“May the Lord judge between you and me… but my hand shall not be against you. As the ancient proverb says “out of the wicked comes forth wickedness”; but my hand shall not be against you.” — 1 Samuel 24:12 & 13

Hello. My name is Aaron.

I am a husband to a wife I don’t deserve, a father to seven children, a son, and a brother amongst many other things. At one time, I was a Marine and a member of the Marine Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC). I am a combat-wounded veteran and valor award recipient. But many of those things really don’t matter much. At the end of the day when all those things are gone and I look in the mirror, I see myself for what I am and strive to be more. In one simple word: a man. A man just like any other man who gets up each day, puts on his rucksack of responsibility, shoulders the weight, and drives on understanding that the journey is not just about his own footsteps but those he is leading and who look to him. A man with mistakes and shortcomings, yes; but also a man that strives to do what is right, true, and honorable.

Recently I took a little ride on my bicycle. That ride was 2,700 miles long and took the better part of 29 days.

Why you may ask? That answer is complex but also very simple. In short: because it was the right thing to do. Because, while I was in relative comfort and stability, three brothers of mine and their families are in a fight for their lives and livelihoods against a command that had turned their back and broke faith with them. The most wicked kind of error; the deliberate disowning of honorable men in their time of need. I may not be accountable for other men’s actions or lack thereof, but I am accountable for my own. And to be silent in the face of evil and abuse is to be just as much a part of that system that condones it and allows it to go unchecked.

Author prior to his 2700-mile bike ride in support of the MARSOC 3.

The culmination of the ride, for me personally, was not my arrival to the breaking Atlantic surf on the morning of June 24. No, for me it was two quiet days later when I stepped squarely but sensitively through the gate of the Marine Special Operations Command parade deck, a civilian-clad stranger in a sea of camouflage, and patiently and prayerfully observed the entire reason I had taken the journey in the first place. Here was the change of command between the outgoing and incoming commanders of MARSOC: General Daniel Yoo to General James Glynn.

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Author’s view of the MARSOC change of command ceremony on 26 June 2020.

Here, back on the ground amongst men who at one time I would have called my peers, I stood awkwardly alone, aware that I was an outlier and a virus among the mass. I was unable anymore to swallow the blue pill of organizational ignorance wrapped in words like patriotism, brotherhood, and esprit de corps. Not after bearing witness, time and time again, to the hypocrisy, the turning of blind eyes to repeated gross leadership failures, the disregard of our own written standards, and to an organization’s selfish drive to protect itself at the expense of the truth and the legacy our fallen brothers. A legacy that these brothers died to build. This legacy has also been built by those who are still living, those who form the core of operational ranks, who quietly depart time and again into the shadows, and who to this day are still my brothers.

I stood there and fought back tears of disbelief and sadness as I heard the commanders of Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), the Marine Corps, and MARSOC speak about selflessness, about the value of the individual and the family, about accountability, and about being people of action rather than word. I heard them speak directly about finding clarity of purpose when looking at the names of our fallen — men that I personally fought beside — when we waver in our resolve. I heard the rising voice of an egotistical invocation, thanking whatever God they called to for their many self-perceived accomplishments and the accolades. The drifting off empty words in the wind.

In short, I heard lies, and I looked in their faces as they devoured the meal of pomp and tradition all the while knowing intimately the silence and complicity each had in the allowance of evil and apathy. When each had the opportunity to live by the words they spoke they had instead chosen to sit complacently and protect their own interests and careers. They allowed good men and their families to wither. They chose to ignore the welfare of their men and the force.

But this is where a rather drastic shift comes.

You see, right then and there I had the chance to go up to them and ask them why. Why do they speak of such lofty ideals and virtues yet protect the men that propagate selfishness, vice, and careerism? Why do they simultaneously laud those who have fallen while turning their backs on their spouses and children? Why do they demand such allegiance and sacrifice from the men who form this fierce fighting force only to use them and toss them in the garbage when they fail to serve the selfish and power-tripping prideful desires of the commander? Isn’t true leadership about service? About laying oneself down for your men? About humility and demonstrating in action those noble qualities, we desire from our best? I know that kind of leadership exists because I served beside men like Daniel Price, men who every day lived the ethos, and men I know that are still out there doing the work of a warrior — and not just slinging a weapon.

But I didn’t ask these questions. Instead, I prayed, I spoke a word of blessing and I walked away.

Now, don’t get me wrong. In my flesh, I certainly wanted to ask all those things and more. The reason I didn’t isn’t because I am some morally superior person — far from it. No, the reason is that I have been in their shoes. I have done wrong and I have deserved the consequences. But before my moment of judgment someone far better than myself offered me forgiveness, mercy, hope, and freedom. And I believe that the same freedom I found can be extended and is available to those men who stood before me, by the world’s definition, the enemy.

We often have, as men, skewed definitions of justice, and far too often the definition is to repay evil with vengeance. We fail to understand that mercy triumphs over vengeance: the way to reconciliation is not through vengeance and but through mercy and faith.

But just like a disease that lies subtly beneath our skin, eating us away from the inside, if we are not willing to expose the sickness we will be unable to heal from it. That is true personally, corporately, and professionally.

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Sirs, I pray for you. First of all, I pray that you confront the evil in your own hearts — if you haven’t already — just like I have had to do as a Marine Raider on my own. Second, that you find the desire and strength to publicly renounce that evil so that others can heal and be restored. Third, that you find forgiveness and mercy in your moments of need and return to the oaths you swore to this nation to lead your men in humility, diligence, and faithfulness. And last, that you lead from the front not just in word but also in deed. I pray that you lead well.

Because at the end of the day, this isn’t about you and it certainly is not about me. It is about our future and those that look to us for examples; those to whom we pass the legacy, either in the ruins of selfishness or with the firm foundation of humility and truth.

I will end with this admonishment to all, including myself: At the last, individually, collectively, nationally, etc we will all stand one day and answer for our actions, our choices, what we stood for, or failed to stand for. There will be a reckoning day where the darkness is brought to the light. Where the great shaking removes all that is temporal and we will stand bare to the core, reduced to what we truly were and are. At that moment it will be too late. Too late to ask for forgiveness, too late to go back and right the opportunities we were given to do right.

Let that be a challenge to those still “on the fence” as well. To those who know what is right and true but for whatever reason, be it fear, confusion, or self-preservation, refuse to stand up and speak what is true. I don’t condemn you, I’ve been there myself, but you still have time. The fate of your brothers and your own posterity lies upon your choice. No, we are not guaranteed the outcome. But we can smile, boldly facing the future, knowing fully that when we choose truth we stand on the side of righteousness. And no matter how small the light, the darkness cannot overcome it.

Vengeance has never been mine, and I plead with you while there is still time, to return, repent, and restore. For the sake of your own souls, the souls of those you lead, and the soul of our nation.

The time for vengeance will come. “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

“…But my hand shall not be against you.”

 

This article was written by Aaron Vanderbeck, a former Marine Raider and Scout Sniper.