Officer Survives Blast, Now Serving Others

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Army Officer Survives Explosion in Afghanistan, Lives to Serve Others

Testimony by Sam Brown
Photos courtesy of Sam Brown

This is the personal testimony of U.S. Army Captain Sam Brown, an active member of Calvary Chapel Reno-Sparks, NV. He founded a company serving veterans, providing them access in emergency situations to pharmacies outside of the Veterans Administration.

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U.S. Army Captain Sam Brown’s Humvee was destroyed after a bomb detonated underneath it in Afghanistan in 2008. More than 30% of his body suffered third-degree burns and had to be replaced with donor skin; ultimately, over 50% of his body was scarred. He endured more than 30 surgeries over three years of recovery and healing.

On September 4th, 2008, a bomb set by the Taliban detonated under my armored vehicle.

I found myself burning alive for nearly a minute.

It should have been the end of my life.

Instead, it was the beginning.

I should not have survived the explosion in Afghanistan. The fact that I am alive is a testament to the purpose I still have—to serve others.

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Sam Brown, now an active believer at Calvary Chapel Reno-Sparks, NV, salutes the U.S. flag during the National Anthem. He testified, “I should not have survived the explosion in Afghanistan. The fact that I am alive is a testament to the purpose I still have—to serve others.” During his recovery, he chose not to give into bitterness and accepted Jesus as his Savior.

Post 9/11 at West Point
In my small hometown in Arkansas, they take the measure of a man by asking what he stands for—even what he’d die for. The 9/11 terrorist attacks only reinforced my resolve to serve, even if that meant I might die for my country.

Being a student at West Point while we had troops in combat meant a heightened sense of purpose. We were the first class since Vietnam to enter West Point during wartime—all the military training was to prepare us to lead troops in combat.

Four years later, I was commissioned as an Infantry Officer. Leading troops in combat would no longer be a hypothetical exercise. After completing training at the Infantry School in Fort Benning, GA, I was assigned to the 3rd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division at Fort Hood, TX, as a brand-new Airborne- and Ranger-qualified leader of troops. The journey to my goal had taken six years. I was ready.

I deployed to Kandahar, Afghanistan, in 2008.

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Sam leads troops on a route in Afghanistan—a couple of weeks later, he was severely wounded on that road.

September 4, 2008
In 2008, Taliban insurgents shelled us one night with rocket fire, using a small village as a shield. We didn’t engage. In the morning, the Taliban fled, and we were met by the Afghan villagers thankful for our overwatch and dispersing the Taliban. My prayers are with all crying out for freedom.

September 4, 2021, was the 13th anniversary of my Alive Day, the day I celebrate the anniversary of my defining near-death experience.

Our mission was rooted in nation-building. Our orders were to provide security for a convoy transporting turbines to a dam on the Helmand River. I informed leadership of security concerns over aspects of the mission, but my misgivings were not heeded. We would do our duty and conduct the mission, as ordered. On the way out, the platoon of a fellow West Point classmate was ambushed. My own platoon was the closest friendly force, so we moved toward the battle to help provide support to those soldiers.

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Before the Humvee explosion, Sam enjoys getting a photo with Afghan children in Kandahar.

Just as we entered the engagement area, everything went silent. I felt my body sink into my seat. I saw a bright, brilliant flash of orange. It filled the vehicle, and I knew that we had hit a roadside bomb.

My first response was to throw my arms in the air and scream, “Jesus, save me!” I remember thinking: How long is it going to take to burn to death? The bomb exploded under the fuel tank of my vehicle, leaving me soaked in diesel and engulfed in flames. I dropped to the ground, screaming for help, but I found no relief from the pain. How long does it take to burn to death? What is the transition from this life to the next going to be like? I wondered.

In my complete isolation, I gave up the will to live. But then I heard a voice.

“Sir, I’ve got you!”

Despite being wounded himself, my vehicle’s gunner braved the bullets and extinguished the flames from my body. His words and selflessness reignited hope within my soul. God had heard my cry for help and provided aid through my brave soldier’s actions.

In mere minutes, I went from complete despair to total faith. I realized I was going to get off that battlefield, and I knew there was life ahead. This day became an Alive Day in both a physical and spiritual sense for me—Praise God!

My wounds required me to be medically evacuated to the Department of Defense Burn Unit at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, TX. I knew that I would need time to recover and rehabilitate, but I couldn’t accept the fate assigned to me by my doctors. I truly thought I would be bandaged and join my soldiers again. But the doctors made it clear: My military career was over. I felt like a leader without anyone to lead and a servant without anyone to serve.

                  

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Physical & Spiritual Recovery
The first part of my recovery was physical. Over 30% of my body had third-degree burns and had to be replaced with donor skin. However, my donor sites also responded as a burn, leaving over 50% of my body scarred. I went through more than 30 surgeries over three years of recovery and healing.

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Sam is out of the ICU but still bandaged from head to toe from his burns. His mother faithfully stood by to support him during that difficult time; as he recovered, Sam also met his future wife, Amy, a U.S. Army First Lieutenant and critical care dietician at the hospital.

A spiritual transformation came through these physical trials. 

Throughout my childhood, my family had attended church and I had practiced the faith of my parents. But I did not find or accept the reality of true belief in God. I was young and thought I was invincible. Up until the explosion, I lived a very self-focused life. I did everything with a focus on bettering myself.

I wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps and serve, even if that meant I might die for my country. My pride changed to humility as I was reduced physically, disfigured and scarred, and confined to a bed unable to bathe or feed myself.

My mother met me in San Antonio and became my constant caretaker, an “angel” by my side. She found strength for both of us by reading the Bible. I found a life-changing, foundational passage in Romans 5:3-5 (ESV): Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

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Sam Brown visits with local manufacturers in Reno during his recent U.S. Senate campaign.

I was captivated and challenged by this verse. Why would it instruct me to find joy in suffering? I was left with a choice in my suffering: to be joyful in those circumstances, trusting that it would result in more endurance, better character, and a strong hope in redemption from a God who loves me—or to become bitter and angry. Our suffering is an opportunity to have a testimony that opens doors to ministering to others in ways we never could have imagined.

Life & Love from the Ashes
I had another “angel” with me as I went through the early phases of my recovery. U.S. Army First Lieutenant Amy Larsen worked in the Burn Unit ICU as a critical care dietitian, and she was there with me through the challenges and triumphs of my recovery.

I had no way of knowing that it was the joy I chose to find and apply to my days that would be the key to her seeing past my scars. I can’t explain love, but I know we arrived at a place of trust together and, in less than a year, committed ourselves to one another as husband and wife. Amy taught me to see through the scars to the true potential within us all. These revelations impressed upon me a new life mission statement: “The life I live is not my own.”

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Amy and Sam Brown are so grateful that God brought them together for His mission.

I’m neither a victim nor a hero in my own life story. I believe that I was simply doing my duty to serve my country. Real heroes may wear a uniform, but it isn’t required. Heroes are the people—like my gunner, my mother, and my wife—who come to the aid of those in need, despite overwhelming personal suffering and sacrifice. Without those heroes in my life, I would not have survived and found the inspiration to thrive. They drive me to pursue that greater mission to once again serve others in need.

Gratitude & Suffering
Suffering is a part of being human. Regardless of the circumstances or injustices, we each possess the opportunity to choose our response to the trials and suffering in our lives. We can allow it to permanently crush us and choose to be bitter, vengeful, and angry. Or we can push through. We can overcome. No one should endure these trials alone. When you see someone suffering, reach out, raise your voice, and say, “I’ve got you.” Sometimes that’s all a person needs to find hope.

Our Freedoms & Enduring Constitution
I am forever grateful for America, the country I chose to serve in the U.S. Army. This is the only place on earth where each of us can define ourselves not by where we came from but by the work we’re willing to put in. We’re a nation built by the strengths of our people, and there’s no doubt that these ideals are a good influence in the world.

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Cadet Sam Brown meets President George W. Bush, his Commander-in-Chief, at his West Point graduation in 2006.

Through an enduring Constitution, our forefathers protected the natural rights endowed upon us from our Creator. In their wisdom, they formed a limited government that derives its powers solely from the consent of the people.

Our Constitution is under threat. Freedom of speech; our right to keep and bear arms; the 10th Amendment protections for states to create laws and govern independent of the federal government; and the fundamental liberties that make us Americans would be immediately surrendered if the critics have their way. 

Lifelong bureaucrats and career politicians pose a grave risk to us and our republic because of their corruptibility and lack of accountability. Our situation would be much better if elected officials were only temporary servant leaders and government wasn’t a career destination.

It’s important we recognize how unique America is.

In Afghanistan, I saw the ugliness of freedom’s absence in a society where women face brutal oppression. I’m married to a brilliant woman who has a master’s degree and is an Army veteran herself, and our daughter is extremely intelligent and fiercely competitive.

I’m grateful that we live in a country where every girl and every woman can be whomever they want. It’s heartbreaking that there are countries stifling the creativity, the leadership, and the influence that women can have in a culture, a society, and a government. When we share a unity of purpose, we are at our greatest strength; and at this historic moment, it’s our responsibility to come together.

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Sam and Amy Brown with their children—Roman, Esther, and Ezra—in their hometown of Reno.

In China, the world has watched the communist government carry out heinous crimes against humanity: stifling free speech, persecuting the faithful, and committing mass genocide.

We have every reason to be grateful to live in a country free from these atrocities. America is always worth fighting for. Her detractors are determined to tear us apart, but this country has long endured even the deepest of divisions. Every time, she has emerged to see the best days to come.

When we share a unity of purpose, we are at our greatest strength; and at this historic moment, it’s our responsibility to come together, return to the principles of our founding documents, and unite behind new leaders. We must remain vigilant in our gratitude and duty’s call to serve.

Nothing will stop us—and the great things that come from America—when we do.

Reflections on Nation-Building
Remember the turbines we provided security for on our fateful mission? They didn’t fit. Troops from at least three nations were killed and wounded on a mission that was destined to fail before it even started. The turbines sat in the desert rusting away for years, a sad reminder of the failed attempts to nation-build.

As I watched the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan this past summer, I worried about my fellow veterans and all who wear our nation’s uniforms. Many of us have lost trust and faith in our elected officials and leaders at the Pentagon. As young officers, they were our role models; but for many, they now represent lies and betrayal. Still, most of us remain proud of our service. We were dedicated to a mission, providing security and hope to people living in desperate and terrible situations. It was our duty, and we did it to the best of our ability.

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Sam Brown shares his message of gratitude and hope on the campaign trail for the U.S. Senate seat in Nevada.

Captain Sam Brown’s desire to continue serving his country has led him to run for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate in Nevada this coming June 14.

captainsambrown.com

                  

(To learn more about Calvary Chapel University, visit their website or read our past coverage on the school)

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All verses above are quoted from the New King James Version, unless otherwise noted.

© 2022 Calvary Chapel Magazine (CCM). All rights reserved. Articles or photographs may not be reproduced without the written permission of CCM. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.® Used by permission.

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