By Tanner Froese
He has felt the heat of whizzing bullets. He has seen the bodies of enemy soldiers.
He has driven a heavily armored Humvee in a small village where insurgents lay waiting. He has made .50-caliber machine guns purr, and he has felt his sweat pour like rain in 150-degree weather.
His full name once included the word “specialist.”
Now, he is a 25-year-old war veteran.
And for Corban senior, Stephen Novak, life will simply go on.
Novak emphasizes this point when he speaks about his favorite class at Corban University.
“I like Logic,” says Novak, “because it is practical for everyday life.”
Novak’s life is one of routine, something he appreciates as he continues his education at Corban’s campus this semester after taking a year off in the summer of 2009 to answer the call of duty.
“I get up at 7:30 a.m., walk to school, eat breakfast and have class at 9 every day,” Novak says. “I have classes until 3 on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Then I go to the gym, exercise, eat dinner, walk home and do homework in the evenings.”
Tuesdays and Thursdays are similar with the exception of a young adult Bible study he attends on Tuesday evenings at Faith Baptist Church.
For six years, Novak had dedicated his life to the National Guard. It was a journey that took him from the craggy hills of Afghanistan to the arid plains of Iraq.
Now, he has set his rifle aside and picked up the pen again.
“It’s a huge relief for one thing,” Novak says. “And I feel a great ease and a peace because I know that I did everything I did for Christ… kind of like taking a final in college and knowing that you prepared well for that and you did well.”
Novak only has one photo from his experiences in Iraq, but give him a blank canvass, and with words he will paint a picture of a flat landscape devoid of life or landmarks. Like a snake slithering on a dry riverbed, a long black road cuts through the barren lands before reaching a city that often appears in today’s news accounts.
“Only one main road to Baghdad,” Novak says. “I don’t know if there was a proper name for it. We just called it ‘hardball’ or ‘blacktop.’ It’s just the primary road that’s paved, going from Basra up through Baghdad to the north.”
During his second deployment, Novak was stationed at Camp Tallil in southern Iraq. His missions were primarily convoy support for semi-trucks hauling supplies and goods to different bunks and bases near the road.
Novak’s job at times was to drive a massive tan-colored Mine Resistant Armor Piercing (MRAP) vehicle.
“It’s about two times the size of an armored transport vehicle (typical in the United States) taking money around to stores,” Novak said in comparison.
Each mission was a long drawn-out process. Members of the convoy began prepping the night before, but the convoy didn’t actually move out until the next day at 6 or 7 p.m. Novak said missions usually meant eight-hour drives through roughly 300 miles.
Despite the grueling mission days, it was during these times that Novak had a chance to witness.
A lifelong Christian, Novak was often in an army culture that countered his beliefs and personal convictions. Coarse language seemed to be the preferred dialect along with drinking, smoking and a general attitude of disrespect toward women.
Novak, who does not swear, found himself as a curiosity to his comrades.
“Definitely one of the biggest witnesses for sure,” Novak said. “It is obvious because in the military cussing is the second language or even the first language. So by not cussing you’re definitely setting yourself apart for sure.”
Word circulated, Novak’s reputation grew, and respect followed.
One day, right before a mission, the chaplain, who usually prayed before their departures, was missing.
In a circle of more than 10 fellow soldiers, Novak was called upon by his sergeant to give the prayer.
“Sergeant Flood said, ‘Novak, would you please pray for us because you know if we have some ‘activity’ out there, and also the chaplain isn’t here right now,” Novak recalled. “So he knew the Lord protected us out there.”
After his prayer, it became a regular practice. Before missions, Novak was called upon to pray for the men’s safety, the wisdom of the leaders and for alertness among the whole group.
Soon other units, even from other bases, began asking Novak to pray for them as well.
Novak felt the whole experience strengthened him.
“It was really a hard place to be a witness because every single day, 24 hours a day, you have to be true to God,” Novak said. “There is no down time for being a soldier in God’s army in that area. But the Lord really works through that and I was able to overcome a lot of areas that I needed work in, primarily in the love of people.”
At the end of his deployment, Novak returned to American soil on April 1. He remembers visiting his family.
“They gave me a hug and said, ‘It’s good to hear your laugh and see your smile and the light in your eyes,” Novak said.
Five months later, Novak was again enrolled at Corban and attending classes.
“Coming back, I appreciate talking with people about Christ,” Novak said.
Currently, Novak is a criminal justice major and plans on finishing next fall semester. His ultimate goal is to join the secret service but before that he may join the Navy SEALS.
“I have always wanted to do that mainly because I want to be the best for Christ,” Novak said. “I don’t believe I have reached my full potential that the Lord has wanted me to reach yet at my age.”
But for now, Novak is enjoying his time living among the quiet hills of suburban Salem.
“I loved to see green grass again after I got back,” Novak said. “Especially this time of year as God unfolds the abundant tapestry of colors for us to enjoy.”
He added, “and it’s all free.”