Recurrent Breast Cancer

Saturday, April 21, 2012

“Cliffhanger,” March 2005, God Answers Prayers,
Inspiring True Stories of Faith and Hope, Allison Bottke,
Harvest House Publishers                                                                              

Lieutenant Arno Kivi and I had just arrived back at our compound from battalion headquarters on a warm January evening.  Six weeks in the Saudi Arabian desert, as part of the United States Third Armored Division’s medical company gave us plenty of reasons for us to try and get some rest.  
            That evening I lay down on my cot and opened my worn Bible to a favorite verse of mine, Isaiah 41:10 (NIV):  “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, since I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
            The Army Central Command Operations Plan called for a five-week massive air campaign against the Iraqi Army occupying Kuwait.  Rumors were flying that the air war would begin any day. 
            I took a deep breath.  “Please God, keep us in Your right hand.  Watch over us and protect us.”  After I finished praying, I settled in for a little sleep.
            “Doctor Hanson?”  The tent canvas shook as a communications specialist crawled inside. “There’s a call for you on the field phone from the major over at battalion headquarters. He says it’s important.”  
            I pulled on my boots, picked up my Colt.45 and gas mask, and hurried to the medical company headquarters tent. 
            “Doctor Hanson here.” 
            “You need to get over here right away to inspect a case of meals-ready-to-eat.  Some soldiers from Bravo Company said they got sick from eating them, and I have a case of MREs in my office, waiting for inspection.”
            I drew a deep breath.  “We’ll be there tonight, Major.”
            I headed to the tent where Lieutenant Kivi lay sound asleep.  He woke with a start when I put my hand on his shoulder.  “Arno, we need to inspect some MREs tonight at battalion headquarters.  I just got off the phone with the major.”
            Arno groaned.  He switched on his flashlight and squinted to see his watch.   “We might as well get over there right away, before it gets any later.”
            “How long will it take to get there, do the inspection, and get back?”  Arno was more familiar with distances than I was.

            He thought for a moment. “Shouldn’t be more than an hour or two.  There’s enough light from the stars and moon for us to follow the Green Supply Route barrel markers.”  He sat up and reached for his boots.  “I’ll get Sergeant Vernardo to come along.  She’s done a lot of field ration inspections.”  He began to get dressed.
            “I’ll come along with you and the Sergeant.  The major is a terror with junior officers and enlisted people.  If I come along, we should get back quicker.”
            The three of us Humveed out the front gate at 9:15 pm.  The desert sky was partly cloudy, with no wind or rain.  Lieutenant Kivi drove, Sergeant Vernardo sat in the back, and I navigated with my wrist compass while sitting in the right front seat.  We bounced over the rocky desert terrain with only dim blackout lights providing illumination over the barren ground ahead of us.  Mandatory light discipline required us to drive with no more than blackout lights at night to avoid detection by Iraqi forces.
            The major was waiting for us in the battalion operations center.  “About time!”  His voice was threatening.  “I thought you got lost.”
            “We got back here as quick as we could.  Now if I could get one of those MRE’s to take back with me tonight, I’ll inspect it during daylight hours.  I also need to get the lot numbers
and call the unit when we get back to see if they have any more of the same meals.”
            “Well, I guess that will have to do, Doctor.”  I was glad I made the trip for the sake of my comrades.
            We left battalion headquarters at about 10:00 pm with the MREs.  As we drove northwest into the darkening desert, Arno hummed a tune.  The minutes stretched to a half hour, and gathering clouds hid the moon and stars.  Wind began to pick up, and visibility became limited.
            After a while, I could see well enough to find the green barrels marking our route back.  I switched on my red-lens flashlight and pointed it to my field compass.  “Turn a little more to your north, Arno.”
            He turned the steering wheel about thirty degrees counterclockwise.  The three of us strained our eyes to find a barrel or anything that would stand out from the empty terrain.  Nothing. 
            Kivi slowed the Humvee to about five miles per hour.  The landscape became rougher and clouds gathered lower.  We couldn’t see anything except blackness of the night.  As we drove along, my eyelids grew heavy, and my chin slumped to my chest. 
            Arno slammed on the brakes.
            I bolted upright in my seat.  “What’s wrong?”
            “Sir, you yelled at me to stop.”
            I rubbed my eyes. “No I didn’t.”
            “Sir, I distinctly heard you yell at me to stop.”
            We strained our eyes to look ahead trough the front windshield.  Beyond the Humvee’s front bumper, the ground disappeared.
            “Arno, take a deep breath, shift into reverse, and ease your foot off the brake.
            He backed us up about ten feet, where the three of us climbed out.  We switched on our red-lens flashlights and shined them forward, and then down into the darkness.  We were standing on the edge of a cliff on a ridge of sand dunes.  We all peered down in disbelief.  The ground plummeted at least a hundred feet into black-velvet darkness.  Another few feet forward and we would have disappeared over the edge.  There were no seatbelts in the Humvee, so we would have all been ejected trough the front windshield.
We climbed back into the vehicle.  I swallowed hard.  “Arno, I wonder who yelled at you to hit the brakes.  It wasn’t Vernardo or me.  We were both sleeping.”
            Arno pulled a U-turn and headed southwest. After about fifteen minutes, we made out the shape of a lone barrel, and then another in the distance.  Finally, we had found the supply route!
            By midnight we entered the front gate of our perimeter.  We pulled up to our tent and climbed out.  Exhausted, we were relieved to be back on our compound.
            The next morning, we found out that there was a ridge of sand dunes with a cliff overhanging a deep ravine in the Third Armored Division area.  We were the first soldiers in the division to find it, and in complete darkness.
            I remembered hearing over Armed Forces Radio several months prior that the first American fatality of Desert Storm occurred when a U.S. Marine captain drove a Humvee over the cliff of a sand dune. 
            Unknowingly we made the same mistake as the Marine Captain; however, unlike the captain, we survived the encounter with the drop-off.
            It was then that the clear, unmistakable message came to me; God’s hand was at the wheel of our Humvee that night. 

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