The surrounding hills lay silent in the night. A few stars sprinkled light in the camp. Sgt. Mark Hammond took a long draw from his cigarette and exhaled the hazy smoke into the night air. His hands tightened on the rifle at his side as he squinted into the dark surroundings.
Sgt. Hammond turned and stood to face the young soldier in front of him, returning his salute as he did. The sergeant knew the question before the soldier formed the words.
“Sir. Awaiting your orders for tomorrow. Sir.”
His orders for tomorrow … Sgt. Hammond looked past his subordinate’s silhouette into the night. Indeed, what would be his orders? How would he get out of this mess?
“Have the unit ready at 0700. Good night.”
Only a flicker of a change showed in the soldier’s countenance as he sharply saluted and turned back into the camp.
He probably suspects, but is too well trained to question.
The sergeant pushed his cigarette into the soil and grabbed a tin cup of lukewarm coffee from the rock nearby. Grabbing his gun and glancing quickly around, the military leader headed toward the silent hills.
After putting some distance between him and the camp, Sgt. Hammond sat down on a level grassy spot at the foot of one of the taller hills. His shoulders slumped as he carefully laid his weapon on the ground next to him.
Panic began to rise and he could feel the onset … shallow breathing, tightened chest, and sweaty palms. The sergeant took a deep breath and said a single word.
Immediately the inky night split with radiant light as Yashmea walked over to the man who had called his name. Yashmea placed his strong and calloused hand on Mark’s shoulder and the scenery around them seemed to melt.
Mark Hammond was no longer dressed in military fatigues, his weapon vanished, and his face was wet with tears. The hills became level and a warm breeze rolled across the ground swelling into the fresh fragrance of a lush forest.
Mark looked up and he was standing in the forest he knew so well. Next to him, his best friend waited for him to speak.
“Yashmea. I am lost. I made sure we had the proper equipment and uniforms. I’ve disciplined the troops with a firm hand … but fair. But now we are in the midst of battle and I’ve gotten us lost in the hills. What should I do?”
Yashmea bent down and drew on the ground with his finger.
“What are you trying to accomplish? That is what determines what you should do.”
“Well I’m trying to lead my family. You know … like you said.”
Yashmea smiled slightly.
“And you thought that was a military operation?”
Mark breathed deeply and slowly exhaled. He looked directly at Yashmea and gave a sheepish grin.
“I’m sorry. I’ve made such a mess. What should I do?”
“You are forgiven. As for what you should do?” Yashmea continued in a soft but sure voice, “To lead well, you need to follow well.”
Yashmea beckoned Mark to follow him and as they drew near a crystal clear stream, Yashmea motioned for Mark to sit down. When he did, Yashmea removed Mark’s dirty boots and socks, then placed Mark’s feet in the cool water.
Mark looked at the calloused hands that bathed his feet … and wept. He hadn’t even noticed the well-worn backpack that Yashmea carried, but Yashmea opened it and brought out a towel to dry Mark’s feet as well as fresh socks and new shoes.
With that done, the two men sat down in a nearby clearing and talked far into the night.
The sun shown brightly as Mark opened his eyes the next morning.
“Lucas. Time to get up buddy. I’ve got somewhere to take you today.”
Mark’s son rubbed the sleep from his eyes and looked up at his dad. Starting to pull on his camouflage and reach for his rifle, his father’s hand stopped him.
“You won’t be needing those anymore.”
As Mark and Lucas left the house that day, they headed toward the hills. Warm rays of sunshine touched the father’s hand as he draped it across his son’s shoulders. A few moments later … Lucas finally met his dad’s best friend.