By Ashleigh / Nov 4, 2022
It Shouldn’t Have Ended This Way
She held his belongings in her hands, and nothing could stop the sobbing that wracked her body. She had gone into the marriage knowing she would face challenges, but she never thought it would end like this. But things weren’t over yet…
She had opened his laptop hoping to find the photos he had saved of them but found something else instead. The cryptic message would lead her to enemy territory.
Emily was on cloud nine when she married Mark. She saw a future with him filled with love, hope, and peace. But she had no idea how soon she would face the reality of marrying a soldier.
As a First Lieutenant in the U.S Army, there was no questioning how much Mark loved and supported his country.
They had been married for just a year when their daughter, Brittany, was born. Mark would never have thought he could be as happy as he was the day she was born. His heart swelled for her, and he spent every opportunity he could with her before his next deployment. He would be leaving soon, and he dreaded leaving his family behind.
It wasn’t long before they were informed that he was being deployed to Afghanistan. Emily was visibly upset when she heard the news.
A Gut-Wrenching Goodbye
She had been prepared for him to go anywhere else but there, and she grew increasingly worried thinking about him landing in the middle of a battlefield. She cried when they said goodbye, and he reminded her that he’d only be away for six months. But he had no idea what Afghanistan had in store for him.
He promised her he would message and call her whenever he got the chance. He wanted to comfort her in any way he could before he left. It pained him to hug and kiss her and his daughter goodbye.
The six months felt longer than necessary, but Mark and Emily made the best of the late-night texts and facetime calls. Emily struggled to raise the baby on her own, especially because she was still recovering from postpartum depression. Knowing that Mark was coming back soon was her light at the end of the tunnel.
She felt lighter when she started organizing things for Mark’s welcome-back party. She was busy counting the supplies when she got an unexpected call.
Her heart sang when she saw the caller ID. Expecting it to be her husband on the other end, she answered with a cheerful greeting. She wanted to know when he would get on his flight but was told something else.
He told her he wouldn’t make it home as they had anticipated. He explained that injured soldiers were being sent home first, so he had to stay behind and wait for the next flight back. He rushed through his explanation, and Emily asked if he was okay. He assured her he was fine and told her he would call again shortly.
Emily grew anxious when she hadn’t heard from her husband after a couple of days. Her messages were left unanswered, and she couldn’t shake the feeling that something terrible had happened.
Her phone rang nine days later, and she rushed to answer the call. A U.S Army official had called to tell her that her husband was MIA.
Emily felt her heart squeeze, not understanding how her husband could be missing. “Did he get on his flight back home?” she asked the official. When he answered that he didn’t know, she felt like she couldn’t breathe.
He couldn’t tell her where her husband had last been seen either. She started growing frustrated when she realized this man could give her no information concerning her husband.
He told her to stand by for further updates and to call the number he gave her if she had any questions. Emily called the number as soon as the call with the official ended but hung up after being put on hold for 40 minutes. She told herself the call center wouldn’t be able to give her the answers she needed.
Her mind was spinning with questions. She worried if he was injured or if he perhaps made it back to America, and she didn’t know. The next few weeks were filled with her calling every American hospital.
Change Of Status
The U.S Army was unable to find Mark after two months of searching. That’s when they decided to change his status for MIA to Killed In Action.
Emily felt her heart break when she heard the news. She needed more answers, but she was angered by what they told her. It was clear that they didn’t know anything about her husband and that they had changed his status based on his circumstances.
Before long, they sent his belongings back to his family. Emily accepted them, crying inconsolably. What happened to him? They had no proof he was deceased. Why couldn’t they find him? He couldn’t have simply disappeared!
Emily fought to have his status relisted as MIA and not KIA. She contacted every military agency she could think of until the decision was reversed. Little did she know, the answer was lying right under her nose.
Another month passed before Emily had the courage to go through Mark’s belongings, one of which was his laptop. She opened it up, intending to look over the photos he saved on his hard drive, but instead, something else caught her attention.
When the laptop opened up, Emily spotted a file on his desktop, and it was addressed to her. Her blood ran cold.
She paused, staring at the file until she built up enough courage to click on it. Why would he have a file named ‘To: Emily’ on his laptop? Did he leave this for her?
Emily opened the file and saw a letter. Her eyes welled with tears as she realized it was a love letter, but it was full of errors and grammatical mistakes. Mark was an intelligent man. He’d never write like this.
She read the letter again. She struggled to make sense of it. She could read it, but it didn’t sound like him. Something about the errors and random capitalized letters and numbers made her feel uneasy. She stared at them, trying to understand what he was thinking.
Then suddenly, it clicked. There was a pattern to his errors. This letter held a cryptic message.
Decoding The Message
Emily raced to find a pen and wrote down all the capital letters and misplaced numbers. “Send Help. No Military”. Then she stared at the numbers in confusion. Was it a phone number?
She typed the numbers into google, hoping it would identify the phone number. Instead, it gave her a coordinate reference. But it was nowhere near Afghanistan. She reversed the numbers and searched again. Her heart pounded.
The coordinates led to one of the last remaining schools in Kandahar. This made more sense. But what was all this? Was he there? If so, what was he doing there?
Emily was riddled with fear, and she had no idea who to turn to. She repeated the words, ‘Send help. No military’ again and again. Why did he not want the military involved? Who else could help him?
Race Against Time
Emily’s mind raced. Time wasn’t on her side. She feared her husband was injured or gravely hurt. She did the best thing she thought she could under such circumstances and contacted his U.S Army base. But she should have listened.
It was obvious Mark was in some kind of trouble. But why was he reaching out to her? What did he get himself into?
The army officials asked Emily to immediately submit his laptop with the file in question and reassured her that they’d investigate the situation straight away.
Emily waited anxiously for news of her husband. She knew he might have asked her not to involve the military but who else could have helped her find him? She thought she did the right thing, but he was hiding from them.
Within a week, Emily heard back from the army. They found him. The school was a cover-up to throw off American forces. It was actually a hidden prison. Their raid freed 12 soldiers who had been detained there – one of which was Mark. But why did Mark ask for help from his wife instead of his team?
The reason was as heroic as it was disobedient.
Preparing For The Worst
Just as Mark was about to leave, he got a last-minute order to leave his mission and go home. They were attempting to find the holding place of MIA soldiers. And just when Mark suspected that he found the site, they were ordered to abandon the mission.
Mark went directly against his orders and planned to infiltrate the suspicious building himself, but he knew it was risky and sensed something might go wrong. He was right.
Mark observed the school in question a couple of times and noticed it was patrolled by the enemy. He put a bet on his own life by assuming this was a hidden prison.
He didn’t tell anyone as the mission was over. Still, he felt compelled to help and follow his instincts. But why write to Emily and not the military?
He knew that he was going against direct orders, so he was hesitant to leave instructions to his colleagues for fear of being punished. He figured if he did get caught and ended up being imprisoned himself, at least he could give his wife the details she needed to find him.
She was the only one who could decipher his message and send help that might save him the punishment he’d surely face for disobeying orders from his commanders.
Lack Of Instructions
But he should have left more directions for his wife. She also didn’t know if he was injured or not and needed urgent help and he had no idea of the struggles she had been through in looking for him, especially after he was listed as KIA.
Once they figured out that the school was a front, they ordered the rescue mission. And Mark faced the consequences.
A Stark Warning
Once Mark’s squad found out he sent a secret note to his wife revealing his location, they sent soldiers out straight away. They had no idea what he was thinking but were amazed when he led them to a hidden jail containing other MIA soldiers.
Because he had rescued other soldiers, his punishment was light, but he was warned against ever acting on his own again before being sent home as planned.
Mark finally returned home safely to his loving family with quite a story to tell. He had remained detained in the hidden jail for 3 months before Emily managed to figure out where he was.
He was delighted to be reunited with his girls, and Emily was more than relieved to have him safely back home. But his story is far from over.
Mark’s heroic gesture moved the military to reassess most of the cold trails and dead ends they met while searching for troops.
They considered having overlooked certain areas in the region that could be fronts for prisons, like the school where Mark had spent the last three years. It was clear that they needed to reopen the cold cases.
Soldiers missing in action has been one of the most significant issues for any military worldwide. Losing one’s soldiers can mean they are facing harsher situations out there.
Such situations can harm these troops and detriment the potency of the military’s operations. Information can be leaked, and more lives can be harmed. But how far back does this go?
Decades Of Conflict
Soldiers missing in action has existed for as long as civilizations have stood. In the 20th and 21st centuries, the world has been dunked in several conflicts that have claimed many lives.
Through research and coordination between the American government and other nations globally, an estimate regarding the number of soldiers missing in action has been established.
Between the Second World War, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, and other conflicts in the Gulf Area, an estimated 82 500 service people were reported missing in action.
Such a staggering number has pushed reforms within the military in recent years, culminating in the encouraging news we are about to share.
A Better Tomorrow
The war in Afghanistan ended with zero soldiers missing in action. After twenty years of combat, every soldier was accounted for, celebrated, and honored for their service.
The military is continuing to refine its approach to finding lost soldiers. No one will be left behind in the quest to make the world a better place.