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|Ky. Baptist back from Afghanistan but still on duty|
By Mickey Noah
Aurora, Colo.—Army Chaplain (Capt.) Jared Vineyard sometimes finds himself much too close to the action.
That was true when he was wounded as an artillery officer in Iraq and later during a one-year stint as a Southern Baptist chaplain ministering to an infantry battalion in Paktika Province in eastern Afghanistan.
Then in July—only his fifth day on the job with his current assignment as a chaplain at Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, Colo.—a dozen people, including an airman and a sailor stationed at Buckley, were murdered by a gunman in a nearby Aurora movie theater. Another 58 were injured.
Once again, the 32-year-old Vineyard, a member of First Baptist Church of Oak Grove near Fort Campbell, was called into action to conduct grief counseling—using every bit of the experience he gained as an Army chaplain in Afghanistan to console the sailor’s family, friends and colleagues.
When he was based in the mountains separating Afghanistan from Pakistan, Vineyard was in a dangerous place. Paktika Province shares a 375-mile border with Pakistan. It’s a crossover point for Taliban insurgents sneaking across the border.
Vineyard wasn’t one to stay in the confines of the base. About 850 soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division were spread out across eight locations throughout the province. Vineyard was chaplain to all of them and would travel weekly by helicopter to bases in remote mountain areas.
“I would do services, baptize, go on patrol with the men and even fill sandbags with them—just trying to have a ministry of presence with them. Then I’d fly out to another combat outpost,” Vineyard said.
“My goal was to hit all the troops and try to have a chapel service for everybody at least once a month and have face time with every soldier,” said Vineyard, who ministered to soldiers of all faiths.
At one base, Vineyard was about to start a service in a ramshackle, plywood chapel. He had just asked for prayer requests when the unmistakable whistle of incoming rockets drove the chaplain and his flock to a nearby bunker.
“The policy was to stay in the bunker and wait for an all-clear signal, but one of the guys said, ‘Chaplain, let’s just finish the service here. We’re here and ready to go.’ So we finished our prayer requests and did our Bible study. The guys thought it was neat to have a real combat Bible study in the bunker.”
During his yearlong tour in Afghanistan, Vineyard saw four of his soldiers killed in battle. Combat deaths “open up a lot of windows of ministry and you become really close to the guys,” he noted. “A key part of the chaplain’s job is to honor the dead, so one of the first things I do is conduct a memorial ceremony for the fallen soldier. I’ll also bring in all the guys and talk about what happened, what they felt and experienced—just let them talk. We’ll pray, and I’ll counsel those who need it.”
During his ministry in Paktika Province, Vineyard baptized 34 soldiers who accepted Christ.
When Vineyard was not conducting chapel services or baptizing, he was counseling. A large number of his counseling sessions were for service members struggling with troubled marriages and relationships. These usually included newlywed soldiers separated from their brides for the first time or older Army veterans who had served as many as three tours in the Middle East—repeatedly separated from loved ones.
Vineyard now lives in Aurora, Colo., with his wife, Amanda, and their three children, Jacob, Katherine and Samuel. He serves as chaplain to the 743rd Military Intelligence Battalion at Buckley Air Force Base, a joint military base. He is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
“Jared is only one outstanding example of 1,450 Southern Baptist military chaplains endorsed by the North American Mission Board for service around the world,” said retired U.S. Army Chief of Chaplains (Maj. Gen.) Douglas Carver, now executive director of NAMB’s chaplaincy services.
Carver said he has established two new strategies for NAMB chaplaincy.
“One, we must do a better job of connecting our chaplains with SBC churches back home,” he said. “Second, we must encourage SBC churches to start ministries for returning military personnel and their families, especially in cities near military bases.”
Vineyard said Carver’s new strategies for NAMB chaplains are right on target.
“It’s just good for chaplains to have that connection with a home church,” he said. “When I first got back to Fort Campbell and wanted a strong SBC connection, we moved our membership to First Baptist Church in Oak Grove.
More military ministries
With thousands of troops recently returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan, Vineyard said he believes it’s time for SBC churches to launch ministries for the military.
“If churches, especially those close to bases, would adopt a ‘How can we serve the military?’ approach, we could reap untold kingdom benefits as the troops come back home.”
Vineyard said he and other service members know there’s a general appreciation in SBC churches for the military. “But it would take that up a notch if a Baptist church showed you in practical ways. It would be eye opening for a lot of military guys.” (NAMB/BP)
Western Recorder issue date: September 25, 2012.
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