God In The Storm - A Fascinating Account of Divine Intervention at Desert Storm

by Colonel Douglas V. Mastriano

The burden God put on Bill’s heart to reach the U.S. Armed Forces with the Gospel of Jesus Christ has led to a lot of doors opening for Bill to minister to U.S. troops in Germany, Korea, Haiti, Fort Stewart, Maxwell Air Force Base, Fort Meade, and the Presidio of Monterey.

My experiences in Desert Storm are directly linked to Bill and Karen Rudge’s mission trip to Germany in October 1990. We sponsored Bill and Karen to minister to the troops in my regiment and other units in Germany. Their schedule was rigorous and included an array of speaking engagements at our military chapel, an American school, and a German house-church. I really didn’t know what the response would be at the chapel where Bill and Karen ministered since it was the first time we had them minister to the troops. The large chapel was packed so the chaplain decided to also do an evening service. He had never done an evening service before at this base but it was packed again. I was amazed by the response and it was awesome what God was doing.

The timing of Bill and Karen’s visit was ideal. Only a week after their departure, our regiment, the Second Armored Cavalry, received orders to deploy to Saudi Arabia. God used the Rudges’ outreach to the U.S. military community in Nuremberg, Germany to prepare our hearts for the challenges and trials ahead. Despite the physical uncertainty that confronted many of us, God was faithful.

Shattered Peace

Prior to the regiment’s deployment to Saudi Arabia, our mission in Germany was to defend Germany from a Warsaw Pact invasion and to patrol the Iron Curtain. This included a large portion of West Germany’s border with East Germany, and the West German/Czechoslovakian borders. Tensions were high along the border. We were surprised when the Iron Curtain “fell” in late 1989-early 1990 and welcomed the newly freed Eastern Europeans to the West. The world boasted about a new era of global peace.

Suddenly, on the other side of the world, this so-called new era of peace was shattered by the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. The U.S. responded quickly to this aggression by deploying over 500,000 members of its armed forces to the region. 100,000 of these U.S. soldiers came out of Germany, which included my regiment, the Second Armored Cavalry. The regiment arrived in Saudi Arabia in early December 1990.

On 17 January 1991, President Bush ordered the beginning of Operation Desert Storm. Phase one entailed the air war against Iraq. This was designed to weaken Iraqi defenses throughout the Kuwaiti Theater of Operations. Phase two was the ground war with the mission to forcibly remove the Iraqi Army from Kuwait.

War Begins

It was hard to believe that I was in the Iraqi desert. Only three months earlier, I was wrapping up a three-year tour in Germany and had a lot to be thankful for. After years of vigilance, we saw the end of the Cold War and the elimination of the Iron Curtain from Europe. What an exciting time to be alive, to welcome Eastern Europeans to the free world. All around people proclaimed that peace and safety had at last arrived even as American and Soviet military units disbanded. This jubilation was shattered in August 1990 when the Iraqi army invaded and occupied Kuwait.

We awoke to yet another dismal day in the southern Iraqi desert on 26 February 1991. For two days my regiment had been leading the American main attack deep into Iraq. Like the cavalry scouts of the old American west, our tank (M1A1 Abrams) and helicopter (AH-1 Cobra) squadrons advanced far in front of the 1,000 American and British tanks following behind us, to find the enemy. We were the “eyes and ears” of the attack. Our ultimate goal was to deliver a knockout blow to Saddam Hussein’s most loyal and motivated unit, the Republican Guards.

As every morning in the war, we started the day by sending our helicopters six miles in front of our tanks. As our helicopters took their forward position, they immediately saw a panorama of hundreds of Iraqi tanks and vehicles dug into well-fortified fighting positions. The Iraqis gave our helicopters a warm reception and began firing at them. We returned the favor by bringing in U.S. Air Force F-16 strikes against them. Although effective due to their sheer number, the air strikes did little to deter the wrath of these Iraqi soldiers. They had been waiting for this day for over six months and were ready to give us the fight of our lives. [GIS4]

Our helicopters continued to work with the USAF to destroy what we could of the enormous array of Iraqi vehicles before our already rapidly-advancing regimental tanks took over the assault. This was the tricky part of the battle, turning it over from the helicopters to the ground tanks. It was too dangerous to have our helicopters fighting in the same vicinity as the impending tank battle, so they were ordered out of the area. This occurred as our tanks were almost close enough to fight the Iraqi Republican Guards. At last, Saddam’s elite troops could unleash fury and death upon the Americans. They only needed the regiment to come a few kilometers nearer to open fire. The impending fight would ultimately be called the Battle of 73rd Easting. The name came off the grid line on our maps since there was really nothing else in this part of the Iraqi desert to give this battle a more fitting name. Everything was set for this decisive tank battle.

Three Feet From Killing Us

My first direct evidence of God’s protection occurred shortly after the war began. One night, my driver and I were sleeping in a shallow trench in our perimeter. Since we were at war, and not far from Iraqi positions, our vehicles did not use their headlights. Using bright lights would catch the attention of the Iraqis. When you enter a perimeter, the vehicle’s passenger must dismount and lead the vehicle through on foot, so no one is accidentally run over. One night, the passenger in a vehicle was too lazy to walk in front and told his driver that he was not going to dismount. As my driver and I slept, this vehicle headed directly for us.

Meanwhile, out on guard was Corporal Trump, one of the few who knew where my driver and I were sleeping. Trump could not escape a nagging voice inside his heart that kept telling him to get back inside the perimeter. At first, he resisted this urge, since he was on guard duty and certainly must not abandon his post. However, the urgency of this feeling intensified, causing him to give in.

As Trump neared the location where my driver and I were, he saw the aforementioned vehicle heading straight for us. Thanks to his obedience to God’s prompting, Trump stopped the vehicle only three feet from killing my driver and me. The next morning I awoke to see the evidence in the sand (tire tracks) that death was so near, but God was faithful to His Word, as it says in Psalm 121:8:

The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in from this time forth and even forevermore.

Threat of Chemical Weapons

One of the biggest concerns of the U.S. was that Iraq would use chemical weapons against our ground forces. We had quite a few reasons to anticipate Iraqi use of chemical weapons against us. The primary basis for this was the prevailing winds, which favor their use. The wind normally blows from Iraq (northwest) into Saudi Arabia (southeast). This meant that if the Iraqis used chemical weapons, the wind would carry the toxins deep into the American lines. Another reason to believe that Saddam would use chemicals was recent history. He extensively used them against both the Iranians and his own Kurdish people a few years previous. This, combined with the prevailing winds, convinced us that it was inevitable that we would face a chemical attack. However, God had other plans.

The U.S.-led ground offensive was scheduled to commence on 24 February 1991. Since my regiment was assigned a vital mission, we were ordered into Iraq one day prior to the official launch of the ground war. The very instant that our tanks entered Iraq, a strange thing occurred. I noticed quite a few little dust devils all around me, which seemed very ominous. Before my very eyes God changed the direction of the prevailing winds.

When the regiment’s tanks entered Iraq at 1:30 pm on 23 February, the wind changed from the prevailing course of blowing from Iraq into Saudi Arabia to the opposite direction from Saudi into Iraq. Such an event had severe repercussions on any plans that Saddam had of using tactical chemical munitions. If he used them now, they would blow right back into his own troops. The miraculous thing about this wind is that it generally stayed this way until 8:00 am, 28 February, the very instant that the cease fire went into effect.

Almost Shot Down in Blackhawk Helicopter

My regiment was given the task to lead the U.S. main attack into Iraq to engage and destroy the Iraqi Republican Guards. Before the decisive Battle of 73rd Easting, the 12th Iraqi Armored Division moved from its positions near the Iraq-Kuwait-Saudi borders to block the movement of my regiment into Iraq. Part of this Iraqi force clashed with our lightly defended regimental Support Squadron (RSS). RSS is not equipped for a big fight, since its primary mission is to supply the regiment with food and fuel. Upon making contact with this Iraqi force, RSS called upon my squadron for help. We were best suited to counter this threat, since we could respond faster than tanks.

When we received the request for assistance, I was in a Blackhawk transport helicopter with eight other soldiers. Unfortunately, our one available Attack Helicopter Troop (Quickstrike) needed about five minutes to respond. Since we were already airborne, the senior officer in the helicopter decided that we would head to the location that RSS called for help, and mark the location of the enemy for our attack helicopters. This was about all we could do since our Blackhawk was only armed with two M-60 machine guns.

There was not a moment to lose. We arrived at the location where the battle occurred but found neither Iraqi nor American vehicles in the area. To locate the enemy vehicles, we slowed our airspeed and increased our flying altitude slightly and continued the search. However, this maneuver made it easier for the Iraqis to engage us. Within an instant, we stumbled right into a group of Iraqi armored vehicles, which immediately fired at us at point blank range. We literally flew right on top of them and had not realized it.

Meanwhile, in the helicopter, none of us yet saw the fire and death aimed in our direction. Suddenly, I glanced out of the left door gunner’s window and saw that death was imminent. We were so close to the enemy that my view of them was filled with images of fire coming out of their machine guns. Everything began to move in slow motion for me at this point. It was evident that we were soon to die. However, God literally shielded us from their bullets. Meanwhile, the senior officer in the helicopter also saw the enemy fire and immediately alerted the crew to get our helicopter out of there. As soon as we safely escaped the enemy guns, Quickstrike arrived with their attack helicopters.

Although it was obvious that God intervened to spare our lives on that day, I did not ponder it much. However, God drove the point home a few weeks later during an Easter service conducted by our regimental Chaplain near the ancient Iraqi town of Ur. At the end of the service, the chaplain asked us to stand up and recite the “Soldier’s Psalm” (Psalm 91). We read it often during the war, but when we read verses 14 and 15, the Holy Spirit gripped my heart and brought all of the events in the Blackhawk back to mind.

Because he has set his love upon Me, therefore will I deliver him. I will set him on high because he has known My name. He shall call upon Me and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honor him (Psalm 91:14-15).

The message was clear: I and eight other men were alive only because of God’s grace and the prayers of His people back in the United States.

Mysterious Shamal Saved Many American and Iraqi Lives

Shortly after my brush with death, the Battle of 73rd Easting occurred. The Iraqi tanks were indeed dug in and ready for this key battle. The lead Iraqi unit was only seconds away from firing upon the American tanks, when a strange occurrence obscured the horizon. The instant that the U.S. helicopters departed, and the tank battle was about to begin; a mysterious Shamal (an extraordinary sand and rain storm with thunder and lightning) settled upon the battlefield and completely blinded the Iraqi troops. Despite the miserable weather, the Iraqis remained vigilant for the fight, but could not see the American tanks. Suddenly, in the distance the Iraqis saw flashes. It was our tanks firing at them. Iraqi tanks burst into flames across the line. Several valiant Iraqi troops returned fire, shooting at the gun flashes that they saw in the distance, but their rounds fell short. As more Iraqi tanks exploded into flames, many abandoned their vehicles since they could not fight what they could not see.

Thanks to God’s impeccable timing with the storm, the regiment pressed the attack, despite being out-numbered three to one, and broke the back of the lead Republican Guards division. Had the storm arrived a few minutes sooner, it would have hampered our aviation attacks and a few minutes later would have been too late. The timing was perfect. God’s intervention with this mysterious Shamal saved numerous American and Iraqi lives and played a decisive role in the defeat and rout of Saddam’s best-trained and most motivated troops. The outcome of this one-sided victory contributed to Saddam’s decision to withdraw his two remaining armored Republican Guards divisions.

Power of Prayer

As you can imagine, these were trying times for both the soldiers and their families. Yet for those who loved the Lord, a strange peace filled our hearts, as the Scripture promises:

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).

Through all of the adversity and tribulation that we faced, my wife Rebbie, and the wives of other believers in my regiment, rallied prayer cover for us. The Bill Rudge Ministries and over twenty churches were specifically praying for the protection and safety of the men in my cavalry squadron. Because of this our squadron did not lose one man, even when we had several helicopter crashes, and despite fighting elements of over five Iraqi divisions. This prayer cover played a key role in bringing me, and several others, through the war alive.

Shortly after the cease-fire, my regiment was ordered to occupy forward positions along the Euphrates River near Abraham’s home town of Ur. Even then God continued to protect us. The most important thing to happen both before and after the war was that many soldiers turned to Jesus for salvation. There were no distractions there so you had a chance to think about life and eternity. Many realized that they were missing the key ingredient in life, a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. It is ironic that so many came to Jesus Christ in the heart of the Islamic world.

These experiences during Operation Desert Storm reveal that prayers do make a difference. God’s Word is true. God remains faithful to what He promised.