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Soldiering on

"Soldiering on" Continued...

“We walked into a city of 5 million people and had to find one man,” Boykin said.

During an airborne raid to snatch one of Aidid’s lieutenants, Boykin watched on video monitors at the command center as a Black Hawk took a hit from an RPG and slammed nose first into an alley. The snatch-and-grab operation had become a rescue mission. The Somalis soon shot down another Black Hawk. A grueling firefight in the city’s crowded streets stretched through the night and left 18 Americans killed and more than 70 wounded. Boykin suffered shrapnel wounds in a mortar attack on the U.S. compound—one of 12 wounded there. The mortar round killed one U.S. serviceman standing near Boykin before the attack.

“These men were all in,” Boykin said. “The commitment they had made to each other was something people have no concept of. They were willing to die to bring a buddy home.”

Appointed deputy undersecretary of defense in 2003, Boykin moved to a desk in the Pentagon. But he soon found himself in the middle of a battle of a different kind: a political fight where words replaced mortars as the weapon of choice.

In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Boykin had begun speaking at churches and other civic groups. He asked people to pray for the country. He called the war on terror a spiritual battle over worldviews and said the true enemy is Satan.

When journalists discovered clips of Boykin’s speeches, delivered in his uniform, critical stories poured in. Boykin spoke about a spiritual battle, applying the same imagery that the Apostle Paul used when he urged New Testament readers to put on the “armor of God.” Journalists called him a religious fanatic and an intolerant extremist who was seeking a Christian jihad. They questioned whether he should hold a senior position in the Pentagon. 

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., now on deck to become the next secretary of state, called Boykin’s actions “un-American.” Radical Islamic organizations started calling for his assassination, posting maps to his home and listing the names of his family members.

After three decades in the military, Boykin faced attacks he knew could not be fought using the physical tactics he had learned as a Special Forces soldier: “I knew I had to rely on God. …  I had to leave the battle to Him.”

Even as White House officials distanced themselves from Boykin, colleagues in the Pentagon would approach him in the halls to say they were praying for him.

An investigation by the Defense Department’s inspector general exonerated Boykin of all but a minor violation. He never charged the military for trips to speak at churches, he did not accept speaking fees for such events, and churches and other civic groups covered all non-military travel. Officials did cite him for not listing on a disclosure form as a gift paid travel for one speaking event in Toronto.

The bad press remained, but the incident actually confirmed Boykin’s right to free speech and his freedom to practice religion even in a military uniform.

Today Boykin admits he should have been more clear that his views didn’t represent the official views of the Defense Department. 

Retiring from the Army in June 2007, the New Bern, N.C., native vowed to reembrace rural life and never to return to Washington. When Perkins first offered Boykin the chance to join the FRC, Boykin refused, saying he felt emotionally unprepared for a return to the city. For a year and a half Perkins kept asking and Boykin kept saying no.  

But family and friends unanimously told him he should reconsider.“I’ve learned not to tell God you wouldn’t do something because before long that is the very thing He will have you do,” said Boykin. “Staying in the battle is the right thing to do.”

Now, Boykin says he believes the controversy over his talks to churches is being used to prepare him to be able to fight the country’s culture battles: “The movement needs some grizzled old people not easily frightened by what the opposition does. Once you’ve been kicked around a bit it doesn’t hurt so much.”

Boykin hopes to apply the strategies he learned in the Special Forces, starting with having an appreciation and understanding of the opposition: “I give a great deal of credit to liberal progressive organizations in this country for message unity.” Too many social conservatives, he said, have become apathetic, expecting that someone else will defend their beliefs.

“Not enough of us are out there fighting,” said Boykin, who attributed that to the stream of media ridicule often faced by outspoken social conservatives.

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