Jerry Boykin spent more than 36 years in the Army. Much of that time was spent in the super-secret world of special operations. But Boykin's very public profession of faith in Christ played a role in bringing his decorated career to an end.
Now that he's retired, Boykin has written a book about the controversy and a career filled with incredible stories that he shared with CBN News.
The small, quiet campus of Hampden-Sydney College in central Virginia provides a stark contrast to the places where Boykin used to make a living.
In the late 70s, Boykin was among a handful of soldiers who survived the torturous screening process to become an original member of the Army's elite Delta Force.
He was part of the mission that attempted to rescue 53 Americans held hostage in the U.S. embassy in Tehran - a mission that was called off when two of their aircraft collided in the desert.
"What I remember most is looking at a burning wreckage of two aircraft - a helicopter and a fixed-wing aircraft - and realizing that 45 men were trapped inside that burning wreckage, sitting on fuel bladders and knowing they had no chance of survival," Boykin recalled. "And then doing the only thing that I could do and that was to call on the name of the Jesus Christ and ask him to spare those men. And He did."
The men escaped before fire destroyed both aircraft.
Lessons learned from that mission led to a high-profile success story nine-years later: the rescue of American Kurt Muse who was being held hostage in a Panamanian prison.
"No matter where I am Kurt calls me on the 20th of December and just says 'Thanks, it's the anniversary of my rescue.' What a wonderful guy he is," Boykins said.
Boykin commanded Delta Force during the battle of Mogadishu depicted in the movie Blackhawk Down.
Eighteen American troops were killed and many others were wounded that day Somalia.
In his book, Never Surrender, Boykin writes about witnessing his men being returned to base.
An excerpt from the book reads, "A cascade of blood as wide as the truck spilled out like a waterfall. I heard my men's blood splashing down on the ground. My stomach rolled and tears closed my throat. The medics began separating the living from the dead."
"That was a... difficult time," Boykin recalled. "I found myself saying there is no God or this never would've happened.
Boykin explained that although he'd been a believer for 23 years at that point, he "had a crisis in faith. And as a result of seeing that and feeling the pain of it I literally said there is no God."
Later Boykin would be wounded himself and recover only to discover that someone, writing an anonymous letter, had accused him of botching the Somalia operation.
But following a six-month investigation, Boykin was exonerated and promoted to brigadier general.
He says a lot of prayer and time alone with God allowed him to survive his crisis of faith.
"I can't say that I've totally healed from that experience," Boykin said. "I will carry that forever. Having said that, I've moved on, I moved beyond it."
September 11, 2001
Boykin would face another tough battle after 9/11 - not on a far-away battlefield, but here at home.
The secular media got wind of speeches he delivered to about 30 churches.
Boykin spoke about his faith, the war on terror and the enemy America faces.
"This is my own personal belief, but one of the most fundamental reasons that they hate us is - a we are a nation of believers and b because we support Israel," he said.
The media interpreted Boykin's remarks to mean the war on terror was a battle between Christianity and Islam.
Boykin said he had no regrets about his remarks.
"No, I don't regret it all, no. Let me look you in the eye and tell you when all of that broke and the media went after me with such a vengeance, it became overpowering," he said. "And I will just tell you, going back to the title of the book, there were days that I just said, 'I'm ready to quit.'"
But Boykin says God told him not to quit. A Pentagon investigation criticized the general for delivering the speeches in uniform - but all but cleared of him of wrongdoing.
Still the very public controversy meant that he wouldn't receive a fourth star.
Boykin is retired now and teaching college classes. He's also warning Christians to be aware of the danger the world faces.
"I am not anti any religion because I spent too much of my life supporting and defending the right to worship," he said. "But I think, as Christians, we need to recognize that evil manifests itself in many ways and many forms and this radical Islam is one of those pure manifestations of pure evil."
It is an evil that Boykin says can't be defeated just on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan.
He believes Christians have a role to play in engaging in spiritual warfare against the enemy.
In the end, he believes the war on terror is a battle of world views.
*Originally broadcast on August 7, 2008.