Lt. Col. Derrick Riggs, serving in Afghanistan as command chaplain for North American Treaty Organization Special Operations and the Special Forces Joint Task Force, was beginning a series of Bible studies based on Psalm 91, which he calls “David’s Fearless Warrior Psalm.”
There was a visitor for the first Wednesday study, Jan. 28. “Normally the new guy just sits there and listens,” Riggs said, “but not Jason.”
He jumped right in, not just giving his perspective on the psalm that speaks of the security of one who trusts in the Lord, “but explaining sections and helping to make the complex easily understandable,” Riggs said.
“I quickly realized Jason had a personal relationship with God, and it was refreshing to have another believer in the group.”
Photo courtesy of the Baptist Courier
The late Jason Landphair, shown with his wife Natasha, was an Army Special Forces medic killed in Afghanistan in late January. Below, Lt. Col. Derrick Riggs, who became an Army chaplain shortly after 9/11, encountered a “Fearless Warrior” when teaching on Psalm 91 in late January.
The following evening, Riggs received word of an attack at the Special Missions Wing. Three Americans were dead, shot by an Afghan soldier or someone dressed in an Afghan uniform. The chaplain reported for duty and talked to four men who had witnessed the attack.
“Three of them were hunkered down in a bunker when the shooting started,” Riggs recounted. “The other guy was the one who killed the Afghan that turned on our guys.”
The Taliban later claimed responsibility for the killings. Riggs, 44, now on his fifth combat tour in his 18 years of military service, read the list of the three deceased men. Walt Fisher was from North Myrtle Beach, S.C., Matt Fineran was from Summerville, S.C., and Jason Landphair was living in Fayetteville, N.C.
Riggs did not make an immediate connection to the names until his chaplain assistant said, “Hey, sir, wasn’t that guy from the Bible study last night named Jason? Is this the same guy?”
“I felt chilled,” Riggs said. “Stunned … shocked.”
The following day he accompanied the three bodies to a C-130 transport aircraft for a “hero flight” back to the United States. “In one of those cold metal coffins,” Riggs said, “was the body of Landphair, the first-time visitor at the Wednesday night Bible study 48 hours before – alive, vibrant, smiling, talking and engaging in the discussion of how God can make a person into a fearless warrior. Forty-eight hours earlier, I was teaching about the fearless warrior. I had no idea that Jason would be living it.
“‘Rest in peace’ is the standard phrase for funerals and sending off the dead. But for Jason, I said, ‘Rest in eternity, my friend, for now you stare directly into the loving eyes and relax in the gentle arms of God. You are the Fearless Warrior.’”
Photo courtesy of the Baptist Courier
Lt. Col. Derrick Riggs, who became an Army chaplain shortly after 9/11, encountered a “Fearless Warrior” when teaching on Psalm 91 in late January.
Army chaplain – a lifelong goal
Even with such occurrences, Riggs is living his dream. “He always wanted to be an Army chaplain,” said his father, retired Col. Dwight Riggs, an Army chaplain himself for 26 years.
The senior Riggs and his wife Kathy are members of First Baptist Church in Columbia, S.C., where their son was actively involved before being deployed overseas.
His son graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary in December 1997 and went on active duty as an Army chaplain in January 1998. When he began his chaplaincy work at age 26, Derrick was the youngest chaplain ever to serve, his father said. “I was deployed three weeks after 9/11,” Derrick Riggs said, “which began what has become a ministry of bringing soldiers to God and God to soldiers in garrison and combat.”
Landphair, the visitor to Riggs’ Bible study in January, is survived by his wife Natasha and two daughters, Sofia and Wren. Friends have described Natasha as an amazing woman of God. Following her husband’s death, she sent Riggs a note that read, “Jason called that night and told me about the Bible study. He was excited and looking forward to going back next week.”
“That note brought tears to my eyes,” Riggs recounted.
Riggs said that even though Landphair was at Camp Integrity only about two weeks, “the impact his visible relationship with God has had on many of my personnel has been profound.”
A graduate of Idaho State University, Landphair joined the Army and was deployed to Iraq where he was wounded by a sniper. But he soon returned to duty after receiving a Purple Heart.
After his injury, he trained in the Army Special Forces to become a medic and served three tours in Afghanistan without further injury. Landphair was trying to help two wounded comrades when he was killed. Riggs led the second Wednesday Bible study on Psalm 91 with a heavy heart, admitting he was “overcome with emotion. After three tours in Afghanistan and two in Iran, for a total of 46 months, and numerous Bible studies in combat areas, Riggs said he had “never really wondered if someone in our group would not return because of death.”
He is scheduled to return to the U.S. in June.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Rudy Gray is editor of the Baptist Courier, baptistcourier.com, newsjournal of the South Carolina Baptist Convention.)