Friends reflect on the loss of Sgt. Jamie Gray

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(Host) Vermonters found themselves in a sad but familiar ritual this week as they mourned the death of another young soldier killed in Iraq. People in the Montpelier area remembered National Guard Sergeant Jamie Gray as an athlete, a dedicated worker and a trusted friend.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) Jamie Gray lived in East Montpelier and the Gray family has deep roots in central Vermont. A road in Calais is named for one of the Grays. Steven Gray, Sergeant Gray’s father, is Montpelier’s public works director and has worked for the city for about 30 years. Bill Fraser is the city manager.

(Fraser) “People know Jamie just like we know the children of the other employees and he’s around. But certainly we all know Steve very well. He’s a very well liked employee and very well liked person in the community by citizens. He’s really the kind of person that would do anything for you and is always looking to help people, and Jamie just seemed to be the same way. And our heart really goes out to them.”

(Dillon) Jamie Gray was 29, and a 1992 graduate of U-32 School in East Montpelier. He was a skilled mechanic, who worked at a local car dealership before joining the National Guard fulltime.

James Robinson was a classmate of Gray’s. Robinson recalls that Gray helped start the U-32 football team that later went on to win several state championships. Robinson says Gray worked hard to hone his skills on the field. But he says he was just as impressed by Gray’s honesty and hard work.

(Robinson) “I found out first thing this morning and I couldn’t believe it. It’s unfortunate because he really was one of the good guys. In my life, I only got to know a handful of people that you’d consider to be a good guy and he was one of them.”

(Dillon) Mark Chaplin coaches track at U-32. He recalls Jamie Gray as runner who improved steadily through sheer dedication.

(Chaplin) “He took himself from someone who really wasn’t terribly fast as a ninth grader and through just determination and hard work turned himself into a very strong runner.”

(Dillon) Chaplin says Gray tempered his hard work with a fun-loving side as well.

(Chaplin) “He was always willing to do whatever was asked of him, never complained. But you know, he was just fun to be around. He’d always keep the mood light at our intense speed workouts. He just was one of the more determined individuals that I’ve coached. He would just work so hard, and put in a complete full effort every day that he was there.”

(Dillon) Sergeant Gray was killed by a roadside bomb about 50 miles south of Baghdad. His death came two weeks after two other members of his National Guard unit died in combat in Iraq.

Montpelier city manager Bill Fraser says Jamie Gray was close to Specialist Alan Bean, one of the two who died in early June.

(Fraser) “I know they were all in the same unit and one of them in particular was a good friend of Jamie’s. And Steve, in fact, and his wife had gone to Alan Bean’s funeral on Friday, sort of representing Jamie. The whole thing is just really sad.”

(Dillon) Sergeant Gray was the tenth serviceman with ties to Vermont to be killed in Iraq since the war began. Another Vermont solider died of natural causes in Kuwait. Two other members of the Vermont National Guard were injured in Monday’s attack.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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