A retired U.S. Navy SEAL and author said one night at church saved him from himself.
Chad Williams served in that branch of the military from 2004 to 2010. He spoke in Springfield to The Gathering on Wednesday morning, saying he decided to become a SEAL to mature, make an impact and not be an "Average Joe," despite his family's objections. The Gathering is a men's Christian organization.
His father decided to introduce him to the lifestyle before his training began and got in contact with one of the most decorated Navy SEALs, Scott Helvenston. He's known for being the youngest person to ever complete the SEAL program at 17 and for training Hollywood actress Demi Moore for the movie G.I. Jane.
Williams' father thought the introduction might sway his son from becoming a SEAL but it didn't.
Helvenston and Williams met up frequently to train and each day cemented for Williams that he wanted to become like his now mentor.
"I really looked up to him, he was like a father to me," Williams said.
Helvenston was killed a few days before Williams started SEAL training. He was watching the news and he saw Helvenston's picture.
"It didn't click for me then," he said.
He then realized one of the men on TV was Helvenston. He was hung upside-down from the Euphrates River Bridge, Williams said, after being "brutally killed, mutilated and dragged" through Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004 while working as a private security contractor.
Seeing Helvenston on TV that day changed Williams, he said, and became his motivation.
Williams started training with 173 sailors. They went through the military's "most difficult and grueling training," he said. Only 13 made it to graduation.
His reasons to become a SEAL matured over time and brought him closer to God.
One night after blacking out from drinking while on leave, his parents returned him to base and told him he was banned from their home.
He returned to his parent's house the following day to retrieve a keg of beer he'd hidden in the garage. His parents reminded him he wasn't allowed back home. To get the beer, he convinced his parents that he wanted to go to church that night.
Williams went to church and heard a sermon about Naaman, a commander for the King of Aram's army who had leprosy. It resonated with him and he became a Christian that day.
Williams said there are many similarities between that Old Testament story and today. Soldiers die every day to ensure America's freedom, he said, and how Jesus died for freedom as well.
He now travels the country to tell people about his story and how it led him to religion. He said he hopes others will hear what he heard that day and take a chance on faith.
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