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CBN.com In the early morning hours of March 19, the city of Baghdad awoke to the piercing sound of air raid sirens and then explosions. Operation Iraqi Freedom had begun.
In the days that followed, coalition forces launched nonstop air and missile attacks on targets across Iraq. Coalition troops crossed over the border of Kuwait and began the push toward Baghdad. It was here that Lance Corporal Joel Murray of the U.S. Marines would see combat for the first time.
Says Joel, "When you are in the middle of it, you are on your feet all of the time wondering when something is going to come at you. You dont know. When we first went into Iraq, you would hear mortars going off. You are wondering when it is going to come your way."
As a crewmember of an assault amphibian vehicle, better known as a "track" to the Marines that use them, Joel was living out his childhood dream of becoming a Marine.
"When I saw the Marines, I saw someone that people respect and honor. They are the toughest people and the most respected of all the military branches, so I thought that would be something for me," he says.
Living up to the Marine Corps motto of semper fidelis, or "always faithful," Joel and the Marines of the 2nd Expeditionary Brigade were taking the fight to Saddam Husseins doorstep. As they entered the city of An Nasiriyah, the fighting intensified. Joel spotted a "track" that had been hit. He called out to God, whom he knew was always faithful, too.
"When I saw the Amtrac going down the road, and the back of it was down, when it passed by, I realized that the whole back of it was blown up," Joel says. "I prayed there that nobody that I knew would have gotten hurt. I prayed that they would be all right. "
Joels father, Vernon, and step-mom, Jackie, knew that prayer support was vital to keeping their son and all the troops in Iraq safe. Thats why they sent his picture to the 700 Club to be a part of Operation Prayer Shield.
"I was watching The 700 Club, and I saw the first day that they had Operation Prayer Shield. I said, 'I got to get my step-sons picture over there.'"
One day, while Pat Robertson and Terry Meeuwsen were praying for the troops, Jackie saw the photo she sent in of Joel on her television screen.
"I thanked God and I got tears in my eyes. I said, 'I have got to call my husband, Joels dad, and tell him Joels picture is on there. Millions of people will be praying for him,'" Jackie recalls.
"I was struck emotionally by seeing my son on national television," Vernon says. "It just did something spiritually for me. That made a really important difference in the way that I dealt with the uncertainty of the war."
God heard the prayers lifted up daily for the military men and women. In the middle of some of the most intense fighting in Iraq, God protected Joel and his crew in a miraculous way. Their track was attacked by RPGs, also known as rocket-propelled grenades.
"A grunt on my track, there are different weapons that they shoot, and one is a SMAW (shoulder-launched multipurpose assault weapon). It is kind of like a bazooka. He fired it and the sites were off and he hit a telephone pole. The telephone pole fell over. Someone at the time, I guess, shot a RPG at us, and it got deflected off by the telephone pole. It probably would have hit us if it werent for the telephone pole."
Today Joels family and friends are celebrating his safe return from Iraq. They know that it was the grace of God and the prayer support of Operation Prayer Shield that saw him through.
"When we saw him coming back," says Jackie, "he was on a bus at Camp Lejeune. It was a very exciting moment. There was music playing and a crowd there and we all had flags to wave. We saw his face looking out a bus. We just all started running toward the bus, and we were very excited. When he got off the bus, of course, we all ran up to give him hugs. It was a wonderful answer to our prayer."
"I want to thank all the people across the United States, across the world, for praying for my son," says Vernon. "Their prayers were answered in a very big way. I think what is really neat about it is the prayer scheme was Operation Prayer Shield, and God protected Joels life by providing a shield, a literal shield. A telephone pole falls and protects his Amtrac from an incoming RPG."
"To know that someone appreciates me going over there enough to take the time out to pray and to ask the Lord to watch over me is very important," says Joel. "It makes me feel good to know that people cared about other people enough like that."
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