Thirty years ago this month, I made indelible memories from what turned out to be a several-month, surprise stay in Saudi Arabia, compliments of Uncle Sam.
“Men make plans and God laughs,” or so the saying goes.
This possible Yiddish saying may stem loosely from Psalm 33:10: “The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples.”
Have you ever made a plan that went awry?
It’s something I definitely experienced back in 1990, when I was then editor of the Peru Tribune, in nearby Peru, Indiana. First, some background.
I spent an enlistment in the U.S. Air Force back in the late ‘70s, and was stationed in sunny Monterey, California and later in chilly Minot, North Dakota.
But when, as a newspaper editor in Peru, Indiana, I began thinking about re-enlisting in the military. But on a strictly part-time, one-weekend-a-month and two full-time weeks every summer basis. I’d only sign up for a one-year enlistment to see how I liked it.
Three things made up my motivation to try to enlist in the U.S. Air Force Reserve: 1) a desire to bolster my modest small-town daily newspaper editor salary; 2) a chance to travel overseas with an Air Force Reserve unit; and 3) encouragement from an officer at Grissom Air Force Base to join his public relations team.
Alas, my plan started to go awry. While a public relations slot for an E-4 (senior airman rank) was vacant at Grissom AFB, funding for it was frozen. Door closed.
“Men make plans and God laughs.”
Not easily deterred, I problem-solved. I discovered an Army Reserve 199th Supply Small Repair Parts Co. had a presence at Grissom AFB. Long story short, the Army unit had an opening for a soldier with experience in supply. Joyfully, I learned, they would accept my prior Air Force boot camp and military experience. So no need to repeat boot camp.
Proud of my ability to adapt and come up with another viable plan, my Army military
recruiter and I drove to the Military Entrance Processing Center (MEPS) in Indianapolis,
where I raised my right arm and took an oath to serve my country for a one-year enlistment.
On the drive back to Peru, Indiana, a breaking news announcement caught me by
total surprise when a radio news reporter reported: “Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi Army has just invaded the sovereign country of Kuwait.” The day was Aug. 2, 1990.
While I was hoping to experience some overseas travel in the Army Reserve, I never dreamed I would end up in the Middle East as part of a war effort.
“Men make plans and God laughs.”
So, long story short again, my Army Reserve unit activated to full-time status in February 1991, several months after the invasion of Kuwait. Before deploying to American military posts in Saudi Arabia, our unit first trained at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indianapolis, and then at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Fortunately, hostilities had long since ceased by the time my unit arrived in the country.
Stepping off the plane onto a tarmac 30 years ago in mid-March 1991, my fellow soldiers and I were greeted by a forceful mixture of dry wind and fine grains of sand swirling around us.
We set up camp in the desert several miles from the closest Saudi Arabian city of King Khalid Military City. We lived in canvas tents about 60 miles south of Iraq. My job was to take inventory, drive a forklift and move military parts (spare truck axles, etc.) off flatbed trucks to open-air warehouses in the middle of the desert. I’ll never forget the 120-degree plus temperatures, the blinding sandstorms and occasional scorpion encounters.
As we approach Easter in 2021, I am reminded of the Easter I spent in Saudi Arabia in 1991. I walked along a dusty road to a small military “church” with soldiers seated on folding chairs inside a compound. The blue sky served as our roof, as the chaplain preached the familiar story of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.
While I found myself not in control of my circumstances during my tour of duty in Saudi Arabia, God showed me he was in control. God provided me with what I needed when I needed it. As Proverbs 3:5 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.”
As I lived outside my comfort zone from March to July 1991 in the Middle East, I found myself depending upon God more than ever.
Philippians 4:6-7 were verses I had memorized years before, but I relied upon them like never before in the desert.
Alan Blanchard, associate professor of journalism at Taylor University, served an enlistment in the U.S. Air Force in the late 1970s, and later served in the U.S. Army Reserve as part of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in the Persian Gulf in 1990-91. Any opinions expressed here represent the author’s views alone – firstname.lastname@example.org