It was the year preceding 9/11, and I was serving in the Kazakhstan desert as a major in the U.S. Army Reserve. We were tasked to train our Kazahk, Uzbek and Kyrgyz allies to fight an Al Qaeda terrorist group called the IMU (Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan).

It also happened to be my father's yahrtzeit the next day, which was a Friday. Having never missed an opportunity to recite the kaddish for either of my parents, needless to say, I was extremely distraught. I prayed to G‑d with all my soul and might, asking for a miracle to deliver me from this desert to a synagogue with a suitable minyan.

An hour later, a small car pulled up and stopped directly in front of me. A Kazakhstan colonel exited the vehicle and greeted me cheerfully. The previous year he had been in Tampa at MacDill Air Force Base, and I was his assigned escort officer. He had remembered the VIP treatment he had received and sought me out to thank me.

When he asked me if there was anything he could do for me, I decided to make a seemingly impossible request: to visit a synagogue the very next evening. The colonel’s interpreter shockingly replied, "Yes! He knows of such a place! He will meet you here tomorrow morning and take you there by the afternoon.”

I immediately visited the operations center to inform them of my trip and request a pass. While there, I spoke with a rather secular Jewish army captain and asked him to join me. Eager to leave the desert, he agreed to attend services. Testing the limits of my senior officer's rank was an added incentive for him to attend the service.

After a rather lengthy five to six hour bumpy journey, we arrived at the then capital city of Almaty. A beautiful and impressive synagogue appeared before us as though it had fallen from the sky. It had quite a presence in those surroundings.

When we stood in the doorway of the synagogue in our uniforms, the concerned looks on the faces of the rabbi and congregants slowly dissipated as we joined them in prayer. Ironically, the army captain who was coerced into attending was the tenth man to arrive, thereby completing the minyan.

Afterwards, the Kazakhstan colonel, whom I later learned had served in the KGB, donned a kippah and joined us for a Shabbat meal. After Shabbat, we prayed at the gravesite of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, the Rebbe’s father.

Since then I have retired from the army, and I have never missed a yahrzeit. But I will always remember this special one in Kazakhstan.