Lesson from Desert Storm

 

Today is my birthday. I’m sharing a story I wrote near the beginning of my career that still means so much to me b/c of the power of the Bible to help people get through crises.

It is an as-told-to story, which means it is someone else’s story and I wrote it for him. This doctor was so busy the only time we could find to interview was on Thanksgiving morning. I’ve never met him but heard about his story from my cousin at a reunion. My cousin is the doctor/friend mentioned at the end of the story who went to Africa.

Whenever I hear someone mention the words of Psalm 91, I think of this story and how much God’s words can heal and save. The entire psalm is copied at the end of the story. Meditate on its words and let them minister to you today.

 

**

 Lesson from Desert Storm

By Dr. Danny Smith

As told to

Kayleen Reusser

A succession of deafening explosions ripped through the night, awakening me from a fitful sleep. Immediately, I put on my gas mask and bolted from the cot to join other personnel at the barracks windows.

Black smoke and flying debris obliterated our view of the war-torn Kuwaiti desert. The cacophony of noise sounded different from the other times when we had been fired at by one of Saddam Hussein’s low-flying soviet Scud missiles. Later we learned that a 17-foot Allied rocket, the Patriot, had streaked through the sky, breaking the sound barrier and had blown away an incoming Scud in a fiery collision.

It was history’s first wartime intercept of a ballistic missile. A television crew on the roof of a nearby building caught the event on film so that millions of American viewers could watch it.

I was platoon commander of the Army National Guard medical unit stationed out of Iowa City, Iowa. Our unit had been deployed to Kuwait in January 1991 as part of a massive military buildup by the United States to combat Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. Our mission was to perform advance trauma life support, stabilize the wounded, and send them back to the MASH unit or field hospital in the rear.

We hadn’t been there long when medical intelligence told us that due to an increase in air strikes, we should expect 500 to 1,000 casualties a day.

The news, heat, stress of waiting, and our proximity to danger created a palpable tension within camp. It was my duty to maintain order. Thus far, I had done so, but I wondered how long it would last.

As a Christian, I often sought help from the scriptures. Psalm 91, in particular, gave me strength and courage. “For it is he who delivers you…from the deadly pestilence” (v.3) could refer to biological and chemical warfare. Verse 5 says, “You will not be afraid of the terror by night.” I took that to mean the Scud missile attacks.

The words, written thousands of years ago, seemed to fit our 20th-century situation amazingly well and never failed to give me assurance that God was in control.

I had always believed everyone dealt with God in his or her own way and never forced my faith on anyone. But as the days passed and a tension grew, I questioned my motives. Was I keeping silent about my faith out of concern for others or because I was afraid of what others would think? That night I was ashamed to realize it was the latter and I prayed for wisdom.

The next day, Bible in hand, I ordered the entire platoon to assemble in the mess hall. “No one knows when this thing will end or if any of us will walk away from it. I’ve been scared and I think most of you have been too. But I believe Someone greater than Saddam is watching over us right now. It’s Someone who cares what happens to us. God, our Creator, loves us and is able to protect us.” Then I read the 16 verses of Psalm 91.

They were so familiar I could have read them with my eyes closed. That day, however, they took on new meaning as my voice rang with conviction. “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.…”

Afterward, I said a short prayer, then dismissed the platoon. Several people thanked me for reading the Scripture. During the next few days, I noticed soldiers reading the New Testaments issued to them.

However, it wasn’t until two days later, when 160 of us were sent up to the front line to support the 3rd Artillery Division from 7th Corps out of Europe, that I saw how powerful God’s Word could be. Dug in bunkers, two kilometers behind the Iraqi-Saudi border, we waited for the 100-hour Ground War to start.

When it did start on February 24, the number of casualties in our unit increased, but they were mostly minor shrapnel injuries. We never did have the hundreds of battle-related casualties that medical intelligence had predicted. When the Allied forces called a truce with Saddam, we praised God that our entire unit had escaped with little injury. A few weeks later, our platoon was returned to the States.

After a warm reception from my family and a period of rest, I resumed my private practice. Everything appeared to be the same in my life as it was before the Gulf War.

But it wasn’t.

I began to pray with patients who were having a tough time. I shared with colleagues the things God was doing in my life. When one doctor friend left the States to begin missionary work in Africa, I read Psalm 91 at his going-away party.

The Gulf War was a difficult time of separation for my family and me, but if given the opportunity to serve my country overseas again, I would. I believe in the ideals this country stands for and would do everything I could to see that they were carried out in other nations.

The End

 Originally published in Stories From A Soldier’s Heart (Multnomah)

Psalm 91

 1 Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
   will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
2 I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
   my God, in whom I trust.”

 3 Surely he will save you
   from the fowler’s snare
   and from the deadly pestilence.
4 He will cover you with his feathers,
   and under his wings you will find refuge;
   his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
5 You will not fear the terror of night,
   nor the arrow that flies by day,
6 nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
   nor the plague that destroys at midday.
7 A thousand may fall at your side,
   ten thousand at your right hand,
   but it will not come near you.
8 You will only observe with your eyes
   and see the punishment of the wicked.

 9 If you say, “The LORD is my refuge,”
   and you make the Most High your dwelling,
10 no harm will overtake you,
   no disaster will come near your tent.
11 For he will command his angels concerning you
   to guard you in all your ways;
12 they will lift you up in their hands,
   so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread on the lion and the cobra;
   you will trample the great lion and the serpent.

 14 “Because he loves me,” says the LORD, “I will rescue him;
   I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
15 He will call on me, and I will answer him;
   I will be with him in trouble,
   I will deliver him and honor him.
16 With long life I will satisfy him
   and show him my salvation.”

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