By Mark Ellis
His unit lost the first man in the U.S. invasion of Iraq known as Operation Iraqi Freedom. They also fought the most pivotal battle in the collapse of Baghdad. Through it all, God proved Himself mighty in battle, sending angelic protection during the most intense fighting of the war.
“We had the first man killed in action in the whole war in our unit and fought what many believe is the most decisive battle in the fall of Baghdad,” Navy Chaplain Carey Cash told Baptist Press recently.
Chaplain Cash is the great grandnephew of legendary singer Johnny Cash.
After 40 days and nights in the Kuwaiti desert, the First Battalion, Fifth Marine Regiment crossed the line into harm’s way in Iraq on March 20, 2003 — the start of the invasion that led to the toppling of Saddam Hussein.
Chaplain Cash played a key role leading many to Christ during a crucial period in the run-up to the war. As they camped in the Kuwaiti desert awaiting the invasion, Cash asked the men if they would like to explore what it means to follow Christ.
He proposed that they join him for a 12-week Bible study, according to Baptist Press.
The first half of the Bible study took place before the invasion. During those 40 days and nights, Cash held classes and conducted daily counseling sessions with Marines who grappled with the claims of Christ.
As the eternal consequences of battle confronted them, their hearts softened. Just before crossing into combat, 60 Marines received Christ and were baptized. Several others were born again and baptized while in combat, including one inside Saddam Hussein’s palace on Palm Sunday, according to Baptist Press.
In that Marine battalion of 1,000 men, Cash said, “about one out of four had a profound spiritual awakening.”
In all, more than 250 men either made professions of faith or rededicated their lives to Christ. In addition to those baptized during the deployment, many more were baptized in their churches upon returning to the U.S.
Prayers answered during invasion
When his battalion crossed the border in the early morning darkness of the invasion, they were surprised to encounter a line of Iraqi tanks. “Intelligence had not reported their presence,” Chaplain Cash told CBN in 2009.
“Their turrets were leveled at us and they were fully manned. We were exposed, at a point of critical vulnerability,” he said.
Amazingly, the Iraqis never fired their guns and 3,000 enemy soldiers surrendered. The following day the company commander told Chaplain Cash, “If their main guns had fired all it would have taken is one round to hit one of our armored personnel carriers and 20-30 Marines would have been dead in an instant.”
Chaplain Cash saw it as a direct answer to prayer. “I remembered countless letters I had received from churches saying we are praying specifically when you cross that border, that God would restrain and confuse the enemy,” he told CBN.
“The fact that those guns never fired and 3,000 enemy soldiers surrendered en masse tells me God answered the prayers of the people back in the U.S.”
Angels fought for them
The battalion also endured a nine-hour ambush in the fight to take the presidential palace of Saddam Hussein. The ambush hit at 4:00 a.m. when 1,000 of Saddam’s best troops unleashed all their fury, with 1,500 rocket-propelled grenades shot at the lead elements of the company.
When Chaplain Cash interviewed the soldiers the next day, he was shocked by what he found. “What I saw was not a battalion licking its wounds, but it looked like a group of men who walked through the Red Sea,” he told CBN. Many of the men felt the divine protection of angels helping them in the battle.
“They shared that rocket propelled grenades would come right at them and then curve and go around them.”
“Untold Marines told me that rockets would come at them and then dive down as if batted away by some unseen hand.”
“We had one rocket go through a Humvee passenger-side window and explode in the compartment. Without a doubt that should have killed every man in the vehicle,” Chaplain Cash noted.
But something miraculous happened instead. Inexplicably, the explosion blew the front of the windshield out – it exploded out instead of in – and not a single man was injured.
Over and over again Chaplain Cash heard these amazing reports. Psalm 91 – the “Soldier’s Psalm” – along with
Joshua 1:9 – were carried close to the men’s hearts, convincing them they were not in the fight alone.
Following the war, Chaplain Cash became the lead pastor at Evergreen Chapel, the nondenominational church at Camp David. In that role, he often preached to President Obama.
So not only did Chaplain Cash play a critical role influencing hundreds of fighting men, he also had the ear of their Commander-in-Chief, whenever the Obamas visited Camp David.
Chaplain Cash graduated from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and was commissioned as a chaplain by the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board. Cash wrote a 2004 memoir of his Iraq experience, “A Table in the Presence” (Thomas Nelson).