Steel Will by Shilo Harris with Robin Overby Cox: A Book Review
In this gritty memoir, Shilo Harris has gone beyond a mere re-telling of the events surrounding the catastrophic injuries sustained during his second deployment in Iraq. In it, he makes a case for U.S. citizens, and especially Christians, to find meaningful involvement in caring for and encouraging our wounded warriors and their families.
From childhood, Shilo knew that he was meant to be a soldier — the third generation in his family. He shares poignant memories of growing up in Texas, including the impact of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) on his early years, as his alcoholic father self-medicated to escape memories of Vietnam. Poor decisions and his own entanglement with alcohol plagued Shilo’s meandering path through adolescence and early adulthood, during which he was (in his own words), “all hat and no cattle.” However, meeting and marrying Katheryn and enlisting in the army after 9-11 began to give purpose and direction to his restless heart.
Vivid descriptions of his base encampment in Iraq, the bleak desert, the heat, and the loneliness set the stage for the fateful day of his injury in February 2007. When his Humvee hit an IED, the force of the blast tore his Kevlar helmet from his head, taking his ears with it. He was engulfed in flames, and the bulk of two densely written pages is required to chronicle the extent of his injuries to face and body. What follows in Steel Will is the path of healing, recovery, and restoration and its effects on Shiloh’s heart and his family.
Fortunately, the author provides a glossary of the myriad military acronyms that must be understood in order to follow his career. His experience in February of 2007 ushers in an entirely new kettle of alphabet soup (TBT, PTSD, STSD), describing the traumatic effects of catastrophic bodily injury on the soul of the victim, his family, and his caregivers. Lists of recommended reading, resources, and ministries make Steel Will a handbook for fellow travelers on the path of healing.
Speaking from his own journey of three-steps-forward-two-steps-back, Shiloh Harris spares the reader not an iota of the excruciating horrors of his experience. Parents who pass this book along to their high school age children should be aware that his narrative occasionally slips into the use of coarse language and four-letter words (PG level). What I found to be particularly chilling is the fact that his descriptions of pain and blackouts and the anguish of PTSD leave the reader cringing, all the while knowing that words can only scratch the surface of the horror he actually experienced.
In light of all this, how are we who follow the teachings of Jesus to view Romans 13:7 (Render, therefore, to all their due . . . honor to whom honor [is due].)? Are we off the hook with the purple heart and a pension? The questions raised in Steel Will go beyond the ability of a 12-Step program or even of a counseling office. Harris raises issues that smack of theology and hard truth: Where was God when this happened to you? Can God heal the invisible wounds that go beyond words? What is the role of gratitude in the healing process? Questions such as these shine the spotlight on the One who came to heal the broken-hearted and to proclaim liberty to the captives, to console those who mourn, to give beauty for the ashes of a lost career, a lost vitality, a lost identity. Isaiah 61 speaks of the rebuilding of ruins and the repair of desolation. This is God’s business, and, therefore, it is to be the business of His people, His church. When our eyes have been opened to the need, we are responsible. May God use this book to give us wisdom, sensitivity, and a heightened awareness of the needs of the veterans in our churches and communities.
Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Books through the Baker Books Bloggers http://www.bakerbooks.com/bakerbooksbloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.