Officials Welcome Assistance
Day after day, torrents of rain drenched the coastal hill country surrounding Caracas, Venezuela. Suddenly, in the predawn hours of December 17, 1999—disaster struck! Massive mud slides roared down the hills, leveling all of the buildings in their paths. Thousands of homes, trees, and people went tumbling down the hillsides, through the cities, and out into the ocean.
Monstrous boulders tore through homes and cars in their paths. The mud slides were so massive that a 60-mile stretch of coastline was extended 100 yards into the ocean by mud and debris.
The death toll is staggering. Thirty thousand are known to have been killed, and between 100,000 and 400,000 are still missing. Forty-five thousand families are homeless. Six cities were devastated, and three more were severely damaged.
In the face of such a disaster, it seems incomprehensible that officials in Venezuela would reject millions of dollars of aid from the United States. However, that is precisely what happened.
Yet, on January 11, 2000, an official from Venezuela wrote a letter to Colonel Fuhrman requesting that an ALERT team be sent to their ravaged cities to help the stunned and devastated survivors. Delta Air Lines, Inc. graciously provided 20 free tickets for their travel.
When they arrived, they were assigned with about 20 Venezuelan soldiers to a military base near the ocean. They seized any opportunity to serve, such as digging out widows’ houses, clearing streets, cutting down broken trees, and rebuilding damaged homes. However, it seemed that unexplained barriers and delays hindered the ALERT men from accomplishing all that they wanted to do. During their off-duty hours, they conversed with the soldiers and had friendly competitions in soccer, basketball, and arm wrestling. During one of these “contests,” an ALERT man fell and cut his chin. The soldiers were impressed with his cheerful response. The soldiers also observed responses of the ALERT men to their living conditions and toward each other.
Meals consisted of rice, sardines, and tuna. The heavy canvas tents had no floors or screens. Opening the canvas doors provided better ventilation, but also more mosquitoes. They did their laundry by hand and endured the flu bug that ran its course through the team. They met all of these challenges with cheerfulness and gratefulness. During this time, a lieutenant and private from the Venezuelan military were led to the Lord.
After two weeks, the governor of Vargas reassigned the ALERT team to the Search and Rescue Coordination Center, run by the Civil Defense. This is the most highly respected response organization in Venezuela; it was an honor to join them.
When the ALERT men arrived, one of the Civil Defense members pointed to the injured ALERT man and said, “So you’re the one who did the push-ups!” It soon became obvious that the ALERT men had been closely watched and their responses reported to others.
The ALERT men passed the test of character and were allowed to work side by side with the Civil Defense team. The American flag on the shoulders of their uniforms became a public relations program, used by the government to calm the reaction of many Venezuelan citizens who were angry that the government did not accept U.S. aid.
During a meeting with the state’s director of education, Captain Tanner was asked if the Institute could provide a character-training program in the city’s school system. The ALERT team had not only passed the test of character, but had caused the government to want these young men to train their students to be like them.