FORWARD OPERATING BASE PASAB, Afghanistan — Even in the midst of what the military calls a ‘combat zone’ in southern Afghanistan’s largely Islamic Kandahar province, some soldiers have found reasons to reevaluate their Christian faith.
In the case of two soldiers with the Kentucky National Guard’s Agribusiness Development Team 4, the journey overseas led them to take a step forward in that faith. The two were baptized in a small ceremony at FOB Pasab’s Chapel following worship services May 20, 2012.
“You know, a lot of guys come over here and work out to get their body strength and stuff, but I want to do something the opposite. I want to get my inner, spiritual self where it needs to be,” said Sgt. Randy Sewell, a 42-year-old Jackson, Ky., native, who lives in Frankfort, Ky.
Back in Kentucky, Sewell, a mechanic with Frankfort, Ky.’s Bravo Company 103rd Brigade Support Battalion, 138th Fires Brigade, has spent the past seven years as a guardsman. Prior to that, Sewell spent four years on active duty based out of Germany and Fort Bragg, N.C.
“Being here has helped me sit back, talk to people, and kind of look over my life,” said Staff Sgt. Charles Yankey, a 31-year-old Frankfort, Ky. resident from Newhaven, Ky. “There’s things that have come into my life that have been guiding me along my way. I’ve just been so full of hatred and anger to see a lot of this,” he added.
Yankey has served in the Kentucky National Guard since shortly after leaving active duty in 2003 with the Vicenza, Italy based 173rd Airborne in 2003.
“I go to bible study with Yankey,” said Staff Sgt. Michael Watts, a 37-year-old resident of Danville, Ky. who initially met Yankey as a member of the 103rd BSB. “That’s the first time I heard about his baptism. I’m glad he’s doing it. He’s a good guy.”
“I think it’s pretty cool myself,” Watts added. “I got baptized in basic training [in 2002 at Fort Benning, Ga.]. A lot of people don’t know that.”
Sewell and Yankey each had their own reasons for finally deciding the time was right to rededicate their faith while overseas.
“It goes pretty far back into my childhood,” said Yankey. “I kind of grew up in a pretty rough home. My mom always worked a lot, I had a stepdad that liked to drink, just liked to hit on kids and stuff like that. You know, abusive mentally and physically. I could’ve had it worse.”
“To make a long story short, I’m getting ready to turn 32,” Yankey said. “I’ve been battling a lot of anger and demons from my past. It’s made me go down a lot of wrong paths in life and make some pretty bad decisions.”
“I forgave, and then I opened up my heart, looked at all of it and realized that everything that happened to me, it didn’t kill me,” Yankey said. “Yeah, it hurt and there was a lot of things I had to deal with, but essentially it made me into who I am and the leader that my guys respect … you know, the guy that people like.”
“I understand it and it’s what I want to do,” Yankey said. “I’m washing away the old me and all the bad things … to start the new me. To me, it seems like what I need to do for the final step of making the transformation of who I used to be and all the bad things, and the hatred and anger, stepping into the new me that is going to enjoy things more and make my relationship with Shannon [Yankey] work.”
“I grew up in a Christian home. In eastern Kentucky, you get raised pretty much in church,” Sewell said. “I became a teenager, kind of grew away from it, joined the Service and got real far away from it. Here lately, I don’t know. I’m sure the deployment has something to do with it,” he added.
“I was just kind of trying to contemplate … not to sound too cliché with like ‘what’s the meaning of life’ and stuff, but I just came to a point where I felt I needed some help,” Sewell explained.
“My wife, she did it [got baptized] less than a month ago at home … and it kind of started turning things around for her. I talked to a few of the people here, and they recommended that I look into doing it,” he said.
“It’s something that I’ve chosen to do, totally, but I basically needed guidance from somebody,” Sewell added. “You know, your buddies tell you this and that, but when it all comes down to it, nobody was really giving me anything that was helping me.”
Each soldier briefly explained what their baptism meant personally.
“Honestly, I forgave, let go, and it felt like just the world was lifted off my shoulders,” Yankey explained. “Col. Barrier’s been asking me for a little while to do it, and I’ve kind of been hesitant, cause I didn’t really understand it till recently.”
“To me, it means washing away the old and bringing in the new. When the weight lifted off and I forgave and opened up my heart to God, I just … when I first did it, I started telling people because I wanted to be held accountable for my actions,” Yankey said.
“There’s many times when I wanted to make a change, but it’s just me in the room, just me and God. But I always fell away from what I wanted to do because I’m stubborn,” Yankey recalled.
“Part of my stubbornness is that I told people what my intentions were so I’d be held accountable, and it wasn’t just me talking to myself,” he added. “Other people put faith in me, and I can’t let other people down in that aspect.”
“To me, it symbolizes a new beginning in my life,” Sewell explained. “I know it sounds kind of weird, but to me it symbolizes a new beginning at what I’d probably consider a midpoint in my life. I’m just looking forward to a rebirth, so-to-speak and wiping away some bad stuff that I’ve went through.”
“My sister, she’s older than I am, so she’s very proud of me. My wife, words can’t describe how proud she is,” Sewell said of his family’s reaction to news of his baptism.
“Col. Barrier’s been a pretty good inspiration for me as far as talking to me. He kind of talked to me … gave me some good advice, kind of steered me in certain directions,” Sewell said.
“I think it’s pretty cool, especially since I’ve known Yankey for a few years,” Sewell said. “He was at Bravo Company as well, so I’ve known him for a while.”
“A lot of people would probably be surprised that he’s doing it. I’ll be proud to do it with him because I’ve known for a while,” Sewell added.
“It’s a big step for Sewell and it’s obviously a big step for me,” Yankey said. “Instead of just one of us doing it alone, we’ll have each other to help us through it.”
“The people that are [baptized], they say that nothing’s going to be easy once you become baptized,” Sewell concluded. “It’s no cure-all to all your ills and problems, but they say it’s a positive step. Right now, any positive’s good.”