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Courage and valor: Receiving the blessings of the temple before going to war

Published: Sunday, May 26 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

Miss Utah Jill Stevens Shepherd has a photo taken with veteran Bob Stembridge at the VA Hospital in Salt Lake City Feb. 13, 2008. Shepherd shares her military experience in Miss Utah Jill Stevens Shepherd has a photo taken with veteran Bob Stembridge at the VA Hospital in Salt Lake City Feb. 13, 2008. Shepherd shares her military experience in "Saints at War: Inspiring Stories of Courage and Valor." (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

Editor's note: This is an excerpt from "Saints at War: Inspiring Stories of Courage and Valor", published by Cedar Fort this month, which includes stories shared about members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who served in the armed forces. Click here for more about the book.

We left Fort Carson, Colo., in January 2004, and we were about ready to go to Afghanistan in April. During this time, my bishop thought it fitting, right before going to Afghanistan, he said, "Jill, I really feel you should be endowed. I really think you need to go to the temple."

I was 21 at the time, and I was gone 17 months instead of 18 months with all the training involved and everything, and it was like a mission. It really was. My ward sent me off and had a missionary plaque, and I had on my plaque Doctrine and Covenants 68:6, which reads, "Wherefore, be of good cheer, and do not fear, for I the Lord am with you, and will stand by you; and ye shall bear record of me, even Jesus Christ, that I am the Son of the living God, that I was, that I am, and that I am to come."

Miss Utah Jill Stevens (Shepherd) wears an American Legion hat and jokes around with Utah National Guard Staff Sgt. Kelly Collett, left, and Cadet Casey Staheli as she poses for a few photographs Jan. 25, 2008, prior to attending a black tie dinner the night before the Miss America Pageant in Las Vegas. Shepherd shares her military experience in Miss Utah Jill Stevens (Shepherd) wears an American Legion hat and jokes around with Utah National Guard Staff Sgt. Kelly Collett, left, and Cadet Casey Staheli as she poses for a few photographs Jan. 25, 2008, prior to attending a black tie dinner the night before the Miss America Pageant in Las Vegas. Shepherd shares her military experience in "Saints at War: Inspiring Stories of Courage and Valor." (Keith Johnson, Deseret News)

I knew that I should be of good cheer and should have no fear going to war and preparations to go to Afghanistan. I was endowed in April, right before going to Afghanistan.

I'm so grateful to have made those covenants in the temple and to have that knowledge to that perspective of helping me, and giving me that strength of the gospel, of the promises and the blessings of the temple with me at all times and to be reminded of that through the garments. I felt protection, period. Just with faith in general.

Yes, at first I was terrified in going to war, but once that perspective changed for me, realizing that I should put my faith in God and in this whole experience, I knew that I was protected. I knew that so many prayers were for the soldiers over there. I felt that being a soldier in the Lord's army, and with these garments I felt that in a way it was my armor. I was putting on my armor as a soldier in the Lord's army. I guess this is the way to do it.

Jill Stevens was a member of the Utah Army National Guard when the events of Sept. 11, 2001, occurred. She served for 18 months in Afghanistan during 2004–05. Following this service, she participated in and won the Miss Utah Competition in 2007. In 2008, she competed in the Miss America Pageant and won the "America's Choice" award as voted by Americans watching the event. For her, it was like winning the gold medal. In January 2009, she married Kerry Shepherd.

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