August 31st is always a really tough day for me. It's my daughter's birthday to celebrate but also the day my close friend and brother in arms, SGT Raymond Alcaraz, died. I had previously posted a dedicated webpage in his honor when I was running my armyOTguy.com site. Now that I've transitioned to my new site, I wanted to keep his memory fresh. Here's a reposting from my initial writing in 2010 after Ray lost his life:
It’s so hard. Behind all our smiles and laughs there is still an element of fear. Many of us won’t admit to fear for ourselves, but for our friends. Fear for our families and fear of the “what if?” You can’t imagine the bonds that you make with people you go to war with. I made one of those bonds with an incredible Soldier, Medic, and Friend over the past 8 months.
On 31 August 2010, SGT Raymond Chavez Alcaraz Jr. was killed in an IED blast. I can’t pass my emotions to you so that you might understand. It’s a feeling that I could never expect to have. An event that I could never anticipate having to face. I guess I was a bit naive in thinking that we’re untouchable. Turns out that’s not the case.
I have done my grieving and continue to hurt, but I smile and laugh with my Army family here. The memories that we get to share are priceless. The last several days have been hard, but we’ve grown so much closer through his death. I smile when I see him and I’m honored to have known him. Several of us close to him sat out last night and joked about the memories and all of our foolishness. I wanted to do my own personal memorial for Ray on the website. I want you to know how incredible a guy he was and the memories that I have of him. It’s people who make this worth it. Relationships that will last once we’ve gone. Stories that we can tell our families. Memories of our tears. Memories of our laughs. Memories of our Heroes.
I continue to enjoy Ray through song. One of my favorites that he used to like is a song titled “Tidal Wave” by “Longwave.” Most of you probably haven’t heard of it so I just decided to embed it in the page. Click below to enjoy.
This deployment has taught me so much about how much we depend on each other. The story about him dying is a bit more intense than you may know. I found out that his truck was hit by an IED early in the morning. I didn’t think all that much of it because it’s such a common thing around here. Most of time, the guys are just a bit banged up and that’s about it. As a matter of fact, Ray was hit a couple months before. I used to joke with him about getting a purple heart because of a “concussion” that he never actually had.
He would always say “CPT Johnson, I think I’m having some memory loss,” or “I think my balance is off a bit.” The morning of the 31st, I actually was going to rag on him a bit and threaten to send him to Bagram for a CT Scan. I knew something was wrong when I went over to the C Med tents. We were having a massive blood drive and there were more people waiting in line to give than I had ever seen. Anybody and everybody was flooding over to help. When I finally realized what was happening, It hit me....and hit me hard.
After Ray died, we all wept. I remember collapsing to the ground and sobbing. The chaplain came over and just held me and cried with me. It was the hardest day I have ever experienced. I hurt for myself, I hurt for my friends, and I hurt for Ray’s family. This would never be something that was easy to talk about. Our little Army family came together and just wept. It was so hard. We all felt this huge hit and just never saw it coming. 31 August 2010......
Earlier in the year, when Ray got back from his R&R, he had a bunch of new tattoos. We laughed at him because they were all song lyrics. When I started reading them, and I had to admit that they were actually “really good” song lyrics. The one on his inside forearm is from one of my favorite bands and was one of my favorite songs. It’s definitely hard to listen to now, but I still love it. It will forever remind me of us ragging on him about it. The song is “Everlong” by “Foo Fighters.” Click to hear it.....oh, and the lyrics on his arm say “If everything could ever feel this real forever.”
We all used to laugh at Ray because how hard he worked on his physical appearance. He definitely had an incredible smile. His white teeth would blind us all the time and we would constantly bug him about using crest whitening strips. Max, Ray, Jeremy, and Will were always in the gym trying to out do each other. The constant battle of who’s getting bigger faster. Teresa and I always laughed at them for wasting their money on protein supplements, NO Explode, and Epistain. They all call us Mom and Dad. Teresa and I really love it because we do feel like their “Deployed Parents.” Ray was the “good son” because he grew up, got a job, and wasn’t living at home (in reality, he just went out on missions with Alpha Company). Max is the older brother, and we called him a dead beat because he was still living at home with Mom and Dad. We always said, “Why can’t you be more like your brother.” I saw some really great pictures at one point in a photo spread called “Night Ops.” I had told Ray that we have to do these! He was totally game, of course, because he liked cool pics of himself. It was a while before he went out at night, but when the chance finally came, he ran up and said “CPT Johnson, we’re going tonight! Be here at 2230. We had a lot of fun taking them and we laughed the whole time because he wouldn’t sit still. Here’s the pics that came out of it. Note the super white teeth when he smiles.
Our battalion held a memorial for Ray on the 3rd of September. We knew that the emotions would flood back, and they did. There’s a “final roll call” that they do where they call out names and then eventually the hero. When they did this for Ray, I lost it. 21 gun salute followed and I wept. We all did. Such a powerful moment. Here’s all of us with him one last time....
We were honored to see the respect that everybody gave our fallen Heroes. The memorial was an incredible mix of emotion. Joy for his life but pain because we miss him. The laughter of our memories, but tears that we won’t share any more.
So this is our crew.....with Ray in our hearts. Ashley, Jeremy, Max, Eric, Jon, Will, Teresa, and me. We can still smile with him and tease him. It still hurts, and I want to see him roll through the doors at Patient Hold. We love and miss you, Ray. You’re amazing and we won’t ever forget your sacrifice.
“This is a night we won’t forget, and I still don’t know how bee’s do it (you know........fly with honey all over them).