FORT BENNING, Ga. (WTVM) - As we approach Memorial Day and remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice, a chaplain on Fort Benning knows about those losses first-hand. He shared his story from a deadly explosion to faith and redemption.
Chaplain Maj. Jared Vineyard of the Maneuver Center of Excellence, took us back to 2004: “We were doing security for them and they were sniffing out IEDs.”
Alongside U.S. Army engineers near Baghdad Iraq, the artillery officer and platoon leader was on the side of the road with his unit. He said there was a vehicle approaching and something didn’t seem right.
“I remember the last thing I said to the soldiers that were around me was ‘OK guys, let’s...’ and that’s the last thing that came out of my mouth. The next thing I knew, I was in the middle of a fireball," Vineyard described.
The explosion threw him in the air, shredding his helmet and ear drum. He said they later discovered the vehicle had about 500 pounds of dynamite, TNT, and artillery shells just packed into it.
Most of his comrades were killed that day. Vineyard said it was a miracle he survived.
“I’m thankful to be alive, but I have eight fellow soldiers that aren’t. And so I had sort of set in my heart that this was going to be my own personal Memorial Day. Right before that explosion happened, I’d had the piece of paper in my hand,” Vineyard said.
He’s talking about a scripture he wrote down and was memorizing as a young soldier. Sixteen years later, he’s carried that note with him every day since. On it is Psalm 27:4, which Vineyard quickly quoted.
“It’s one thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek, that I will dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life. That verse was running through my head, literally in my hand as I was watching the vehicle approach," Vineyard remembered.
Back then, he was already feeling the call into ministry. And Vineyard said God healed him from the nightmares about that deadly deployment.
“My prayer was, Lord take what was meant for evil and use it for good," Vineyard said.
That good included temporarily leaving the Army for seminary and to be a Baptist youth pastor in Texas. Fast forward to now, Vineyard is an Army chaplain on Fort Benning where he provides religious support and counseling to military across the spectrum, including online chapels lately.
“When soldiers come to the chaplain, there’s no religious test. We talk to soldiers who are of any faith or no faith,” he said.
His job is helping soldiers with the stress from deployments, marriages, and unusual circumstances like COVID-19, making a comparison with the latest crisis.
“That’s what combat is, fear and uncertainty. So, when you put the pandemic on top of it, what is this? It’s fear and uncertainty," Vineyard said.
Throw in another word: redemption. Vineyard, now a father of six, remembers his first son Jacob being born. It was one year to the day, even to the minute, after the blast in Iraq that killed his friends.
“The worst day of my life became one of the best," he said
Go to wtvm.com/podcast to hear the full conversation with Vineyard on the 25th episode of the Run the Race podcast.