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Vet pursues chaplaincy after close call

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Jared Vineyard can’t remember a time when he did not have a sincere interest in the military. When he accepted Christ at a young age during Vacation Bible School at First Baptist Church in Mount Zion, Ill., he sang about being an officer in the “Lord’s Army” — but the United States Army was in his mind as well.

Vineyard worked hard academically and graduated in 2002 from the United States Military Academy at West Point. In January 2003, he was assigned to serve as a field artillery officer and, with his new wife, Amanda, moved to his first duty station in Germany. Four months later, Vineyard was deployed to Iraq.

With “the frills of western civilization” gone, Vineyard’s stint in Iraq became a time of great spiritual growth. His assignment was more of a support role, which left him time to delve deeper into Scripture. He began sensing his life needed to change vocationally, but wasn’t sure how that was possible, since he had a five-year military commitment.

Then, a week before he was scheduled to return home, Vineyard’s unit was told their deployment had been extended indefinitely. His platoon moved to a combat station in Fallujah. On April 29, 2004, Vineyard and his men went out on routine patrol, making safety checks on vehicles in areas where engineers were rebuilding.

About 10 a.m., Vineyard’s platoon had worked so far ahead of the engineers that he ordered the group to halt. He split the platoon in half, sending half the men to a wheat field, while the other half went with him to a country road. They took up a position in a ditch and waited for the engineers to catch up. It wasn’t long before they heard a car coming and, as the vehicle turned toward them, Vineyard had an unsettled feeling. He noticed the car had suspicious tags and he and his men began to get up.

The next thing he knew, Vineyard was in the middle of a fireball. The blast picked him off the ground, and he felt like he had been hit with a baseball bat. Vineyard landed on his hands and knees and he realized he was bleeding. As the smoke began to lift, he could see that most of his men were gone. Eight had been killed; four were injured.

Vineyard began looking for his medic, but all he found was the medic’s bag, still on fire from the blast. Their radio was destroyed, so he shot a flare to get help. As help arrived and the details began to unravel, Vineyard learned that the car he saw briefly was carrying an estimated 500 pounds of artillery shells, TNT and dynamite.

The “baseball bat” he had felt was actually a piece of metal, but his helmet absorbed the worst of the blow. When the explosion occurred, Vineyard was only about 15 feet away from the car, well inside the kill radius of the blast. Yet he had suffered only a gash on his head and a burst eardrum. Vineyard knew God had spared his life.

While waiting to go home, Vineyard began having horrible flashbacks and nightmares. He got down on the floor of the hospital and asked God to “take what was bad and … turn it for good. I pray that I wouldn’t experience this, and that I can use it for your glory.” He has not had a flashback since. And when Vineyard returned to Germany, doctors discovered he no longer needed surgery on his ear. Vineyard went home with his wife, praising God for healing his mind and his body.

During the next year, Vineyard pondered how he would remember the tragic events in Iraq when the April 29 anniversary rolled around. He was certain it would be a solemn day to honor the men with whom he served. God had other plans, however. On April 29, 2005, Vineyard was on his way to a day of training with his unit when he received a phone call that his wife was in premature labor. Their son Jacob was born a few hours later.

On a day he thought he would mourn, Vineyard and his wife instead celebrated the miracle of their son’s life. “God said, ‘You’re not to be sad on this day. This day is to be a day of happiness for you,” Vineyard says.

He still had a sense that God wanted him to change his vocation, but three years still remained on his military contract. Vineyard realized that applying to the army’s chaplaincy program would allow him to end his contract and begin answering God’s call on his life to ministry by attending seminary. His application, which should have been a long shot, was approved in three months.

In December 2008, Vineyard graduated with a master’s degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

Through this whole experience, Vineyard clings the lesson of Matthew 6:33 and keeps his focus on God’s kingdom above all the necessities of daily life.

“God is everything,” he says. “He is before all and He is all. If you keep that perspective … if you put Him first, He is going to take care of the rest.”
Michelle Myers is a writer for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. A video interview with Jared Vineyard is available at http://www.swbts.edu/jaredvineyard.

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  • Michelle Myers