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Hero emerges on Iraqi battlefield

By Greg Gelpi

The story reads as if it were lifted from a Hollywood movie script, but the true story tells the heroic actions of a local soldier risking his own life in order to save his fellow soldier's life.

U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer Jason Ray, 31, regained control of his OH-58D(R) Kiowa Warrior helicopter while providing support to ground troops after he, his copilot Chief Warrant Officer Cody Sharp and his helicopter were hit by enemy fire. He brought Sharp to safety moments before the helicopter was blown up.

"It was known to all of us that every flight could be your last but was never talked about," Ray says. The enemy was out there waiting to kill or capture any American soldier and their priority was on a pilot."

He recalls the April 8, 2004, mission near the urban city of Abu Ghraib in Iraq for which he was awarded a Purple Heart and Distinguished Flying Cross. He was shot once in the arm, and his copilot took several shots.

"As an armed reconnaissance helicopter, we were there to kill, capture, find or destroy enemy personnel and/or equipment," Ray says of his mission in support of ground troops. "We were there to support them and keep them out of harm's way. Many times this meant putting yourself in the way of enemy fire to find and destroy anti-Iraqi personnel."

In combat situations, pilots revert to their training, he says. Although his mind was " trying to do a thousand things at once" he and his copilot focused.

"Heroes are what people make them," Ray says. "I do not consider myself a hero. I consider myself part of a team that was doing our job and ended up in a bad situation. We made the best of it and did all that we needed to do to survive. The outcome was not because of me alone. There were numerous friendly ground elements as well as other aircrews that were in contact with the enemy and all contributed to the outcome."

Ray describes the relationship between a pilot and his copilot as one of "trust and communication."

"You have to almost know what the other is thinking and going to do, he says. "I feel that both of us together, with the lord, saved our lives... We will always have a special friendship and will always keep in touch no matter where we are stationed."

Military reports recount the mission in which the two were injured.

"With his right-seater incapable of flying the aircraft due to his injuries, CW2 Ray took the controls using his left arm only and regained control of the aircraft during the descent," the report states. "Although the injuries CW2 Ray sustained prevented the use of his right arm, he maintained the presence of mind to select a suitable landing area and maneuvered the heavily damaged aircraft to execute an emergency landing in a small open area in the city. Prior to impact, CW2 Ray arrested the descent with his left hand on the collective and manipulated the cyclic with his knees to maintain a level altitude. During the descent, the aircraft spiraled four times and landed hard in an upright position."

Still taking fire, Ray moved Sharp to a covered location and provided medical treatment shortly before the helicopter was destroyed by rocket-propelled grenades, the report continues.

"For his undaunted courage under intense enemy fire during multiple close combat attacks in support of friendly grounds forces who were in heavy contact, his superb skills as an aviator landing a severely damaged aircraft while impaired and his decisive actions on the ground to save his crew member, CW2 Ray was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Purple Heart," a report states. "The actions of CW2 Ray throughout the landing sequence, his evasion of enemy capture and his medical treatment of CW3 Sharp, without a regard for his own injuries or safety, demonstrates the highest degree of selfless service, valor and heroism and resulted in saving the life of his crew member."

The bullet wound sidelined him for two weeks, but then Ray returned to the battlefield to finish his one-year stint in Iraq.

"I guess he just thought he needed to follow his brother," his mother Jan Brown, 54, says of his entry into the military. "He's always been a quiet reserved person."

She recalls crying when Ray, the last of two children to leave home, told her in October 1992 of his decision.

"I expressed my wishes that he wouldn't because I know it's dangerous, but I support him," Brown says. "If you're a military mom, you know it's the profession they chose. You don't have to like it, but you have to accept it."

Ray's older brother is also in the Army. His father, grandfather, stepfather, father-in-law and wife have also served in the military.

"After graduating high school in June 1992, I decided that since I had no real ambition to work, go to college or do much of anything I needed something that would give me a future," Ray says of his enlistment. "It is the best thing I could have done with my life and would encourage other kids whose futures are not yet planned to consider joining the military."

Ray has recovered and continues to fly.

He is a Riverdale High School graduate with two stepsons and a daughter.

Everyday People is a regular feature of the News Daily. If you know someone in the community who you think should be profiled in this feature, contact Assistant Managing Editor Bob Paslay at (770) 478-5753 ext. 257 or at bpaslay@news-daily.com .