Risking His Life For Love
7 December 2023
Karenni State, Burma
If you have followed the work of Free Burma Rangers (FBR) for any significant length of time, then you have most likely come across the name “Silverhorn” a time or two. A Ranger of over 16 years and one of FBR’s most outstanding front-line medics, Silverhorn has a lifetime of stories. The world typically watches war harden and roughen the individual who has survived its horrors; however, for Silverhorn, war seems to have the opposite effect. When sitting down to talk with him, one instantly feels at ease in his presence, like catching up with an old friend. In typical Karen fashion, he holds a kind, gentle smile and a humble demeanor as he casually laughs and recounts stories – like this one – one that is hard to believe anyone has lived through.
July 4, 2022:
While millions in the US celebrated Independence Day, millions in Burma, like Silverhorn, continued the fight for theirs. Silverhorn had gone with an FBR team to respond to frontline fighting in Karenni and Shan states, Burma, where some of the deadliest fighting in the country has occurred since the 2021 coup d’état. The FBR medical team, including Silverhorn, arrived at the area of battle and immediately were hit by heavy mortar and machine gun fire from three different Burma Army positions. Right away, there were casualties among the Karenni. Silverhorn and the medics rushed forward to pull them out, stop the bleeding, and keep them alive. The casualties were then transported back through a small group of trees onto a dirt road that ran through a two-mile-long corn field. From here, they would be moved behind the mountains another two miles to a casualty collection point that was manned by FBR, led by Dr. Spring (see FBR’s report of him here), chief medic Eliya, and other medics, including Sahale who was serving as a medic on this mission. Further back, there was a small field hospital with other Ranger medics and Karen, Suzanne, and Peter as well.
Back at the front lines where the fighting continued, the Karenni soldiers were being wounded and some killed. Each time, the Ranger medics, along with Silverhorn, would rush forward under withering fire to pull them back. Late in the afternoon, as they were getting ready to move to the next casualty, bullets suddenly came behind them. Silverhorn looked over at Dave and said, “What’s that?”
Dave looked back over his shoulder and replied, “I don’t know what idiots are shooting at us.”
But he quickly realized it was the Burma Army, who were advancing very close and yelling, “Die, die, die!” Two Burma Army battalions had come around behind and were now trying to completely surround the Karenni forces as well as the Ranger medics.
Silverhorn asked, “What do we do?”
“Pray!” Dave responded. He quickly prayed and then jumped up and said, “Follow me,” running towards one of the Burma Army positions hoping to throw them off balance. Silverhorn followed, along with other Ranger medics and they found themselves out in the open, now being shot at from three sides. They continued running in a hail of bullets and multiple rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) rounds, as well as rifle grenades that began flying beside and over them. One of the RPGs went directly over Dave’s head and impacted behind Dave and Silverhorn, but closer to Silverhorn, with shrapnel penetrating his back. At the same time, he was shot through the hip and went down.
In that moment of despair he remembers seeing a photo of his family on his phone screen and three prayers came to him: 1) That God would let him see his family again, 2) That he could keep helping his people, and 3) that he would live so that he could tell everyone what God has done for him.
Determined to live, Silverhorn cried out for help. Dave and the other medics got to him, picked him up, and began running back with him. As they were running with him, Silverhorn calmly said, “I’m losing too much blood. You’re going to have to stop the bleeding, or I’ll be dead.”
They prayed and then decided they’d better do it. Dave told the medics that they had one minute to stop the bleeding as he turned around to try and hold off the Burma Army. The Ranger medics stuffed as much gauze as they could into the holes in Silverhorn’s back and tried to bind him up. After thirty seconds, Dave yelled, “We have to move soon!” and then after thirty more seconds, he yelled, “Alright, we have to get him out of here!” Meanwhile, the team had been radioing for help, and as they broke into the big open cornfield, Bwe Mue, the Karenni Ranger coordinator, came flying across the field in a pickup truck with other Ranger medics. Silverhorn was put in the truck as shooting broke out all over and the Burma Army got even closer. Silverhorn was successfully evacuated while Dave and the other Rangers stayed behind as there were more wounded and dead. That day, twenty-one men were badly wounded and ten were killed.
Silverhorn was taken back to the casualty collection point. Sahale remembers the shock when she saw him come in. “That’s my uncle, he carried me when I was a child. I’m so worried for him. I’m praying he lives, in Jesus’s name,” she thought as she began assisting the other medics and Dr. Spring, who were working on Silverhorn. Silverhorn was stabilized and then sent by four-wheel drive back to a small field hospital. Upon arrival at the field hospital, it was determined they did not have what was needed to stop his internal bleeding. So Silverhorn was loaded back into a four-wheel drive truck and was driven by Peter Eubank, navigating with K’Baw Htoo, one of the new Burmese volunteers, three more hours through the night to a field hospital located in a hidden jungle spot.
Fortunately, this hospital was staffed by one of the best orthopedic surgeons in Burma who had joined the resistance after the coup. Their life saving work saved Silverhorn. In an eleven-hour operation, they were able to not only treat his gunshot wounds, but remove the fragments of the RPG in his back and repair his spleen. It was just one week before this that Dave had brought Silverhorn to visit this clinic and then said, “Thank you so much, dear doctors, for all you do for so many. Because of such attacks by the Burma Army, probably within a week you will see one of us in here.” One week later, Silverhorn was here and these doctors saved his life.
As a medic himself experiencing all of this, Silverhorn knew how delicate and critical his situation was. He recalls finding strength in his mind and the will to live as he prayed to God without ceasing. At one point while he was being treated, Silverhorn remembers the patient lying next to him, whom he had been transported with, died. Silverhorn was deeply sad and wondered if this too would be his fate.
Two days after his life-saving operation, Silverhorn told Dave he wanted to get back out to the frontlines to help his people. However, the doctors reminded him he still had a long road to recovery. It can only be described as a miracle, then, when five days into his hospitalization, Silverhorn got up and walked. The nurses were shocked and said he was very strong and that they had never seen anyone recover this quickly. What he was able to do would take a normal patient one or two months. Without skipping a beat, Silverhorn used this as an opportunity to share Jesus with his nurses and others around him. He said it was because of God that he was able to walk, putting the power of God on display for those who did not know Him.
After only one week, Silverhorn was discharged. Silverhorn didn’t know at the time, but over the course of the next year, he would have another close call with the Burma Army and another major surgery. On January 7, 2023, Silverhorn and two coworkers had gone into the main town in their area for supplies when they were nearly hit by a Burma Army jet fighter bomb. Jumping in a nearby ditch, they miraculously survived the destruction of the bomb as it hit only 25 meters from them. The bomb destroyed the truck they were in and could have destroyed them. The bomb had a potential lethal range of 100 meters but thankfully the crest of the hill served as a protective berm.
A few months later, Silverhorn’s lumbar nerve impingement condition, which had been chronic even before his battlefield injury, began progressing to a point he was unable to walk without much pain. The medical treatment was lengthy and complex as he still had shrapnel lodged into his back from his earlier injury. With the help of God, FBR’s patient care team, supporting medical staff, and donors around the world, Silverhorn received a successful surgery and recovery in June 2023. We are happy to report that he is now home and reunited with his family.
Silverhorn continues his work with FBR as a key leader in the field, including being the Medical Director Assistant at FBR’s Jungle School of Medicine Kawthoolei in Karen State, Burma. He has sacrificed much for oppressed civilian populations in the face of evil regimes not only on the frontlines in his home country, but in Kurdistan and Iraq as well, including helping liberate Mosul from ISIS in 2017 where he was also shot while helping civilians escape. One of Silverhorn’s coworkers summarizes his sacrificial life well, saying: “Silverhorn could be living a much safer life in a neighboring country working in the underground economy of undocumented laborers. Instead, he chooses to remain in Karen State, risking it [his life] daily… to serve his people and nearby tribes targeted by the Burma Army.” Silverhorn represents the millions of unnamed, unacknowledged heroes all across Burma who are choosing sacrifice over safety every day for the freedom of their people. And Silverhorn would say that the sacrifice, for him, above all, is for love.
Thanks and God bless you,
Free Burma Rangers