Warrenton author John Cassel pens a faith-based tribute to those who’ve paid the ultimate price
John 15:13 – Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
“Hell, I think you’re a saint. I’m gonna call you Saint Nick.” This call sign, or nickname, was given to John Cassel by his Master Chief at the start of his career as a security contractor in the Middle East. Precipitated by the Master Chief noticing Cassel praying before a meal, the sign stuck. It felt right to Cassel; his son’s name, as well as his own middle name, is Nicholas. And Christmas was always his favorite holiday, earning him the nickname “Holiday John” among friends and family. Then he researched the historical figure of Saint Nicholas who —— as well as being the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, repentant thieves, children, brewers, pawnbrokers, students, and travelers —— was known for secret gift giving, which tied in perfectly with Cassel’s Holiday John persona. The perfect call sign for him.
It’s a nice story, but it’s only Christmas once a year, and Cassel’s Christian faith —— and call sign —— is year-round. It has sustained him as he navigated through two difficult service careers that are not for the faint of heart and continues as he embarks on a third: inspirational writer.
Cassel explained, “The bible verse John 15:13 has been my favorite since I learned it when I was a young cop. I was reading through my bible trying to find my faith again, and when I read that verse I realized, this is what cops do. We lay down our lives for our friends. No greater love is shown than when someone does that. It’s not just about me. It’s about all men and women in law enforcement, in the military, in public safety, who are willing to die to protect not only their family and friends, but to protect American lives. That verse has great significance to me.”
Cassel devoted his life to serving to protect. As the son of an Army ranger, he became interested in law enforcement at a young age and joined the Columbus Police Department soon after college. Becoming immersed in the community by knowing the city, its people, and its dark sides intimately made him a well known, well liked, and effective officer.
But there came a time when he felt called to do something different, bigger, more. As a young husband and father, and with his wife’s support, he took a new direction and applied to a firm providing security contracting to the Middle East. His application, which had been lagging, was suddenly fast tracked in the days after 9-11. “I think there were people backing out of their contracts early and coming home, afraid to be over there or to travel. But I wasn’t afraid, I was ready. I think that was because God had been whispering in my ear to be ready for a change. Then, seventeen days after 9-11, I was on a plane,” he said.
What followed was a 15-year career involving grueling physical, mental, and tactical training while working in conjunction with US Marines and the Secret Service in the Middle East and acting as a field training officer mentoring the newly formed Kosovo Police Department. Over the years, he worked in locations in the Balkans, South Central Asia, and the Middle East.
With both careers yielding extraordinary experiences, Cassel decided to share them in a book. But not just any book.
“I wanted it to be more than just another military or police biography. It needed to have that Christian faith slant to it. I wanted to reach out to people with my faith. In my mind, if I can bring one person to religion, prevent one suicide, save one marriage, if I can just accomplish one thing like that, it’s what I set out to do.”
In the book, Cassel relates many experiences ranging from humorous to terrifying, sparing nothing in the telling. Included are his feelings, his frustrations, his hopes, and his Christian faith sustaining him as he navigated places and situations that are foreign to most. He highlights relationships with other members of his team and with the community, some short encounters, some involving lifelong bonds. Intertwined with the stories is the theme evoked by John 15:13: Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. Each story ends with a Bible verse.
“It’s a testimony. What I wanted to do was pay tribute to people, friends that I lost along the way, some of whom were killed in the line of duty. It means a lot to me to have this story published in December. One of my best friends, whose call sign was Southside, was killed in December, and I always remember him at that time of year. ”
Cassel is now living with his wife and two children in Warrenton and working at the US State Department, where, he said, “My wife and kids don’t have to worry so much about me.” He joked, “I used to save lives, now I think about which top sheet to use on which report. It’s mostly computer and desk work. When you get into the daily minutia, you lose sight of the big picture, and I have to take a step back and remind myself that what I’m doing is still really important.”
John 15:13 is available at The Open Book in Warrenton, and on Amazon in Kindle, paperback, and audiobook formats.