MacDill reserve chaplain assistant receives life changing message

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Peter Dean
  • 927th Air Refueling Wing/Public Affairs
The paths we choose in life are influenced by many factors, parents, teachers, friends, society and for one 927th Air Refueling Wing Airmen it was an explosive experience while downrange.

The path

In 2010, deployed as a pest control specialist to northern Iraq, mortar and rocket attacks became part of everyday life for Master Sgt. William Manley, 927th Air Refueling Wing chaplain assistant. 

"When you first arrive downrange and experience your first indirect attack, you hear the giant voice 'incoming... incoming' followed by the sound of the explosions," said Manley . "It's a bit unsettling, your heart starts to race, you hustle to get your battle rattle on and scramble to the closest hardened shelter."

Over time and combined with the regularity of the attacks, that unsettling feeling quickly diminishes and a feeling of complacency sets in.

"We would get attacks sometimes three times a day, many of which were well off target and ineffective. It became part of the daily norm," said Manley.

But one morning that would all change, as Manley was exiting a 'cadillac,' a trailer set up as bathroom facilities, the giant voice rang out with 'incoming...incoming' followed by multiple explosions -- one of which was on target.

"I knew that the impact was close but I was unsure exactly where it hit," said Manley. "I was at lunch later that day and the entire chow hall was buzzing about the attack."

As a result of the attack, a Containerized Housing Unit (CHU) received a direct hit.

"I had a digital camera and figured years down the road maybe I would want to remember this," said Manley. "I took my camera and headed over to the impact area. It was cordoned off with yellow tape; you could see the point of entry, where the mortar came through. There was a door and a window and a massive hole."

On site, a small group of curiosity seekers had gathered to see first-hand the aftermath of the attack.

"As I was looking around and taking my pictures, I could overhear a couple guys talking, and I could tell by the context of the conversation that one of them lived in the CHU that got hit," said Manley.

After most of the other curiosity seekers had left and still wanting to know more details, Manley struck up a conversation with the CHU occupant. The round impacted his bunk.

"Fortunately he was out for a run; he says running saved his life," said Manley of the occupant.

The message

The Northern Iraq base was a joint-service base. The CHU occupant was a member of the Army serving as a chaplain's assistant.

"Do you want to hear something interesting?" said the occupant. "Come and take a look at this."

Manley and the occupant walked inside the CHU.

"The destruction was amazing, the aftermath of this thing was unbelievable, there was a hole in the ground where his bed used to be, there was shrapnel all over the place," said Manley. "But most of all what he wanted to show me was the table next to his bed where his bible and his best friend's atheist bible rested."

The occupant and his best friend, who was also in the Army and also on the same deployment, had an agreement. The occupant's best friend was an atheist, and the two would routinely have intellectual discussions about each other's beliefs. During this deployment each had agreed to read each other's bible. 

"Like I said the damage inside the chew was just horrid, but there it sat, his bible, virtually untouched, not a scratch, not a burn mark on it at all, you would not have known that it was within inches of an impact," said Manley. "The atheist bible on the other hand was shredded, unrecognizable."

The impact

This was the last time Manley saw the occupant....but the impact was one that he still feels today.

"I was blown away, no pun intended," said Manley. "If I had not seen this, if someone would have told me this story, I don't know if I would have believed it It just seems too hard to believe. Maybe I'm like Thomas in the Bible; I needed to see to believe."

Manley and the occupant walked out of the CHU, both still in astonishment of what had happened.

"As we parted, I explained to the occupant that this was an inspiring, uplifting story for me. I had only been there for a few weeks and was looking at a long time left on my deployment, it's what I needed," said Manley. "As I shook his hand, I noticed his last name on his uniform was Messenger."

Sgt. Nathan Messenger was assigned to 6thSquadron, 1st Calvary Regiment, 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division, Fort Bliss, Texas.

"The power of God sometimes just can't be explained," said Messenger. "Downrange a direct hit like this has the potential to change someone's life forever, usually for the worse; loss of limb, irreversible bodily damage or emotional scares. In this case, the delivery method was forceful, but perhaps that's what Manley needed to find his true calling."