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No. 5

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by Cate Pilgrim & David Halbrook
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Tyler Stockton: Marine Veteran and PHC Student

The man speaking in rapid Arabic to the United States Marine patrol was asking for medical assistance, but none of the Marines spoke Arabic—and he spoke no English. After a few minutes of hand motions, the Marines followed him to his house. After checking the building for insurgents, they sent in medical help: Lance Corporal Tyler Stockton.

Tyler Stockton as a Marine in Iraq.
Tyler Stockton, now a PHC government major, served as a Marine in Iraq prior to enrolling at Patrick Henry College.


It was a hot day in mid-September, 2006. A few minutes before, Stockton, now a sophomore government major at Patrick Henry College, had been out with his unit on a patrol not far from the Euphrates River. Stockton was a machine gunner in the Marines, not a surgeon or a doctor. Because the unit’s primary medic had not come along on this patrol, it was 20-year-old Stockton, the “combat lifesaver” (a secondary medic equipped with a bag of supplies and a rough knowledge of what to do for common injuries), who followed the distressed man into a shabby room.

The room was crowded with aunts and cousins, all surrounding a whimpering child covered with burns from ankles to torso. The girl, about 7 years old, had been burned by a flash flame from the family’s propane stove.

“We need to take a minute here,” Stockton called out to his corporal. Then he did something he had never done before while on duty: he took off his helmet, removed his gloves, and set his M16 aside. Stockton could see the girl’s father loved her enough to expose her to a non-Muslim, a foreign soldier, a male. He wanted the family to know that he respected their trust.

Stockton asked the girl’s parents to hold her while he straightened her legs, curled in pain. The child began to scream and weep, and it was all Stockton could do to control his own emotions.

He quickly began bandaging the little girl’s legs in cloth wraps coated with a cooling novocaine gel. It would take several painful moments before she experienced any relief. “The thought running through my head was, ‘Lord, let me take her pain. Put it in my legs because I can handle it. She can’t,’ ” Stockton recalls.

By this time, his unit needed to leave. Stockton finished wrapping the sobbing child and handed her parents two more packs of bandages, motioning to them that after three days they needed to rewrap her legs.

After finishing his second tour with the Marines in Iraq, Stockton “tried deploying to Iraq or Afghanistan nine times, but ... every request was blocked.” He finally realized God had another plan.

Grabbing his rifle, Stockton hurried out of the house and started jogging after his unit. Before he had gotten far, the little girl came running after him, her bandaged legs just visible under her dress. She threw her arms around Lance Corporal Stockton, her head coming just even with his bullet-proof plate, and said, “Shukrun, shukrun.” Thank you, thank you.

“One action of compassion can make a significant difference in the world,” Stockton said. The girl turned out to be the child of the local leader’s bodyguard, and in the following months, U.S. forces found the surrounding area significantly friendlier.

This incident occurred during Tyler Stockton’s first seven-month tour of duty in Iraq. After being promoted to corporal, Stockton served a second seven-month tour which ended in May 2008 and then spent six months as a Marine combat instructor at Twenty-Nine Palms before he was honorably discharged. During that time, Stockton, a homeschool graduate from Montana, decided to enroll at PHC.

Stockton was homeschooled from 2nd grade through high school, with one year spent at a private Christian school. His education was an eclectic mix of courses leading up to his enlistment in the Marines. He was enrolled in the American School correspondence program, took courses at the University of Montana and the Helena College of Technology, and attended Bible classes at his church.

“I did an internship/independent research project with the Montana Science Institute,” says Stockton. He was also an Eagle Scout, serving on the Boy Scouts’ executive council in Montana.

“I came [to PHC] because I wanted a Christian education,” he says. “And I came for the simple fact that I want to be prepared for whatever the Lord wants me to do. If I am a leader, I’m a leader. If I am a servant, I’m a servant."

“I tried deploying to Iraq or Afghanistan nine times after finishing my second tour,” he recalls, “but every time, either through lost emails or missed phone calls, every request was blocked. It was so frustrating. I kept asking myself, ‘Why?’ I finally realized that God had another plan.”

During that second tour of Iraq, Stockton began thinking about going to the University of Montana for its political science major. But he also explored other options. “I was bored in Iraq, so I literally read every page of PHC’s website. I became very excited. The core curriculum inspired me, seeing that I could study constitutional law and the classics and Freedom’s Foundations, digging into the roots of western civilization. I applied, knowing my SAT scores were below the average here. In my acceptance letter, nothing was said about academics. But someone was evidently impressed by my leadership credentials.”

“I could have made the Marines a career,” he says. “But I wanted to come to a school, not for a career or a job, but to learn about philosophy, economics, political theory, how to write.”

After graduating from PHC, Stockton sees himself going to law school and perhaps entering politics back home in Montana. Ultimately, he confides, “I have no idea what the Lord’s doing, but it’s exciting to watch it unfold. I loved the Marines and my time in Iraq, helping to bring freedom and safety and justice to those people. I’ve realized that I can do that in law or the political arena, too. I can fight for it with other weapons, and one of those is the education I’m getting here at PHC.”

Adapted from an article that originally appeared on the PHC website on June 14, 2010.

About the authors

David Halbrook is PHC’s director of communications. Cate Pilgrim graduated from PHC in 2010 with a degree in political journalism.