Sgt. Adam J. Ray entered the Army in a noncombat role but yearned for the long marches, the weaponry and the front-line missions.
So in April 2008, Ray changed from hospital patient administration to the infantry. He left in July for Afghanistan with his Joint Base Lewis-McChord Stryker brigade.
And on Feb. 9, a roadside bomb killed the 23-year-old Kentucky native.
His work in Afghanistan “was nothing short of excellent,” Capt. Nicholas Carlton, the rear detachment commander, said in a memorial service Wednesday, at the local base.
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Ray died in southern Afghanistan as his battalion moved from Kandahar to Helmand province to join the largest offensive operation of the nine-year war. Operation Moshtarak, a joint NATO-Afghan mission to clear Taliban insurgents from the Marjah region, began four days after Ray’s death.
Speakers at the memorial service gave little indication as to what caused Ray’s death, but his parents said in a statement that military investigators told them their son was clearing a culvert so his unit could pass safely over it.
“We find some comfort in knowing that one of Adam’s very best friends, Sgt. David Jones, was with him until the very end and tells us that Adam continued to crack jokes and laugh with them,” Jim and Donna Ray wrote.
His parents attended Wednesday’s ceremony, as did his sister Amanda and brother Seth. Ray is also survived by another sister, Elizabeth, and brother, Zachary.
Thirty-three soldiers from the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division have died since the unit deployed to Afghanistan in July 2009. Ray’s death is the first for the 4th Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment since three soldiers died in a roadside bomb attack on Sept. 24.
Ray wanted to join the Army after visiting a World War II museum when he was in the third grade, his parents said. He enlisted in April 2005 and served in South Korea after training. He transferred to Madigan Army Medical Center in February 2007 and trained as an infantryman the next year.
“It was the young male charge,” Spc. Daniel Nye said of Ray’s decision to switch specialties. “He had a desire to do things a little more focused, to do things our style. He liked the discipline. It was a pride thing, really, and he was glad he did it.”
The two became friends when Nye was told to help Ray, the brigade’s newest arrival, move into the barracks. They grabbed lunch afterward.
“Although I’m hard-pressed to remember the exact conversation, I do remember grilling about why, when all is sane in this world, he chose to re-class to infantry,” Nye said during the eulogy. “It was a long conversation full of laughs and at the end I told him I was glad he decided to come over to the dark side.”
Nye returned from Afghanistan about a month ago for health reasons. He said Ray’s humor helped them get through tough times in Afghanistan.
Ray also was slow to anger, had a knack for socializing with people from different backgrounds and learned bits of the local language so he could speak with Afghans, his friend said. The two took care of stray dogs they found hanging around their base and planned to travel to Europe after the deployment.
“Bottom line: He was a great guy, and he will be missed,” Nye said.
Scott Fontaine: 253-597-8646