such a situation, it would be Dan.
I saw Dan yesterday at a reunion we had. He was just as optimistic as he had been the last time I saw him. He told us once again of how things just fell into place with a recent eye surgery, and that he should regain most of the vision in his left eye, but it will be a while before they know how strong of prescription glasses he will need.
Dan has said to me on more than one occasion that he considers it a blessing to have this trial in his life. It has brought him closer to his family. It has showed him that he literally can do most anything he puts his mind to. And just as importantly, it has showed me and all of his other friends and family how to suffer hardship with grace and aplomb.