Naval officer, crewmates help rescue Americans from Beirut

LIMASSOL, Cyprus — Naval supply officer Ted Kush didn't realize his latest deployment aboard the USS Nashville would include a mission of mercy involving the evacuation of hundreds of American citizens fleeing war-torn Lebanon.

But when the desperate call for help came, LT Kush and his crewmates on the U.S. Navy transport ship responded with everything they had — from their own pillows and mattresses for exhausted families to comforting hugs for frightened kids.

"When we were asked to do this evacuation, we didn't even have enough cots to accommodate the crew," said Kush, a Southern Baptist layman, as he helped another group of U.S. citizens disembark from the ship in the Cypriot port city of Limassol July 23. [Listen to an excerpt of Kush's interview].

"We got a lot more people [coming on board] than we anticipated," Kush said. "The first evening there were mothers coming up to me with small children, asking if I could give them an extra blanket or something. So I'd walk around and try to find a blanket, but that wasn't enough to meet all the needs.

"Later in the evening, I was amazed because there were blankets and mattresses everywhere. The sailors and Marines had actually pulled the mattresses off their own beds so the women and children could have a place to sleep. That happened two nights in a row."

Kush, a member of First Baptist Church in Norfolk, Va., has participated in multiple shuttle trips transporting thousands of U.S. citizens from Beirut to Cyprus in recent days aboard the Nashville. The evacuees included 19 Southern Baptist volunteers from two churches in the United States — First Baptist Church in Forney, Texas, and Eagle's Landing First Baptist Church in Henry County, Ga.

By early July 24, nearly 12,000 American citizens had been transported out of Lebanon, according to the U.S. State Department. Some have been flown out on military helicopters, but most have been aboard the Nashville, the USS Trenton, the Orient Queen cruise ship and other private ships participating in the evacuation operation.

As supply officer, Kush has coordinated providing the American evacuees with food, bottled water and other essentials during the eight-hour crossings. The evacuees' plight has deeply moved Kush and his crewmates.

"I've been in the Navy almost 21 years, and this is one of the most meaningful events I've ever done — just the opportunity to help people," he said. "[We're] just touched by the looks on the little children's faces. It's amazing. A lot of these sailors, you see them in their everyday life, and let's face it, we're in the Navy and sailors talk like sailors. But when you see them carrying the little kids and playing with them, I think God is speaking to them in their own special way as well."

The evacuees include native-born U.S. citizens, Lebanese-Americans with dual U.S.-Lebanese passports, Christians, Muslims, people with no faith at all.

"We've had Muslims and Christians that came together as a result of this," Kush said. "God puts us in mysterious places. I've often said to my Bible study class [at First Baptist Norfolk] that I'm sad that I leave [on deployments] because I don't get to participate in a lot of the events and all, but this is the mission field out here. This is an opportunity to share God's Word.

"It's somewhat challenging because of the different beliefs here — Muslims and Christians together. But I think they know you're Christians by the love you share. This ship has shown a lot of love. Hopefully that will send a Christian message."

Kush and his tough but tenderhearted crewmates are in the middle of their six-month Mediterranean deployment. He misses home, but he's got a message for his wife and his two young sons back in Virginia — and for others back in the United States:

"God bless you, and just let America know that we're proud to be doing what we're doing out here."