Guardsman returns from Iraq, injured in wreck

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 7, 2006

After two months spent serving in Iraq, John Jernigan of Greenville was looking forward to coming home to a little peace and quiet and time with his family.

Little did the National Guard soldier know what would happen less than 12 hours after touching down at Dannelly Field in Montgomery.

Last Thursday night, September 28, Jernigan, a chief master sergeant with the 187th Squadron, was driving his daughter, 16-year-old Kayla, and her friend, Rian Roman, 15, home from the Butler County Fair.

&#8220I was coming down Highway 10 East about 9:30. I had slowed down and put on my left turn signal to pull into Rian's house,” Jernigan said.

That's when a transfer truck from Mississippi &#8220came out of nowhere” and struck the Jernigan's 2002 Pontiac Montana mini-van.

&#8220None of us saw any headlights. It all happened so fast.”

Although the vehicle was totaled, no one, including the driver of the truck, sustained any serious injuries. They were discharged from the hospital the following day.

Kayla received stitches for a wound in the back of her head and both girls suffered whiplash and contusions. Jernigan said he is &#8220pretty much OK.”

&#8220I'm just feeling more sore than I've ever felt. We were all wearing seatbelts. If we hadn't, I don't think we would have come out nearly so well.”

After two months of hearing gunshots and mortar shells pounding away in a war zone, Jernigan's return home was certainly anti-climactic.

&#8220You're relieved to finally get back home, and then this happens. It's pretty ironic.”

Jernigan, who was in charge of &#8220making sure the right equipment was in the right hands” of those repairing and maintaining military jets, said his experience overseas serving his country has been an eye-opening one.

&#8220Our guys are getting hurt everyday. I decided to volunteer in my free time at the hospital, which is like a MASH unit, and also to deliver MREs and water to the guys. You do what you can to help.”

He sees many Iraqi citizens who are simply trying to keep body and soul together for their and their families' sakes.

&#8220We pushed the boundaries of our fences around the base out far enough to get a good view in all directions. The locals would come up as close as they could get to the fences and plant vegetables, just enough for their families,” Jernigan said.

&#8220Everyone isn't a terrorist in Iraq. There are a lot of regular folks just trying to survive.”

As for Jernigan, he is happy to be have survived a very sudden and unexpected ordeal right here at home.

&#8220The driver of the truck has called several times and he's been extremely nice. We are all going to be O.K.”