When our military men and women are stationed in other countries, and even in combat zones, some choose to continue their education.
Capt. Aaron Gray, a Payson resident and member of the Army National Guard stationed in Afghanistan, decided to take an online course at Gila Community College.
Gray moved to Payson with his wife Kelsey in the summer of 2005 to teach seventh- and eighth-grade math at Rim Country Middle School (RCMS). In the fall of that year, he started at Payson High School teaching pre-algebra, applied math and geometry.
He actively participated in the community as a member of the Payson Choral Society and coordinator for the Link Crew, a freshman orientation and mentoring program.
Before he was deployed to Afghanistan, Gray coached wrestling and football at RCMS and was an assistant on the high school wrestling team that was second in the state in 2006.
Gray signed on for Jacque Le Sueur's Web class -- EDU233, SEI/ESL Methods l.his Structured English Immersion course will provide him with methods to adapt teaching materials for English Language Learners and to explore the role of culture in learning.
"Usually we have afternoons free to ourselves, kinda like a regular work day schedule back in the states," Gray said.
He has chosen to take the class in his free time because it's a requirement to keep his teaching certification.
"I hope to be able to apply some of the techniques readily in my math classes when I come off deployment," he said. It might just help him in working with Afghan nationals, too.
A significant portion of the force in Afghanistan and Iraq continues to come from the National Guard. Capt. Gray is part of a Police Mentor Team sent to advise the Afghan National Police. He joined 15 other soldiers in an Embedded Training Team (ETT). The people on his ETT come from different units all over Arizona. They are considered senior soldiers, being officers and sergeants, first class and above.
Before his unit was sent to Afghanistan, they participated in a threemonth training period at Fort Riley, Kan. They were given CDs and a pocket language guide with key Dari phrases. Dari is the official language of Afghanistan. They also received language instruction from computer programs and from Dari speakers.
"When you are speaking to the Afghans, we can get a lot of information from body language. Some of the words are English words as well."
For example, "If I want to know how many Ford Rangers they have assigned I would ask ‘Chand Rangers?.'" His unit has several interpreters who are Afghan nationals.
"Once here, several members of the team, including myself, were split off on different missions," Gray said.
"I am currently part of what is now a 10-man team in the western province of Ghor, Afghanistan. Ghor is about the size of Vermont, and the 10 of us are responsible for mentoring the 1,000 or so Afghan National Police here."
Capt. Gray advises the logistics officer at police headquarters in Ghor. He inventories their supplies and passes on requests through U.S. channels to his headquarters as a backup to the Afghan system.
Combat is a different story. His unit has been shot at, and experienced a full-on riot directed at their Forward Operating Base. But for the most part, Gray said things are quiet in their region. Nothing like out in the east and southwest of Afghanistan.
Being in Afghanistan has kept him from enjoying the first year of his son's life. Jamison Alexander Gray was born Feb. 5. Gray deployed shortly after his son's birth.
"I am looking forward to seeing him when I come home on leave, so I can accrue more than 21 days in his life."
For as long as Gray is deployed, his wife Kelsey, son, Jamison and two Great Dane dogs live in Florence, across the street from her parents.
"They have been a blessing with all the support for her," he said.
His unit will be in the country for 270 days that started April 30. Gray has spent four months into his nine-month deployment. He looks forward to his return to Payson and reuniting with his family when his tour in Afghanistan is complete.