Advertisement - story continues below
Retired Army SSG Brian Mast served his nation for 12 years and was a member of the Joint Special Operations Command fighting in Afghanistan when his career was cut short by a catastrophic injury. Despite losing both legs, Mast lost neither his guiding values nor his warrior spirit.
While he expressed regret that he can no longer serve as a soldier in the same capacity that he once did, he has not abandoned his desire to fight for what he believes are just causes. In a recent interview with Western Journalism, Mast explained that he will be traveling to Israel on Jan. 10 to fight alongside Israeli Defense Forces soldiers as a Sar-El volunteer. He noted that his motivation for making the arduous journey is complex and deeply rooted.
Advertisement - story continues below
“I think it can be hard to say how we initially find in our lives the causes we make important to ourselves,” he said. “Having lived in South Florida where there is a large Jewish population, having met IDF soldiers in my military travels throughout my years in service, and having grown up in a Christian home where it was always proudly touted by my parents what great allies the U.S. and Israel have been, and simply making myself aware of current and modern historical events all played a role in me wanting to find a meaningful way to show my own support for Israel in a time when so many are forgetting that you are our true friend in the region, that you are in defense of attack and not the aggressor.”
Naturally, he added, his own military service played a major role in his gravitation toward this endeavor.
Advertisement – story continues below
“Well, I loved being a soldier,” he said. “I was like a round peg in a round hole. I like the character of those who serve and their respect for decisions having real life and death consequences. I know what it is to be shot at, to be blown up – literally, to have my brothers die in my arms. I also know the peace my family enjoys each day within our own borders; and that same peace is what I wish on Israel. And I will thus use the skills and will I have been endowed with to help this cause which has stirred up a passion in my own heart.”
He took the first steps to coordinate the trip, though, when he witnessed blatantly anti-Israel demonstrations on the campus of Harvard University, where he is a full-time student.
“This past summer I was there studying,” he said. “At the same time, I saw the anti-Israeli protest in the face of the attempted indiscriminate bombardment of Israel. It was then that I decided I needed to find a way to go help however I can and however [Israel] would have me.”
Advertisement - story continues below
Mast explained that Israel and the U.S. must be on the same side as both nations face very similar foes.
“The biggest threat against America, I believe, is also the biggest threat against Israel,” he said. “It is those who wish to re-envision the future the future without leaders like America and Israel on the top of the world stage. The fact that mainstream media can believe that Palestinians and others devoted to the destruction of Israel and at the same time traditional Western values can fire rockets into Israel year after year, and then go hide behind their civilian populous (sic), and then claim they are victims, and the media can believe that this game is OK and should not be condemned by the world is proof to (sic) the blinders being actively distributed to the naïve world. Those distributers of this agenda are the biggest threat to the world.”
Though many in the U.S. have turned their backs on Israel, Mast said Israel remains quite receptive to those willing to serve alongside its soldiers.
He noted that “many from America and other countries go to Israel to serve [in a capacity similar] to an enlistment in the U.S. military for various lengths of time.”
Since such a mission is not possible for Mast given the extent of his injuries, he said he is “taking what [he] can get.”
Even those who do not make the commitment to travel to Israel can still do their part to support America’s ally from home, he said.
“Make sure the facts are getting out there and not just the agenda of one side,” he said. “Support soldiers like I have seen on such (an) amazing grassroots effort. Condemn those who are attacking Israel – the same who want to attack us. Do not be complacent about this, thinking it is in a far off place that does not affect us, because it will. Pray for Israel as you would for our soldiers in harm’s way. Go find a way to get your own hands dirty as I am doing. Show your support not through social media alone but with your own blood, sweat and tears. Do not allow yourself to [be] made [to] feel guilty that you have been on a winning side of history; it is OK because that side has also been the good and right side of history, and feeling guilty about this is just the window those wishing to change the landscape of our world are looking for.”
As this will be his first trip to Israel, Mast is not entirely sure what he will find upon his arrival. Based on the company he will keep, however, there are at least a few constants he expects to hold true thousands of miles from home.
“I know soldiers,” he explained. “I spent most of my adult life as one. We have common bonds and common characteristics that transcend the uniform we wear. I know those I will spend my time with would in a second sacrifice themselves for their brothers and sisters to their left and right – that is not common among all people. It is for that reason I sought out service in a military capacity.”
He also stated his expectation to “get the most truthful assessment of what the daily hazards of life are as compared to someone on a sightseeing vacation,” noting that he will “learn the threats faced every day from the firsthand accounts of those who defend against them each day.”
Before returning to the U.S., Mast said that he anticipates finding “hope that the future of Israel can have the same kind of peace that my family enjoys in our own home.”
Looking forward, he said that he would like to commit to a longer tour in Israel, noting that there are two main reasons he limited this trip to 12 days.
“First,” he said, “I have a daughter scheduled to be born on January 29 and my wife really doesn’t want me to miss that as in service to the U.S. I missed so much already. Second, though I always have the utmost confidence in my ability to push through any obstacle, I also know that sometimes caution is the better part of valor.”
He said he hopes his background as a bomb tech will be of service to those in the region, explaining that “some of my old mates in the … JSOC have reached out to friends in [elite IDF unit] Yahalom” who “hope to pull me in under their wings when I arrive.”
In the end, Mast said his decision to continue fighting is because what he and others like him are doing transcends his own life.
“I am a firm believer in life that it is more important what we do with the minutes we have than that we try to eke out as many minutes as possible,” he said, “and we should therefore spend ourselves fully in the most worthy causes we can find.”
For him, he concluded, those causes include “promoting liberty and freedom from tyrannical regimes in Iraq, from radical rule of Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan, from expansion of ISIS, upholding a line against nuclear proliferation, [and] supporting allies who stand for the same,” noting each of these pursuits “is in everyone’s interest.”