From the Front Lines

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 14, 2006

Sgt. Jared Jenkins’ body may be thousands of miles from here in the deserts of Iraq, but his heart and soul has never left Lawrence County.

This is Jared’s story from the front lines of the War on Terror.

From the beginning

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Long before he was an infantry squad leader fighting for his country in the U.S. Army, Jared was an ordinary kid from small-town Ohio. The 1999 Rock Hill High School graduate loved football, hanging out with friends and having a good time.

After high school, Jared bounced from job to job without a clear direction. Then he realized there was more to life.

“One morning I woke up with a hang over, called off work and laid there in bed. As I was lying there I started thinking about what I was doing with my life. Is this really the life I want?” Jared said via e-mail from an undisclosed station with the Army’s 101st Airborne Division in Iraq. “Now I think back and realize that was the turning point of my life, the moment that I would make a decision that would change my life forever.”

He has spent more than five years in the service — the past two fighting in Iraq — an experience that has touched him in many ways.

“My dad always said you leave Ironton but you always find your way back, and that is true,” Jared said. “So all in all, I have done a complete 180 since I left there in 2001. I grew up a lot and realize how immature and childish I was. My eyes were closed but now they are open and I hope they stay that way.”

Things went fast after his morning epiphany. Jared talked to a recruiter. In January of 2001 he arrived at Fort Benning, Ga., and the start of his new life.

Foreign lands

Two years stationed in Europe helped prepare Jared physically for what was to come next. Nothing could have gotten him ready emotionally, he said.

“In March of 2003, I got the word I was going to Iraq as a infantry soldier. I was happy because that is what we specialize in, war and the tactics of combat. I knew I would be the first in and the last out, but now I look back and see none of us were prepared for what was coming.”

Jared spent a year in Baghdad while the capital city was still a total war zone. Painful memories make that a part of his past Jared simply cannot share.

“Because no matter how much I want people to know what happened, I can’t bring myself to tell that part of the story. People ask me all the time and I just smile because even if I told them, they wouldn’t understand. They wouldn’t understand the bond between us over here.

“It’s like you are brothers and you would die for each other, so when you stand over your good friends and watch them fall, it does something to a man. When I lost one of my best friends there, I was changed forever.”

War has given Jared a new respect for life, always knowing that it could have been him that didn’t make it home. The soldier says the war and combat has helped show him the type of person he should be.

A year passed in the hot, sandy street of Iraq. The young boy who had gone to war was gone. He was replaced by a man who had seen too much in his 20-some years.

A new chapter

Jared came home but things had changed. Ironton was still home but he wasn’t totally happy. He had already made the decision that he would return to Iraq.

It was during a weekend trip home that Jared found that missing part of his life.

Her name was Anna Stewart. Jared knew she was the one.

The couple dated for a while. Tears of wedding joy in July 2005 were replaced by tears of goodbye that September as Jared left for his second tour of duty in Iraq.

But Jared was not the same. Not only was he fighting for his country, now the young man was fighting for his future family.

“She has been the reason I have kept it together so much. She is the reason I fight so hard to stay alive. She is not only my wife but she is my best friend,” he said. “So, you asked me what I miss most? Well, that would be my wife, and of course, my family. “

Awaiting a homecoming

Scheduled to come home this month, the entire 101st was extended into September. Jared should be home by fall, to a family that can’t wait much longer.

“Every time the phone rings in the middle of the night, you just dread to answer it, though it is not as bad as it used to be,” said Jared’s father, Glen. “We just wait, hope and pray.”

“We’re proud of him. We just want him to come home.”

Jared is ready, too.

“Although my time in the army is almost over, I will never forget how war had changed me some for the worse, most for the best. Now, I want to come home and be a good husband and maybe a good father someday.”