Author, creator of Shields of Strength shares story
by Rachel Parks, Sentinel Leisure Editor
December 8, 2011
Kenny Vaughan knows what it is like to have fear creep into his life. But he also knows that it?s possible to overcome that fear and come out stronger on the other side. On Saturday, Vaughan visited the Clear Creek Post Exchange to share his inspiring story with Soldiers and their Families.
Vaughan is the creator of Shields of Strength, which are dog tags and other small items inscribed with Bible verses. He is also the author of the ?Shields of Strength? book, which chronicles the story behind the shields.
The story behind the shields started during high-level sports competitions.
?The reason I made the first one is ? I competed for about 20 years as a long-distance water-ski jumper and had a dream of winning a national championship,? Vaughan said.
But fear of failure and disappointment affected him year after year, ultimately leading to a break in his competition. After a hiatus, he decided to return to the sport and pick up his quest for a championship. During his return, he was joined by his girlfriend Tammie, who is now his wife.
?I never told anyone I was afraid, but she just figured it out,? he said.
It was Tammie who inscribed two scripture verses on the handles of his equipment.
?By having that in my hand, all the time ? it eventually got off of there and into my heart,? he said. In 1996, Vaughan won a national championship.
?I wanted a daily reminder, and I couldn?t carry my water ski handle around with me for life,? he said. ?Probably a couple months after winning the nationals, I went by a local military surplus store in Beaumont, picked up a blank dog tag, engraved the scriptures on there and wore them under my shirt.?
It wasn?t long before Vaughan gave his original dog tag away. He said he made it a habit of offering his tag to people he would run across who were lost, hurting or fearful. After he gave each away, he had a new one made. Eventually the dog tags wound up in a few bookstores.
?After Sept. 11, when the first troops deployed to Afghanistan, a couple of Soldiers had gotten a hold of a couple of them and then those Soldier?s battalions all wanted them,? he said, explaining how the shields were quickly picked up by service members in a constant cycle of deployments.
In April 2003, Capt. Russell Rippetoe was killed in Iraq. At the time of his death, he was wearing a Shield of Strength. Vaughan said that Memorial Day, Rippetoe was honored at Arlington National Cemetery by former President George W. Bush, who shared the story
?I never dreamed any of this. I never set out to do any of this,? he said. Vaughan and his wife have watched as approximately 3 million Shields of Strength were produced, many for members of the military and their Families.
?We love what we?ve been given the opportunity to do,? he said. ?It?s just been a very humbling experience.?
To share the story behind the shields, Vaughan wrote a book, which he signed for shoppers at Fort Hood.
?The book is about why we make them and what I learned about fear and the power of God?s word to overcome it,? he added.
Vaughan said he?s humbled he?s able to give something back to the American military.
?What I was fighting paled in comparison to what they?re dealing with,? he said. ?So desperately, I want to do something for these people. I love my country, I love our military. It gives me an opportunity to give them something. Nothing I could ever say could make the difference that one piece of God?s word can make.?
One shopper at the Exchange, Spc. Kristin Beebe, said she hoped the book might make a difference to some of her battle buddies. Beebe is assigned to the 85th Medical Detachment, a combat stress control unit. She spoke to Vaughan and picked up a copy of the book while out shopping with her Family.
?It seems like it would be very beneficial to my colleagues in my unit,? she said, adding that she planned to pass it around her unit after reading it. She even has plans to send the book to friends who are currently in Afghanistan.
?I think this is good for the Soldiers,? she said. ?Maybe they?ll go on the website and find something that they?re looking for.?