It Was Just The Beginning
She held his belongings in her hands and cried her heart out. She had always known that marrying a soldier came with its bad sides and that life wouldn't always be easy, but she never thought it would end the way it did. What she didn't know was that it wasn't over yet.
She opened his laptop so she could look over his photos but found something else instead. A cryptic message that would lead her right into the enemy's den.
Emily And Mark
When Emily married Mark, it was the happiest moment of her life. She looked at the man in front of her and saw a future full of hope and bliss. But the reality of marrying a soldier had yet to raise its ugly head.
Mark was a First Lieutenant in the U.S Army, and he was nothing if not patriotic.
Within their first year of marriage, the couple had their first child, Brittany. Her birth was the happiest day of Mark’s life. He adored his beautiful baby girl and cherished every moment he had with her. He knew his next deployment was coming up soon and the thought of leaving his family was already playing heavily on his mind.
When the news finally came in that he was to deploy to Afghanistan, Emily was distraught.
She was hoping he would get sent to anywhere but there. He was going straight into a battle zone. At the time they said their tearful goodbyes, it was just a 6-month stay, but Afghanistan had different plans for Mark.
She raced to the laptop and wrote down the coordinates she deciphered from the cryptic message. Her heart pounded with fear.
It was a long 6 months of sporadic facetimes and late-night texts. With a baby so young to raise on her own, Emily found it hard. Still recovering from her postpartum depression, she was slowly putting the pieces back together, motivated by Mark's upcoming return.
But just as she was preparing the house for his welcoming home party, she got an unexpected call.
Her face lit up as she saw ‘Hubby’ on her screen. She answered expecting him to update her with a flight time, but instead, her world stopped once more.
He told her that there was a delay in his return home. Injured soldiers were being prioritized which meant he’d have to wait a bit longer to secure a space. Emily noted that he sounded rushed and in a panic. But when she asked him if everything was okay, he said yes and told her he’d call again soon.
When a couple of days passed and she still hadn’t heard from him, she grew anxious. She tried to message him to no avail. She knew in the pit of her stomach that something was wrong.
9 days later, she received a call from a U.S Army official. Her husband was listed as MIA.
Emily’s heart dropped. How could he be missing? She asked him if he got on his flight home. The official on the phone said he didn’t know.
She asked him where he was last seen. Again, she was met with a dubious answer. It became painfully obvious that this man was just the messenger and had no idea about the details of her husband’s case.
She was instructed to wait for an update soon and was given details of another number to call if she had any questions. Emily hung up and rang the number straight away, but after 40 minutes of being on hold, she gave up. It was a call center. She doubted they knew anything.
Her mind raced. What if he had returned to America? Was he injured? She grabbed the phone and spent the next few weeks calling every hospital in America.
Nowhere To Be Seen
After two whole months of failing to locate Mark, the U.S army decided to update Mark’s status to KIA, meaning Killed In Action.
They informed Emily who broke down in tears, but when she asked for more details, she couldn’t believe what she heard. They didn’t know. They didn’t know anything. His updated status was an assumption considering the circumstances. Emily saw red.
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.
A Disobeying Orders
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.
Disclaimer: To protect the privacy of those depicted, some names, locations, and identifying characteristics have been changed and are products of the author's imagination. Any resemblances to actual events, places, or persons, living or dead, are entirely coincidental.