Lance CPL. Andrew Parks, a vehicles machine gunner, conducted routine security operations on the outskirts of Marjah in late June when his squad came under attack. Nearly an hour later the fighting ceased as quickly as it started. Immediately two Taliban soldiers emerged from behind a nearby building and began to walk towards Parks’ vehicle. Ignoring the orders to “stop,” they continued to approach, until finally, they stopped 25 yards away.
Two of Parks’ fellow Marines stepped out to reprimand the individuals when three machine guns opened fire. Bullets littered the ground kicking up enough dust that Parks could not see his fellow Marines. To his relief, they ran out unharmed seconds later and took cover behind the vehicle.
This is one of many memories Parks, a junior at ORU, brought home from Afghanistan. Parks served in the Marine Corp. with the Bravo Battery 1st Battalion 11th Marines Regiment, an artillery battery based out of Camp Pendleton in California. In May of 2010 he was deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Although combat has its bad days, Parks describes most days as looking out into the distance with a “thousand-yard stare” and waiting for something to happen.
“Fire fights rarely last a day; they last an hour, 30 minutes or 15 minutes. I spent eight hours a day sitting on posts behind a machine gun just looking through my binoculars,” said Parks. “At first it is easy to get complacent after a while, and then you get shot at, and you do not get complacent anymore.”
Nov. 11 has historically been celebrated as Veterans Day. While a “thank you” and appreciation on Nov. 11 does mean a great deal to veterans who sacrifice to fight for American freedoms, Parks says being educated on the rights we have because of the sacrifice of service men and women means a great deal more.
“They are thanking us for their freedoms, but so many people do not even know what those freedoms are; they do not know their rights, and do not actually know what the Constitution says,” said Parks. “If you are thanking me, it is for what I did, which was fight for the freedoms that you appreciate, and yet you do not even know them.”
Parks, although displeased with how few people truly know their rights, acknowledges that veteran and memorial services allow people to show how much they care.
“It is not about the honor or a selfish need to be recognized. It is more about recognizing the struggles that we have gone through, and God is good because I do not [struggle] anymore,” said Parks. “But people really struggle and every night they go to bed, some of them contemplate killing themselves because every time they shut their eyes all they see is their friends dying or the people they had to kill.”
Parks took the lives of two enemy combatants during his tour in Afghanistan. The emotional response was not one of enjoyment or pride, but doubt and uncertainty.
Parks recalls taking his questions to God for the first time in five years. God answered him.
“My clarity and quietness was so perfect. Over there it was the first time I heard God’s voice, really heard God’s voice,” said Parks.
“Killing people [is] what brought me back to Christ. I struggled with PTSD, but my main struggle was moral injury when I returned,” he said.
Parks wishes he did not have to kill the men he did, because they lost their chance to know Christ.
“Duty called and I answered, and the struggle that followed led me to Christ,” said Parks. “I do not regret my decision but I feel it is unfortunate that war is a part of a sinful world.”
Parks hopes to see more sensitivity in the civilian population to veterans who return from overseas. He says the most insensitive question to ask is whether or not they killed someone.
“I think everyone should take time to call and thank every veteran they know on Nov. 11. If for no other reason [than] to let veterans know you care,” said Parks.