by Capt Donna Kohout, USAF
“So is it good to be home?” people ask me.
I’m torn, because they expect a quick, relieved, “Yes!”
But instead, I hesitate. “Actually,” I say slowly, “I had a great time there.” When asked why, it’s tough not to just say, “God.” I think I have a different perspective on Operation Iraqi Freedom than most people: slightly higher from an F16 cockpit at 28,000 and slightly lower from on my knees in prayer.
I’m still praising God for the opportunity to spend five months in the Middle East, both for the most publicized conflict of our day, and to witness the wonders He was working at Prince Sultan Air Base, where I was living.
Shortly after we arrived, someone questioned why this part of the world never seemed to calm down from all these wars and skirmishes.
I don’t know how to describe the feeling we had that there was a spiritual element to what we were doing. I did a double take when I looked at the maps in the back of my Bible and recognized cities we were flying over–Ur is now An Nasariyah; Dur-Kurigalzu became Sippar which became Baghdad; Tekrit is Tikrit; Babylon is near Al Musayyib, just north of Karbala. And I was living in the same desert where the Israelites wandered. We complain about being there for three months. It’s barren, flat, windy, hot, sandy, and dry-no wonder they complained during their forty years! And they didn’t even have air-conditioned rooms, dining facilities, and a pool!
What an opportunity to meet together as Christians to worship and pray openly from the middle of a Muslim country (Saudi Arabia). A group of us read through the book of Matthew and just discussed whatever stood out to us. It added a new perspective being this close to where all the events we were reading about happened.
For example, it’s cold at night in the middle of winter there. I’d always wondered if it were really cold when Jesus was born, being so near a desert and fairly far south. If He really were born around Christmastime as we celebrate it, yes, it would have been cold in that stable!
And if the restrictive way they treat women in Saudi is anything close to the traditions of Jesus’ day, then it really did go blatantly against the culture when He honored women (such as Mary, the Samaritan at the well, and the woman who touched Him in the crowd).
I wish I could describe the feeling of flying across what we called the TE Line in the months prior to “Night 1” of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The TE Line was just south of the Euphrates River and marked the edge of the settled area. South of that is barren desert. At night, there were no lights to the south, and bright collections of them in the towns CNN made famous–Tallil, As Samawah, Basrah, Al Kut, Al Amarah, Karbala, and Baghdad. It was a privilege to look down and pray for the people.
One clear day I looked down at the rich greens of the valley between two major rivers. There were the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers that I’d learned about in church and school my whole life. If tradition has it right, I might even have been able to see the Garden of Eden from there, if only I had known where it was.
We dropped more leaflets than bombs, especially before OIF started officially, and I wondered how much difference it would make if we dropped Bibles or tracts instead of political leaflets. Not everyone knew that we actually flew over Iraq before OIF started (as we have been doing for the last twelve years), or that the Iraqis have been shooting back at us for all of that time. Granted, they did start shooting a whole lot more once we started flying up over Baghdad. I flew only at night, except for the occasional late evening or sunrise flight, and you can see every bullet and missile launched, near and far away, through the night vision goggles (NVGs).
Try holding two toilet paper tubes up to your eyes, and imagining everything in shades of green, and you’ll be close to viewing the world through NVGs. That may not be a very wide field of view, but the first couple nights, believe me, there were plenty of little green fireworks visible below us. Thankfully, most of what the Iraqis shot was unguided and too small to reach the altitudes at which we fly. However, it is still nothing shy of a miracle that they didn’t shoot down a single plane with all the projectiles they launched over those three weeks, and the sheer number of airplanes in the sky.
I may have officially been a part of OIF, and flown over Baghdad numerous times, but, as we met for Officers’ Christian Fellowship, or praise band, or church, we agreed that we didn’t really feel much like a part of the war. We came home and slept in warm beds in air-conditioned rooms. Granted, there were three or four people per room, and some even lived in the storage room down the hall, but that was hardly considered hardship compared to how the Army troops and Marines lived.
So, like many of you, we supported them the best way we could–in prayer. It really meant a lot to me to see the picture of a group of people–arms around each other–gathered in prayer. God really is everywhere. How amazing to meet in a chapel on a multinational base in Saudi Arabia to celebrate Easter, play Australian songs in a praise band led by a Scotsman, hear the sermon from an American while sitting next to a Brit, and write about it from Japan to friends in Colorado.
It was the beginning of some lasting friendships within the body of Christ, and that is why I say God is the reason I was sad to leave Prince Sultan Air Base behind that stormy Monday night.
Praise God for the safety He has provided to so many of us over the last several months. And continue to pray for the Iraqi people and the soldiers still over there. There is a long and unconventional road still ahead of them. Pray especially for the spread of the gospel now that the doors are open, and that the doors would stay open for a long time as that country is rebuilt.
Thank you for your thoughts and prayers over the last several months.
Captain Donna Kohout, USAF, is stationed at Misawa AB, Japan, where she is assigned to the 350SS as the Wing Logistics officer. Donna says that, “as a single person, OCF has often been the local family I otherwise lack, and a source of comfort and encouragement, both personal and spiritual, in an often lonely overseas assignment.”
This article originally appeared in COMMAND magazine, or an OCF Ministry Report.