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..to disturb and disrupt to see Christ’s face fresh again...

Soldiers, Drinks, and My Messy Thank You

It was a few hour ride back from the show in the farmlands of Pennsylvania.
I was dirty, sweaty, sore, tired, and enthused with the amazing support we got from all our fans at the festival.
By the time I got to the hotel by the airport I was ready to hit the cool of the backside of the pillow.
Walking into the lobby I was greeted by about 20 soldiers, fresh off a tour. They were still in fatigues, mostly women, giggling, talking on their cell phones, and looking like they would rather be no place else.
“Where you guys coming in from?” I asked.
“Eighteen Mother $@!@$$% months in Afghanistan” one of the soldiers replied.
“I get to see my baby tomorrow.” he said.
“Well dude, thanks for doing that. I have no idea what that even looks like, but I’m pretty sure it makes what I do look like preschool” I said as I walked towards the elevator.
Room 618
I was about to turn on Sports Center when I thought, I wonder if those guys will be in the bar?
So down I went.
And when I walked into the bar in the lobby, the platoon of soldiers had morphed from 15ish to about 40.
Some were fresh and out of their fatigues, some not. The thought occurred to me to just sit back at a bar table and watch them celebrate from afar.
Then I remembered that I am Carlos Whittaker and I can’t not join the party.

There was one stool.
Right between 2 soldiers.
I squeezed right in.
They both looked at me like…”Really?”
I looked back like…”Yup. :)”
“Where is home?” I asked.
“California. I haven’t seen my babies in 18 months. I can’t wait.”
Sam was his name. And we proceeded to dive into an amazing conversation about his time in Afghanistan. On the other side of me Rachel chimed in.
“Did you know that we didn’t have one drink the whole time we were there? Since I don’t have any kids this mojito is like my kid I couldn’t wait to see”
We started laughing and chatted for the better part of an hour.

Soon after an older guy, who I assume was the leader dude (military ignorant here) stood up.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I just want to thank you for serving your country. It has been my honor to serve alongside you this past year and a half and I’d do it again if ever asked. I love you guys that much. You are heroes! Here Here!!!”
“Here Here!” they all shouted back…along with me.

Something strange was stirring inside me as his little speech was delivered.
I was smack dab in the middle of a group of soldiers who were on the other side of the country doing things I will never know while I was moaning and complaining about being too hot as I got to sing in front of 60,000 people earlier today.

As soon as the cheering stopped for the captain, sergeant, ring leader, old guy with swag, it happened.
I don’t know how.
I don’t know why.
I didn’t even feel my butt rising off my bar stool.

“Attention! Hello! Over Here!”
I found myself standing on the lower ring of my bar stool.
40 plus soldiers staring me straight in the face.
Dead. Silent.
I had no idea what I was about to say.
I don’t remember exactly what I said.
But it was something to this effect…
“Listen friends. You don’t know me. I don’t know you. I just spent an hour talking with Sam and Rachel about your lives the last 18 months. I have no idea how hard it was for you. So I don’t even think a THANK YOU would be adequate. But I do know one thing. Today I spent the day singing songs with my band in front of thousands of people. We were singing about God. They were singing about God. It was amazing.
I don’t know what God you believe in. I don’t know if you even believe in a God. But I do know this.
That I was able to sing to my God today because of what you are doing. I have the freedom to stand on a stage, outside, and tell the world that I love my God.
And this is because you guys left your homes, families, friends, and comforts, so that I could have mine.
So since I stood on a stage today pronouncing the love for my God, because you let me…
I stand on this stage right now, before you, pronouncing my love and honor and respect I have for you.
So thank you.
I don’t say it enough, if ever, but thank you from the bottom of this lead singers heart.
You move me to be a better man.
God bless you guys.”
At the end of my mess of a speech the room was filled with hoots, hollers, cheers, and some chant I could not join in on because I am not in that club.
“HERE HERE!!” I screamed.
“HERE HERE!!” they all screamed back.
It was amazing.
They were hugging me and saying thanks when something else rose up in me.

“HEY! HEY!!! LISTEN UP!!! ONE MORE THING!!!”
Silence…
Silence…
“The Next Round’s On ME!!!!!!!”
RRRRRROOOOOOAAAAAAARRRRRRRRR!
I swear they almost lifted me up.
I was passed around like a pinball in the late 70’s.
Drinks flowed.
Laughter occurred.
Hugs were passed.
I never thought once about the bill.
Honestly.
I had 200 bucks in cash in my wallet from some CD’s I sold.
As the night slowed down the bartender handed me my tab.
196 bucks.
He looked at me and said…
“They could have made you a broke man tonight…but they all, every single one, asked what the most inexpensive beer was. And they ordered that one. They received your act of class with an act of class themselves.”

The bartender, who I’m halfway convinced was some form of Yoda reincarnated for just that moment, was right.
They basically class juked me.
They one upped me.
Because that is who they are.

As I was walking to the elevator Rachel came running up to me…
“No one remembers us. We feel forgotten. Thank you for not forgetting us. Thanks for sitting with us. We are you. You are us. Thank you”

With that I got on the elevator, pressed the number 6, prayed the elevator door would shut so I could be alone, then cried all the way up 6 floors.

I couldn’t afford that round of drinks, but I feel like they couldn’t afford to not have it bought for them.
It was a top 5 life moment for me.
Happy 4th of July ragamuffins.
Thank that old man who wears that trucker hat with his Navy numbers on it for his gift to you today.
It’s better that way.
Los

  • Awesome dude… Just awesome… I saw the tweets that day and wondered when the whole story was coming.

    • It took a minute to write/.. But I’m glad I captured it.

  • Tricia

    AMAZING!!!

  • David

    Dang it Los, that was awesome.

    If anyone reading this is currently serving or has ever served this nation when she calls, thank you. God Bless.

  • Thanks for being you my friend. 🙂

    • Thanks for you being awesome.

  • Thanks for the reminder Los! Happy 4th.

  • Ugh, from a miliary brat, I’m moved. Tears in my eyes and a beat in my chest.

    Thank you for not forgetting what freedom means.

    I love you, amigo!

  • Joey Bergeron

    Freakin Amazing!!! Thank you for meeting that opportunity that was open for you. Not only did you touch those people and everyone who reads this, but dude, your going to be even more blessed because you meet that open door God setup for you. You are for sure someone I look up to. Keep being awesome!

    • Joey, we can only be us huh? Thanks…

  • After seeing your tweet the other night I was hoping you would blog about this 🙂

    What a moment you had….and to let them know they are remembered and appreciated… Amazing. So thankful for what those brave men and women do.

  • Wow. Incredibly moving. That had to be an amazing experience. Happy 4th.

  • Betsy

    Your tweets made me tear up, and the whole story made me cry like a baby. Thanks for sharing!

  • Jake

    As a military vet, thanks for giving this moment to those brothers & sisters, Los! Thanks to all active duty and vets! Great story of a lifetime.

    • Thanks Jake for what you do for us…

  • First Class!

  • Reading this brought tears to my eyes as well. I also saw the tweets from you during all this. Thanks for sharing. Each time I get to read about one of your unique experiences I can only imagine how I would respond in such a situation. Thanks for always putting yourself out there – you’re the man…

    • I always say it’s not the experiences that find us, it’s us who find the experiences…
      Yup.

  • Carla

    Thank you, Carlos. I found tears streaming down my face as I sat here and read this. As a wife of a service member who is currently in Afghanistan, it is so encouraging to read things like this. It is a reminder that what he does is not forgotten and makes me realize it’s all worth it. I know God used you to touch these soldiers in a larger way than you can imagine.

    • Thanks Carla. And I’ll be preying tonight for you and your husband!

    • Carla,
      Thank you for your sacrifice, as well! Praying for your husband’s safety.

  • adam

    Los…you’re the man.

  • Leslie

    Beautiful . . . brought tears to my eyes . . .

  • You’re stories never cease to keep me on the edge of my seat. Thanks for this story. I needed to hear that.

  • Michael

    Thanks for sharing Carlos. I had a powerful situation at a fireworks display in Kennesaw, GA last night by doing what you said in your next to the last sentence. I always look for guys with the trucker hats and thank them. Here’s what I tweeted last night…
    “Just shook this man’s hand & thanked him 4 serving. He was wearing his people heart. Can you say “living legend”? http://t.co/HAM85kC “. When I shook his hand he proceeded to hand me a slip of paper with a brief description of his time in Dec. 1944 @ The Battle of the Bulge. But more importantly, the paper shared about his relationship with Jesus Christ! I was humbled to say the least.

  • francine

    absolutely lovely.

  • Best 4th story ever.

  • Most awesome post ever. Please add a tweet and facebook ‘share’ buttons to your site to make it even easier for us to share your awesomeness 🙂

    @Barefoot_Exec

  • Molly Moore

    Can’t even see my screen I’m crying so hard.

  • Beautiful!

  • Lindsay

    You are the man Los!!! Thanks for being you!!!

  • LeAnn

    So moving! Thanks for thanking the soldiers. And thanks for reminding us to do so, too. Amazing!

  • Here, Here. 🙂

  • LoveNinja

    Very cool. Beautiful.

  • Wow…that’s absolutely freakin’ awesome.

  • Alisha

    WOW!! Brought tears to my eyes!! Thank you for being brave enough to stand up and thank these men and women who serve so bravely for our freedoms!! Like someone had posted before Los—YOUR THE MAN!! lol

  • Claude

    Los, you challenge me to see w/ Jesus’ eyes. Wouldn’t have heard The Voice like you did,but maybe I will now that you’ve set the bar high.:)

  • Dave

    Thanx for doing what we weren’t able to do for this group of soldiers.

  • fagankela

    You are the King of story telling my friend. HERE HERE!!

  • Dude, this is absolutely incredible…You rock bro. Thanks for this. I would have cried all the way to my room as well.

    Bless you

  • Thanks for sharing man! Easily my favorite post about today. One of my favorite posts from you ever. Thanks!

  • Shannon

    Thank you for sharing this story. Please let me know how I can help to replace the money you spent on the soldiers.

  • That’s such a great story Los. I love living life vicariously through you.

    As far as not being able to afford it. God supplied just enough buyers so that you could bless those soldiers, not just with a drink but with who you are in Him.

    While this is a great story, I’m looking forward to seeing how God blesses your $196 bar bill in the coming days/weeks/months/years.

    • Very true. What you gave will come back, double or triple-fold…

  • tom

    los…thank you for living from your Good Heart. Grateful beyond words for all that you risked in this story. praying that the cool side of that pillow brings rest beyond measure. well done!

  • dave u

    Please tell me the bartender got more than a $4 tip.

    • The bartender actually told me he didn’t want any. He was moved by the moment as well..

  • Ron

    That was pretty cool dude.
    I am not an American but I was in the military (only for one year and because I was conscripted).

    Some of the guys I served with did so reluctantly and a small minority made up some bumper stickers that read “I did my bit for your future”.

    And while being factually accurate, a true soldier (like those you wrote about) would have the class not to shove that in the face of a civilian (except perhaps the REMF’s).

    As the barman put it, classy all round.

  • Just wanted to say thanks for taking the time out of your day to do that! My brother is in Afghanistan right now.

  • Amy

    Whew, it’s dusty in here *sniff*

  • Ryan

    “That I was able to sing to my God today because of what you are doing. I have the freedom to stand on a stage, outside, and tell the world that I love my God.
    And this is because you guys left your homes, families, friends, and comforts, so that I could have mine.”

    Thanking them for their service is well and fine. They don’t choose the mission, they just do what their country asks. But it’s a shame you had to tell lies like the above. We all know that their mission in Afghanistan (and their comrades’ mission in Iraq) doesn’t have anything at all to do with your freedom (religious or otherwise), and it’s really unfortunate you couldn’t thank them without flat-out lying to them.

    Considering all the praise you’re getting above, I figured someone ought to give it to you straight.

    • Los

      Ryan. It does in the end.
      If they stay home and let the world press into injustice, it will lead here.
      How do you eat an elephant?
      One bite at a time.
      You have to lose a battle to win a war sometimes.
      Broaden that view hermano.
      The conversation I had with my son last night about him lying has nothing to do with him getting that manager job in 20 years.
      But it will then.

      • good reply. i could not hold back the tears bro when you told us what the bartender said.

      • Ryan

        Your response is a series of empty platitudes. Broaden my view? To include what? A Christianity that embraces jingoism? I’ll leave that to you.

    • Jes

      Even if you don’t agree with what’s going on in the east, it doesn’t matter. What they’re doing, is serving their country, which is protecting your freedom. As you said, they don’t choose where they go, or what they do; but the whole point of their entire job is protecting the us. For you to suggest they’re not doing that… especially to their face… shame on you, sir. Los’ post wasn’t about politics at all. It was about honoring people who sacrifice their lives (sometimes literally) so that you have the right to argue with what they’re doing.

      • Ryan

        Why is “serving their country” equal to “protecting [our] freedom”? Please seriously ask yourself that question. Shame on me for suggesting that we should tell the troops the truth? My post wasn’t about politics. The original post was dripping in jingoistic, imperialist politics. It’s completely antithetical to Christianity. Our troops’ mission in Afghanistan has nothing whatsoever to do with my “right to argue with what they’re doing.” Shame on you for pulling the wool over your eyes, and suggesting we should pull it over the troops’ eyes as well.

        • Sean

          I’m sorry that you cannot recognize the warped political parroting that leads you to denigrate these folks. Your original *was* political. You are free to protest the wars … because these folks serve their country. You are free, in a way that was not possible for those who lived under the Taliban, in Afghanistan, to protest your government’s choices and to denigrate those who ensure you retain that right and who hold the rise of the caliphate at bay.

          • Claude

            Well said,Sean.

          • Ryan

            I have denigrated no one. It is objective truth that the troops are not defending our freedoms in Afghanistan. I am sorry that some of you are too committed to a Christianity that embraces voluntary war to see that. It causes you to “parrot” nonsense, anything to defend your immorality, I guess. I will pray that you see how far from Jesus you are on this.

  • janet

    Wow you made this mama of a Marine cry and cry. Thank you!

  • Jake

    tears.
    thank you.

  • That is pretty much the coolest story I have ever heard. God bless our troops, overseas, and home dealing with what they had to see there.

  • Dude, insane story. I feel convicted for my self-centeredness. Always appreciate the challenge here.

  • I have two brothers serving overseas right now (a Soldier in Afghanistan on his third tour away from his wife and three children and a Marine on his third tour away from his wife and son in Okinawa)…. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

    Your words most definitely touched those soldiers, but they also reached far beyond them to the heart of a sister who prays every moment for God to bring her brothers home safely (and who is SO PROUD of their courage to serve!) Thank you.

  • Kelly

    Thanks for taking this opportunity to thank our troops on behalf of all Americans. You’re willingness to take the opportunities God has placed before you to share his love with others is encouraging.

  • Lucas

    But Los, what about the beer that you gave them. As a Christian I think…NOT hahahaha J/K. Way to go man. Thanks for being bold.

  • MJT

    Quote from Andy Stanley..”are you making a point or are you making a difference”.. I think what you said and did made a difference.

  • L.

    Totally awesome!! Plus, you were so totally right when you said that you can talk about God because of their sacrifice and the sacrifices of other service people over the years.

    You made me cry.

  • Los,

    What an amazing testament! I’m not a soldier but I am nearly in tears reading this, because it is exactly how I feel. So eloquently put:

    “I couldn’t afford that round of drinks, but I feel like they couldn’t afford to not have it bought for them.”

    Hope many more follow your example!

  • I am moved by this story and so glas you shared it!

  • You call it a “a top 5 life moment “….I call it “top 5 post moment”. God bless you my friend for being obedient. For speaking when silence would have been the easier road.

    Faith Hope Peace

    Bruce

  • NewRibena

    As the wife of a 28 year active duty military service member I was truly touched by your sentiment…thanks.

  • I read this yesterday, and I was almost in tears. That is so amazing. Wow.

  • Wow! What a life moment! Thank you for saying what so many don’t… Gotta wipe my tears now.

  • Taryn

    I live in a military community, and am constantly impacted with people going to war. I have countless friends that are serving overseas, and this touching act for our servicemen and women brought tears to my eyes as I read this to my roommate. Thank you for that…I’m sure you will be talked about, and that speech about God will impact some lives!

  • I’m so impressed by you dude! You are an amazing leader for our movement!

  • Freakin Brilliant Dude!!!!

  • Brian Certain

    I can only imagine how tough it is for you at times and am honored to call you a friend. When people ask me why I read your blog and look to you for advise and guidance. I only have to show them this. The rest goes without words. I am proud to call you brother.

  • terrence

    This is such an amazing story.I couldn’t stop reading! I love how you became all the things in the Gospel that most of us think are only for red letters in a leather book or songs. Thanks for the example. If you’re not working on a book,maybe you should! This July 4th story should definitely be in it!

  • As someone who JUST finished up my tour in Afghanistan (on my way home right now!), this post especially warmed my heart tonight. God is teaching me to be more patriotic, after having reacted the opposite direction (so as to reject nationalism, imperialism, etc.) I’m glad you did what you did. It’s hard to explain just how acts like this makes one feel. It’s like humbling, and yet it makes you feel a good sense of pride as well for having served. Anyway, thanks for sharing, bro. The people in the country are amazing. ~JS

  • Carlos,
    Thank you for your transparency and honesty. This is a story that HAD to be retold. Your story has inspired me. And all I can say is, “Thanks.”

  • Cy

    Los – I’ll help cover the cost. Shoot me an address to mail a check to.

  • Thanks for sharing such a beautiful, powerful story.

  • Kelly

    Bawling! You’re officially a superhero in my book!

  • On so many different levels, this is an incredible story. Thanks for sharing it 🙂 So encouraged now…

  • I know I’m a little late reading this one, but man. I had tears welling up in my eyes reading it. Isn’t it great how Papa will nudge us just enough so that something beautiful can happen. Thank you for being willing to follow that nudge. And for you willingness to sacrifice your comfort to comfort others.

  • My husband told me about this post of yours and I had to read it.
    I was speechless. AMAZING!
    Thank you for sharing that very special moment that God placed you with those heroes.
    WOW!!!!

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  • Thank you for sharing. Thank you for doing that for the soldiers. After all they do for us–it is tragic that they feel (are) forgotten. That $196 that you couldn’t really afford will return to you because of the way you used it to shine some light.

  • mo

    that was sweet, dude. i let those moments pass me by too often b/c i’m a fraidy cat.

  • MicahG

    Awesome dude! Thanks for taking the time to remember us with something other than a bumper sticker…it means a lot.

  • Jean Stauffer

    I am in tears. This is a BEAUTIFUL story. Thanks!!!

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  • That’s an amazing story, brother. Thank you so much for the reminder. Needs to be shared some more.

  • Kim

    I’m almost tearing up! Thank you for your great story!

  • mongupp

    Totally got shivers when reading your speech!

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