I remember the first time I met Scott Hakim, a United States Marine who had grown up attending St. Anthony’s Orthodox Church in Bergenfeld, New Jersey. I was assigned to that parish while attending St. Vladimir’s Seminary, and he was just coming back from Iraq; I had been invited to his coming-home party at his family’s house on a Sunday afternoon. The thing I remember best is being lost – his father Jerry Hakim could tell you how many times I called, just to find the house!
Ever since then, it feels like I have been trying hard to find him in one place or another. Soon after he left New Jersey that Sunday afternoon to head back to Camp Lejeune, I received orders from the Navy Chaplain Corps, stationing me with the Marines, actually right down the street from him. Our command buildings were less than half a mile from each other, but getting together was not so easy – we stay pretty busy in the Marine Corps. Through a series of phone calls and near misses over my first six weeks at Camp Lejeune, we finally got together on the base, and my wife and I eventually got him over to our house for dinner. He also became a regular at my little Orthodox Chapel at nearby Camp Johnson.
In October of this past year I realized I hadn’t seen him in a couple of weeks, and called his cell phone. There was no answer. It turned out he was at a training exercise across the country. As he returned, I traveled west for training, missing him again. And then I was deployed to Afghanistan in January.
I heard that Scott’s battalion had arrived in Camp Leatherneck, a staging point for Marines in Afghanistan, while I was there visiting some of my own Marines. (We had been “in country” for about two months by that time.) I set off to find him in the dead of night, knowing he was just passing through, and anxious to see him before he was out of my reach. I walked a couple of kilometers in the dark, stopping to ask for directions at “burn barrels,” around which scores of Marines were huddling in little circles, talking. Little by little I found the transient tents where his company was staying, and after waking at least five sleepy Marines in different tents, I found one that pointed to a Scott-shaped silhouette, lying on a nearby cot. It was him!
He seemed completely unsurprised to see me, and we agreed to meet in the morning. I brought him communion, we talked about family and the Marines and where he was heading, and I anointed him with oil in preparation for the battle in which he now finds himself. I hoped very much to see him again before I left.
Well, a couple of weeks later I got word that an Orthodox soldier operating in the area was injured in an attack, and had been flown to a surgical hospital near where I was staying. It took some time to find him, because he was actually in an overflow tent located in a small lot behind the hospital. As I was praying with the soldier, in a tent full of Army soldiers, a lone Marine uniform caught my eye – I couldn’t believe it, but it was Scott Hakim! He also had been injured in a firefight and flown by helicopter to the same hospital, and placed in the same overflow tent. What were the chances? I had to run to take care of some other business, but promised to come back and see him later in the evening.
As my experience with Scott should have told me in advance, by evening the tent was completely empty. I woke up the next morning saying to myself, “Today I have a single mission: finding Scott Hakim!” Finding him, as usual, was not an easy task, but I was pointed in the right direction by a corpsman who knew him and a Marine who had met him a few hours earlier. As I approached him in a new tent, where he was recovering, I found he was listening to a borrowed iPod, bopping his head along to the music and seeming in good spirits. Again I brought him communion and we talked a little about the attack. I have always been impressed with Scott’s toughness, and it seemed to me that he was going to be just fine heading back into battle – now a recipient of the Purple Heart, which many fine men (and women) have worn in the last 235 years, having shed their blood in service to their country and the world.
An even better surprise was that Scott’s helicopter transport back to his unit was postponed due to some mechanical difficulties, and he was able to celebrate Pascha with us at Camp Leatherneck! We had about 45 people in all, including some soldiers from the Republic of Georgia, but my heart was most full as Scott approached the chalice. We serve such a good and faithful Lord, who brings us together – and to Himself – when we most need it.
I don’t know what you are searching for this Spring. Maybe you are searching for a new job, or a mate; maybe you are searching to recover something you’ve lost, or maybe you’re hoping to put the past behind you. We are all searching for something. One thing I have learned by searching for Scott Hakim is that God has a way of putting us face to face with people and things in His time, according to His wisdom. We only do the work of getting ourselves into motion and then looking to Him, opening our hearts to people and to His will. He does the rest. As the Psalmist so perfectly says, “The eyes of all look to You, O Lord, with hope . . . and You open up Your hand, and fill every living thing with Your favor.”
May God bless you these days as you search, so that you will ultimately find Him, in His wisdom, and be filled with all His favor. Please pray for Scott and his brothers-in-arms, for the Marines in my battalion, and for all of the Marines in harm’s way during this very arduous fight in Afghanistan.
Fr. David Alexander, D.Min.,
BCC Marine Expeditionary Brigade – Afghanistan