Wounded Warrior’s Stint in Israel Defense Forces Inspires Others to Get Out and Help
When US Army Staff Sgt. Brian Mast and his team hit the ground on a warm September night in 2010, they thought it would be a routine night targeting terrorists in Afghanistan. Being the lone bomb technician, or EOD, on the mission, Mast was the point man who would venture out ahead of his team to secure the area for his fellow soldiers.
This particular night the team could not ladder over the walls of a compound they were trying to enter, so they had to use a long corridor instead.
“I told my guys to hold up. I said, if I was a bomb living in a compound, this is where I would be hiding,” Mast said.
The Army Staff Sgt. didn’t see anything and gave his team the okay to forge ahead. But before he could take another step, a device exploded, sending the soldier tumbling through the air.
“I’m lying on my back and I’ve got the wind knocked out of me,” Mast said. “I realized that there must be a reason I can’t stand up right now.”
As his fellow soldiers rendered aid and called for a helicopter, Mast began to realize that his legs were badly damaged. In the next few days he would lose his legs and be sent to recover at Walter Reed Army Medical Hospital in Washington, DC.
“When I was lying there in that hospital bed, initially, I honestly believed that I was going to strap on a pair of prosthetics, spend a couple of weeks learning to walk again and then I was going to be back out on the next set of missions,” he said.
But, he soon realized that his recovery would be long and difficult and he could take one of two roads—one of anger or one of faith.
“I was able to look around and look at this situation that was a very painful part of life and see there was something bigger at play here. This was my God and I could see His hand in my life.”
He saw God at work even during the long journey from Afghanistan to the US after he was injured.
“I ended up in Germany for 24 hours, waiting to go back to the states,” he said. “I wasn’t awake for any of this, but I came under the care of a doctor named Josh Campbell. I went to high school with Josh Campbell in Grand Rapids, MI. He recognized me and somehow got in touch with my wife. He had my wife send a picture of her and my six month old son and he printed it out and taped it to the end of my gurney so when I woke up, it would be the first thing I would see.”
Not only did he see the goodness of God’s work in his life during his recovery time, but he also saw the goodness of mankind.
“People would come to the hospital and say we’re going to help you build a handicap accessible home. We’re going to help you get into a handicap accessible vehicle. You want to get back to work, we’ll teach you how,” Mast said. “What I learned was that these people weren’t just supporting the troops by writing 100 characters or less on [social media]. They were finding their own ways to give of their life, resources and blood, sweat and tears to make a difference.”
After witnessing these acts of good will, Mast decided that whatever causes came his way, he would find a way to support them by giving of the work of his own hands.
The first cause that came to his attention was the plight of the soldiers serving in the Israel Defense Force. While living in Boston and attending Harvard University, he began noticing a rise in anti-Israel protests.
“I just couldn’t understand this double standard that was being applied by the protestors,” he said. “If the US was having rockets launched into our borders from Canada or Mexico, then every American would expect guys like me to go there and destroy those enemies. This is what happens to Israelis year after years.”
One night, while Mast was taking a walk with his wife and children, the protestors began to change their words from anti-Israel sentiments to anti-US soldier.
“They looked at me and figured out I was a service member and started saying things to me and my kids,” he said. “I said, let’s take care of this, but not one of these guys wanted to take care of it. It was a reminder to me that historically, it has been easy to say let’s ignore these threats. I decided then and there that I wasn’t going to ignore this anymore.”
So, the wounded warrior, told his wife that he was going to find a way to go to Israel and show support to the country and its people.
“I knew I wanted to do something with the military,” he said. “I connect best with soldiers. Soldiers give you the most honest assessment of the situation because they have a real respect of the life and death complexity. Eventually, I found an in-road and volunteered with the IDF.”
The retired Army officer spent a month volunteering alongside the Israeli soldiers putting together medical kids that were needed on the front lines.
“I was packing up morphine and tourniquets—things that my team had used on me when I was injured,” Mast said. “It was something that was very rewarding for me, and I hope that it was for them as well.”
Scott Kammerman, the executive director of the Texas Branch of the Friends of the IDF (FIDF) said it is likely that Mast’s work in Israel made more of an impact than he knows.
“Because men and women of Israel have to serve in the IDF when they reach 18-years-of-age, they are really impressed when they see Americans leave the comfort of their own country to go and serve in the IDF,” he said.
But, Mast doesn’t see his work with the IDF as just a good deed. He sees it as helping to protect something sacred.
“[The terrorists] are fighting against Judea Christian values,” he said. “Israel is our brother in this fight.”
The soldier, who is considering a run for Congress in 2016, said as Christians, we need to put some prayer into it and find out how we can make a difference with the work of our own two hands.
“I am one person who volunteered,” he said. “Israel’s not going to live or die because of the work I did, but it made a big difference because I went and did it with my hands and not with my words. I would encourage everyone to find that tangible capability. Go where you feel called and help.”