Jason Ray’s time spent serving in the U.S. Army has been so beneficial to his life that he wanted to tell someone about it.
The Georgia native got that chance last Saturday at the 13th annual U.S. Army All-American Bowl in Sam Antionio.
Ray, a 1992 Riverdale High School graduate, spent the day serving as a volunteer mentor to some of the nation’s top football players, marching band musicians and color guard members at the annual high school football all-star game sponsored by the Army.
Stationed at Fort Riley, Kan., the 39-year-old admits that he wasn’t always walking on a straight and narrow path. But that gradually changed over the years. And Ray said the Army is largely responsible for his transformation.
“When I graduated high school, I had no goals, no ambitions,” Ray said. “What the Army’s done for me is it turned my life around 100 percent. Put my life in a completely different direction.”
And Ray wanted the students who participated in Saturday’s game to know that the Army could bolster their lives in the same way.
Ray said that each “Soldier Hero” was selected based on awards of valor they received in combat. Ray said he has received a Distinguished Fly Cross, as well as the Purple Heart and a medal of Valor for action in combat in his two deployments to Iraq.
These commendations provided him the ability to mentor kids and plant the seeds of future Army involvement in their lives on a stage that was greater than any other he’d been in.
“As a leader, we have mentored kids coming up,” he said. “But not at that level [of the All-American Bowl]. The exposure that this event gives to the Army and how it allows for the Army to put out its message, I’m thankful that the Army gave me the opportunity to come and give the Army message.”
Ray, and the other Soldier Heroes, were paired up with several players and band members for opportunities to share their Army stories. He said there were other events aside from the game itself — such as a barbecue and an awards ceremony — that gave them extended time to spend with the students.
Ray said he knows that the athletes and musicians who were under the sound of his voice were gifted individuals who, most likely, have multiple career choices.
But Ray said that after 20-plus years in service, he still believes in the power of the Army experience.
And he won’t mind talking about it at any chance he gets.
“In today’s times, this is an excellent route to go,” he said. “I know it has turned out 100% for the good for me. I don’t think life would have turned out as well as it has without this experience.”