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December 26, 2013

Will Sudanese War, Hunger Ever Stop?

Harry M. Covert

The travesty and tragedy of civil war, hunger and famine continues in Africa in the midst of the Christian holiday celebrations. The latest eruptions of murder and mayhem are in The Sudan. This time fighting between rebels, farmers and shepherds in the in the new nation of South Sudan.


Broadcast news is flooded with reports of southern Sudanese trying to escape the warfare. American Marines, some 3,000 or so in battle dress, are waiting to storm the south and rescue stranded American aid workers.


As always the people suffer. American and international non-governmental agencies have been attempting to find food and medicines for the hungry and sick; and there are thousands. Many charities from the U. S., The Netherlands, Great Britain and Scandinavia are on the job and have been for a long time.


Do the needs ever get better in that part of the world? The answer seems NO. Remember the death and destruction in Darfur? As soon as one area calms a bit, outbreaks hit the news big time. It's an old story in Sudan.


The latest war zone matters to people of Frederick because many will be asked to help feed, clothe and provide medicines and doctors.


A few years ago I took advantage of an Iraqi military helicopter and crew for a humanitarian mission in Sudan. Unfortunately, Sudan later sided with Iraq against the U.S. despite its need for massive help to feed millions of dying people. They still suffer today.


For the record, a friend arranged my commissioning as a Kentucky Colonel in 1983. I had no idea then how important it would become.


In May 1989, I was in Sudan, Africa’s largest country, organizing distribution of emergency relief and medical supplies. The Sudanese army assistant chief of staff authorized use of a gigantic Canadian military helicopter, big enough to carry thousands of pounds of emergency relief supplies.


The helicopter was to take our humanitarian team to villagers near El Obeid. This arrangement was a special coup since flight costs would be absorbed by the Sudanese government, and our organization could use that money to provide more relief supplies.


Arriving at Khartoum Air Force Base at 6:30 A.M. on a rare cool spring morning, our Sudanese army colonel escort introduced the Americans to the helicopter’s pilot and copilot, who happened to be an Iraqi major and captain, respectively.


Dressed in military-type khaki desert clothes, normal attire for this kind of operation, I saluted the Iraqi officers, primarily as a courtesy. I showed the crew the medicines and food. They loaded the helicopter. I went over the flight plan with the pilot, pointing out the destination. With a modicum of authority, I turned to our team and "ordered" them to board.


Flying south over the desert, the major came back to the cargo department and pointing to me, "Military man?" "Yes," I answered, "Kentucky Colonel." My colleagues laughed.


Their snickers were drowned out by the whirring noise of the cargo helicopter’s rotor blades. The major snapped to attention, saluted smartly and did an about face that would impress any military officer.


Landing at the small airport, the feeble attempt at humor was taken seriously. In fact, the five-man airport police unit awaited on the tarmac. As "ranking officer," the pilot-major invited me to de-plane first to salutes and of khaki dressed Sudanese airport policemen for a de facto inspection. There was no time to explain my commission, so I stepped off the helicopter and performed the "official duties."


Needless to say, the relief effort went off well that day. The police provided us with a three-truck convoy. They accorded me the honor of sitting in the cab of the truck. My colleagues, who helped provide the supplies, were relegated to the rear, sitting uncomfortably atop the boxes of relief aid.


We made a courtesy visit to the local governor in El Obeid, then on to a straw-hut village some miles from the airport, spending the afternoon working with more than 500 hungry and hurting villagers appreciative of our food and medicine.


Returning to Khartoum late in the day, exhausted from the work and heat, a tall Sudanese major general drove us to the hotel.


Away from the others, he presented me his ivory-tipped swagger stick, symbol of his authority. He was making certain that I reported positively about the cooperation we’d received from his government. He figured I was a CIA man. I told him the only intelligence I was gathering were the numbers of sick and starving people.


On my last trip a few months later, the general introduced me to a young brigadier. Tea was brought in and a hand-made brief case presented.


A few hours later my host drove me to the hotel urging me to leave for the airport the next morning, even though I was scheduled to remain for another week. At 7 in the morning, I was whisked to the airport, put board a Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt.


Six hours later news broke that Brigadier Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir had led a bloodless coup. Since October 1989, he remains in charge and is president and Field Marshal.



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