Stay Alert, Stay Alive – A Vietnam Vet Inspires Me

The other day a friend and Vietnam vet, inspired me with one of his experiences:

When I landed there I was assigned to the 101st airborne as infantryman and the sergeant of the squad (10-12 guys) said, ?Jones (not his name) I want you to carry the machine gun,? (an M60, which was one of the heavier weapons) and I said I?d rather not, I?d rather carry an M16. ?He said, ?you?re one of the bigger guys.? ?Again I said I?d rather not, so he said, ?OK, tomorrow you?ll be walking point.?

Walking point was probably the most challenging and dangerous position in the outfit. ?The point man would be about 25 yards in front of everyone else. 10-25 yards back would be the slack man. ?10-25 yards behind him would be the rest of the squad. ?The point man would have to look everywhere for ambushes, trip wires, booby traps, snipers. ?My every sense was on edge. ?I was nervous, fearful. ?In fact, everyone would be on edge – listening, looking around, ready for anything. ?The motto every day was ?Stay Alert, Stay Alive? – we would hear that 100 times a day. ?Guys would tell each other that. ?Officers would say that.

In the jungle we didn?t talk. ?We whispered. ?We tried to keep the equipment from rattling. We?d stop and listen at anything that looked suspicious or out of place. ?If the point man saw enemy footprints or a freshly cut trail, he?d stop and signal for us all to get down and lay quietly for a while. ?We didn?t travel that fast or get very far in a day.

Most of the time we had to cut trails through the jungle with machetes. ?It was hard work cutting through vines and having to be vigilant at the same time. ?Lots of times it was pouring down rain in monsoon season. ?It was hot, 90-110 degrees. ?It was so wet that leeches would be on the vegetation and get on you as you brushed past. ?You?d get leeches down your collar, up your sleeves, in your boots – you might have half a dozen on you at any one time of the day. ?There were thick vines, we called ?wait-a-minute? vines that would catch on your weapon, your helmet, or your shoulder (woah, wait a minute).

Any way, I took the point that first day, and by the end of the day I went to the sergeant and said I?d carry the machine gun. ?And I came to like it.

?Stay alert, stay alive.? If soldiers in Vietnam needed to heed this, how much more should believers be inspired to vigilance in this dark age. ?God?s word says:

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. ?(Eph 5.15-16)

?The days are evil.? ?Our world is fallen, and all who don?t know Christ are darkened in mind, following Satan, and at enmity with God. ?1 JN 5.19 says the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.

But believers are ?light in the Lord,? citizens of the age to come, IN the world, but not OF the world. ?While here, we must stay alert because we have very real enemies. 1 Peter 2.11 says the passions of our flesh wage war against our souls, and Ephesians 6.12 tells us we fight against evil cosmic powers.

This is why Prov 4.23 says Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. ?What we take into our heart and think about in our heart affects our spiritual life.

We must watch what kinds of entertainment we take in, who we hang around with, what we read, what kind of music we listen to. ?We must check for any leeches of sin hanging on to us. ?We must be careful not to be tripped up by any vines of anger or bitterness. ?We must look ahead to see any possible ambushes of sexual temptation. We must pray and ask God to deliver us from temptation and sin.

Positively, we stay alert in this evil age by making the best use of the time. We should seize every opportunity to live for Christ. Regularly feed our souls with the Bible, preaching and spiritual reading. ?We must be diligent to stay in fellowship, serve, encourage, worship with others.

We have one life to serve Christ. One life that could end at any moment. ?Make the most of where God has you for Jesus. ?If you?re a mom, glorify him by loving your children. ?If a student, glorify Christ by studying hard and being a light in school. ?If you?re in the workplace, do your work heartily and cheerfully as to the Lord.

Stay alert, stay alive.


Mark Altrogge

I’m a pastor at Saving Grace Church in Indiana, PA. I’m married to Kristi, have 5 kids, and a growing number of grandkids. I enjoy songwriting, oil painting and coffee, not necessarily in that order.