“Sitting alert” is not just an opportunity for people in the military. First responders are experts at reporting for work, then being available for an immediate response to some crisis. Firefighters, ambulance crews, police officers are among those who are outstanding examples of a group of people who have committed their lives to serving others by being in the “hot seat” to answer the call, 24/7.
I had two flying assignments in the Air Force that required that we sit alert. In 1970, I was stationed at Keflavik Air Base, Iceland, in an EC-121 Super Constellation. It was the Airborne Early Warning aircraft that was responsible to “watch the horizon” for any attack from our adversaries. We deployed to Iceland so that we could respond to any Russian aircraft that were headed toward the United States. We would track them and call the fighters/interceptors to deter any aggression that might occur. Now you have to realize that “scrambling” an EC-121 is not as exciting as it sounds. The aircrews were available around the clock for any “launch command.” The airplane, however, was a big, propeller-driven aircraft that had to be kept in a warm hanger so that the “moving parts” would move when called upon. So, when the siren went off, the crew ran to the alert vans and raced to the hanger. About an hour later we were sliding down the icy runway heading toward the Russian bears that were coming our way.
It was possible to spend an entire four-month deployment to Iceland and never be scrambled. Or, one’s crew may get several calls a week to get that “Connie” into the air. When we were not scrambling, or flying a training mission over the North Atlantic Ocean, we were sitting alert. We spent our first weeks of that deployment playing a board game named Risk. When we got tired of that game, we switched to the card game bridge. Some of the crew were really good bridge players (they must have grown up in Charleston). I was just learning the game and was often the real “dummy” at the table. As anyone who has sat alert knows, the sitting alert is usually harder than actually getting out there on a mission.
My second assignment that required me to sit alert was in Vietnam. In 1972, I was flying the HH-53 Super Jolly Green Giant rescue helicopter out of DaNang Air Base. Our sitting alert time was down on the flight line. When the siren went off, it meant an aircraft was shot down and the crew needed to be picked up, usually out of the jungle, sometimes, out of the ocean (“feet wet”). We had to get the helicopter off the ground in minutes. There was no time for board games or bridge tournaments. We did play a little ping-pong in the hanger, but our boots were on and the aircraft “cocked” and ready to go. We did have training missions as well and were ready to join the Jollies on alert to respond to a downed pilot. I treasure that time of being available to help rescue our fellow Americans and allies in Vietnam.
As one person in the pew asked, “What’s the point, chaplain?” Well, God has called all of us followers to “sit alert” in the Kingdom’s work.
My wife Anne and I just saw the movie The Case for Christ. It is a tremendous story about the conversion of the one-time atheist Lee Strobel to faith in Christ. According to the movie, the Strobels (Lee, wife and daughter) were in a restaurant having dinner. Their daughter went to the candy machine and bought a large gumball. When she swallowed it, it got caught in her throat and she could not breathe. “Luckily,” a nurse was at a nearby table and was able to rub her back in the right way to extract the lodged candy.
When the Strobels offered their sincere thanks, the nurse responded with something like, “It was God’s plan for me to be here tonight.” She explained that she was planning on going to another restaurant, but felt God leading her to be there. That began the conversation for the Strobels’ journey to faith in Christ. The nurse was not only ready to perform the needed procedure to dislodge the candy but was also ready to tell the Strobels the wonderful news of God’s redeeming love and plan of salvation. The Strobel family was not even close to wanting to hear the Gospel message that night in the restaurant. But God’s grace provided this “rescue mission” that had eternal blessings.
The result of that nurse’s availability to using her life’s skill and sharing her heart’s devotion to Jesus Christ was that countless people have read one of the most outstanding arguments for believing, as Lee Strobel wrote, The Case for Christ.
The Apostle Paul told Timothy, “Preach the word; be ready in season and o
ut of season; reprove, rebuke and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” (2 Timothy 4: 2). It is like sitting alert. Do the work He has called you to do — flying airplanes, putting out fires, saving lives at accidents … being a teacher, preacher, lawyer, air conditioner repair person. And share the Gospel message that “Christ died for our sins … He was buried, that He was raised on the third day ... and that He appeared ... also to me.” (1 Cor. 15:3ff)
Then, after “sitting alert” for your life, you can say with Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4: 7). As the loudspeaker used to scream in the hangers at DaNang Air Base, “SCRAMBLE!!!”
Chaplain Charles C. Baldwin (major general, USAF, retired) is an ordained Southern Baptist minister. He and his wife, Anne, have been married for 46 years and have three married children and ten grandchildren. They are members of the First Baptist Church, Charleston, S.C.