Former Sandy kid earns medal for bravery under fire
Sgt. 1st Class Jeffrey Day, who attended Sandy and Barlow High schools in the 1990s, summed up his motives for joining the Army.
'I joined to do something new, and I wanted to blow some stuff up,' he said.
He's actually done a lot more than that, from participating in the invasion of Iraq in 2003 to serving in Afghanistan. Last month, the combat veteran was awarded an Air Medal with Valor for his bravery under fire in Afghanistan on May 25, 2011.
Soldiers and family members gathered in Alabama to honor the Fort Rucker helicopter instructor Dec. 20, according to armyflier.com. Day received the medal for 'exceptionally meritorious achievement in valor that was displayed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom,' the article stated.
Day 'displayed complete disregard for his own safety while initiating multiple engagements against an enemy with superior fields of fire over the friendly forces,' said Capt. Jonathan Britton, operations officer of the Directorate of Evaluation and Standardization. 'His actions were decisive in saving the lives of the soldiers on the ground.'
Crazy or stupid?
Col. David Fee, director of the Directorate of Evaluation and Standardization, told the Fort Rucker audience the story of how Day came to receive the medal.
'We were trying to decide whether he is crazy or stupid,' Fee said, 'but no matter what, most of the great awards were given somewhere in between.'
According to the colonel's account, there was a unit under heavy fire that had run out of bullets and water, and needed an emergency resupply. These supplies are stuffed into bags, called 'speedballs,' which are delivered by aircraft to the unit in need.
'Speedballs are re-supplies that you use when you have either limited ground time or cannot land at all,' Day said in an interview. 'You put the supplies into body bags and kick them out over the re-supply point.'
It was Day's job to get the speedballs off the aircraft and to the unit. When the aircraft got close enough to where the unit was to be re-supplied, Day 'leaps out of the aircraft and starts pulling off the supplies,' Fee said.
Day also unhooked a communications cord from his helmet cutting off his ability to talk to the helicopter crew.
'I made the decision that before I got out of the Blackhawk I was going to unplug from my cord so there would be no chance of the cord getting damaged or me tripping over it,' he said.
While on the ground, he was under fire from both bullets and rocket-propelled grenades.
'When I was getting out of the helicopter I saw bullets impacting the ground,' Day said. 'I could not see any enemy because we were at the bottom of a valley, and they were on the walls of the valley. I could hear the bullets also, but I did not see the (rocket-propelled grenades) until we were flying out of the valley, but could hear them.
While on the ground, 'I saw one of the gunners yelling at me to get back in, but I ignored him for a little bit so I could get the supplies out,' Day added.
'He stayed out there, under heavy fire, just doing his job and unloading the speedballs,' the colonel said. 'Three rocket-propelled grenades came at the aircraft, but he continued unloading the emergency supplies.'
Get outta there!
The soldiers on the helicopter, as well as the ones on the ground, were yelling at Day, 'Get out of there,' Fee added.
Day said he saw the gunner on the chopper motioning him to get in, but he wanted to finish re-supplying the men on the ground.
'The aircraft had six bullet holes in it, and both the ground crew and the air crew felt that the enemies' intentions were to shoot Day,' Fee said. 'The end result is that he saved all the ground guys' lives by getting their supplies to them under a ton of fire.'
Day was succinct when asked why he risked his own life when others wanted him to protect it.
'I was not really afraid at the time; I was just doing what needed to be done,' he said, adding he's been lucky enough never to be wounded in combat.
Day started high school in Sandy but graduated from Barlow in 1995 and joined the Oregon National Guard in early 1996. He has many relatives who live in the Sandy area.
He spent about 18 months drilling out of the Gresham armory before joining the Army in October 1997. In the Army he became an infantryman but 'switched to aviation so I could shoot guns out of helicopters.'
It was a long way from his teenage years in East County. Day attended Sandy High School for two and a half years before transferring to Barlow in the middle of his junior year.
'The biggest thing I focused on in high school was graduating, but I didn't focus too hard on that, I scraped by,' he said. 'I dabbled in baseball and speech in high school but nothing serious.'
He said day-to-day life in Afghanistan consists of getting up, flying around and taking people and supplies where they need to go.
'Often you will do air assault missions with ground forces,' he added. 'The more that aviation flies, the less that people have to drive.'
A battle hardened veteran, Day first deployed to Afghanistan in 2002 for five months, and also did two tours in Iraq, participating in numerous operations and air assaults.
'I have been to Afghanistan twice in the last year and once to Iraq to assist the aviation units that were deployed,' he said. 'The one thing I like about being over there is the fact that everything is real. No training, just real.'
That doesn't mean he doesn't miss Oregon.
'I miss seeing friends and family there,' he said. 'I get to keep in touch with Facebook and calling, but that is not the same.
'The one thing I miss the most is being able to go to a ballgame with my Grandpa Wayne Ray,' he added, noting he is married with a 7-year-old daughter. 'The last time we went and saw a game together was the first year Safeco Field opened in Seattle.'
A mother's love
Day's father, John Day, lives in Haines in Eastern Oregon, and his mother, Deborah Haines, has lived in both Sandy and Gresham and currently resides in Woodburn. She vividly remembers her thoughts on Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists attacked New York City and Washington, D.C.
'When that happened my first thoughts were, 'My son is going to war,' ' she said.
'I've always been very proud of his commitment to his country,' she added. 'You can probably understand that I've always been anxious when he's away from home because of the nature of his job, but in the Army, Jeff found his niche - not many people can say that.'
Currently stationed at Ft. Rucker, Day's current job is assessing the performance of Army aviation units. He left Afghanistan in June shortly after the mission that earned him his medal. When asked why he's stayed in the Army all these years, he chuckles.
'To tell you the truth I don't have anything better to do,' Day said. 'It's either this or being a greeter at Walmart, and this is a lot more fun.'