Monday, September 10, 2007

Army Staff Sgt. Yance T. Gray

Remember Our Heroes

Army Staff Sgt. Yance T. Gray, 26, of Ismay, Mont.

SSgt. Gray was assigned to the 1st Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, N.C.; died Sept. 10, 2007 in Baghdad of injuries sustained in a non-combat-related vehicle rollover. Also killed were Staff Sgt. Gregory Rivera-Santiago, Sgt. Michael C. Hardegree, Sgt. Omar L. Mora, Sgt. Nicholas J. Patterson, Spc. Ari D. Brown-Weeks and Spc. Steven R. Elrod.

Mont. soldier who co-authored critical op-ed piece killed in Iraq
By Matt Gouras
The Associated Press

HELENA, Mont. — A soldier from eastern Montana killed in Iraq earlier this week was one of the authors of a high-profile New York Times editorial critical of the progress being made in the war.

Staff Sgt. Yance T. Gray of Ismay was remembered Sept. 12 as a strong and friendly leader who loved the Army and dreamed of being a soldier his entire life. A member of the 82nd Airborne Division, he died Sept. 10 when the cargo truck he was riding in overturned in Baghdad.

Another co-author, 28-year-old Sgt. Omar Mora, also was killed in the crash.

The Times piece, called “The War As We Saw It,” expressed doubts about American gains in Iraq. “To believe that Americans, with an occupying force that long ago outlived its reluctant welcome, can win over a recalcitrant local population and win this counterinsurgency is far-fetched,” the group wrote.

In the last line, the authors reaffirmed their own commitment: “We need not talk about our morale. As committed soldiers, we will see this mission through.”

Sen. Max Baucus, whose nephew was killed in Iraq last year, said Sept. 11 that he was asking the military for details of Gray’s death.

“I was deeply saddened to learn of another young and clearly gifted Montanan lost to the war in Iraq,” said Baucus, D-Mont. “Our soldiers and their families sacrifice so much.”

Gray graduated with a class of just 18 from Plevna High School. He was one of five students from the class that joined the military, and news of his death spread quickly through the 138-person town, said school secretary Lynette O’Connor.

Plevna is about 19 miles east of Ismay, a town of 25 residents in 2006.

Gray was an avid hunter, played on the school basketball team and was known to be helpful and quick with a smile.

Gray’s friends and relatives said the soldier felt so strongly about the Army that he re-enlisted two or three years ago despite the war. He loved being in uniform, they said, and he was well liked in the community.

Gray, who grew up on a ranch outside of town, believed strongly in the order and structure of the Army, said Marge Griebel, who is married to Gray’s grandfather. She said the decision to write The New York Times editorial must have been difficult.

“I thought it was pretty brave of them to do that,” she said. “It is good that some of us people back here can hear some of those things.

“They must have put a lot of thought and time into that letter before they put it out.”

Griebel called Gray, whose tour of duty was scheduled to finish in November, a hero, and said the family was grief-stricken.

“It was something they knew could happen, but they just kept praying that it won’t,” she said.

A woman who answered the phone at the home of Gray’s parents identified herself as his mother and said the family had no comment.

The parents told their hometown newspaper, the Miles City Star, that they last saw their son two years ago at his graduation from Army Ranger School.

“We always told him, when he was little and kept telling us he was going to be a Ranger in the 82nd Airborne, we’d come see his graduation,” his mother Karen Gray told the newspaper. “So when he did, we had kind of promised, so we had to go.”

His sister, Elizabeth Muri, said Gray never refused a mission or took a day off in Iraq.

“He never did brag about anything,” his father Rich Gray told the newspaper. “A lot of his achievements, you’d hear about them from his wife, but he’d never [talk about them].”

Along with wife Jessica Erin Gray, he is survived by their five-month-old daughter, Ava Madison Gray.

A funeral with military honors was planned at Arlington National Cemetery, and a public memorial service was being organized in Ismay.

On Gray’s MySpace page, family and friends talked about the loss of “an American hero.”

His sister wrote that Gray was “the best brother anyone could ask for. You were always there for me and I promise that we will all do whatever we can for Jess and Ava.”

Another person named Gary wrote that he was devastated by the news.

“I can’t think of a finer example of a man,” he said. “Heaven’s army is going to be in good shape with you leading it.”

Gray, who also went by the name Tell, wrote on his MySpace page that he would like to meet past leaders, including Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln and George Washington.

“I have so many questions for those leaders in our time of need,” Gray wrote.

The Montana native also said he loved hunting, fishing and being a soldier, “otherwise why would I come back.”

He talked about his wife, his little girl and dreams for the future: “Being a good person who others can turn too in times of need. Becoming a great father.”

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., said Gray “embodied the absolute best of America’s soldiers.”

“He clearly had his own views about the conflict in Iraq, but never for one minute allowed those views to prevent him from doing the job that he was asked to perform by our country,” Tester said

Army Staff Sgt. Yance T. Gray was killed in Iraq on 9/10/07.

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