All photo’s and Website © 2012 JimSpiri.com, All Rights Reserved
April 25, 2012…Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA…Today
was a bitter-sweet day. All my friends from the New
Mexico National Guard that I was honored to be
embedded with in Afghanistan recently, returned home.
It was a beautiful sight to see. Family, friends,
neighbors, co-workers and hundreds of other local
folks all turned out to welcome home some New Mexico
heroes. I found my way onto the tarmac to the place
where each soldier stepped off the plane. I shook
hands with many and hugged some familiar faces. It's
good to have them home.
I've been home now for a little less than three weeks.
All the decompression stuff has taken place, more or
less. I still don't like going out in traffic but, such is
life. The wife and I are both settled into our home
routines and it is nice to have a glass of wine in the
evening together. The little things are really the sweet
A week or so back, I had been monitoring some news. I
saw where a medevac helicopter had gone down in
Helmand province which immediately caught my
attention. I did my calculations and realized that all the
New Mexico guys I had been with were finished with
their duties and were not flying at that moment.
However, they were still in Afghanistan at that time.
As time went on reports kept coming in that four
soldiers had been killed in the crash of the Blackhawk
helicopter. A chill went up my spine. I began to seek
further information of just which aircraft it was. Upon
continued inquiries with various sources, I came to
learn that the helicopter that went down was from the
troops of the 25th ID that were stationed out of Hawaii.
That is when another chill ricocheted through my body.
I had been on a helicopter in late February heading from Kandahar to places beyond, including, Camp Dwyer, that was flown
by a crew from Hawaii. I remembered it well. I thought back to that day and the pilots that flew me. I recalled immediately
one in particular because he was Hawaiian and we talked at length. I even remembered stopping at forward operating base
Edinburgh to drop off supplies which eventually would be my final destination in the days to follow.
I talked at length to a young pilot from Hawaii named Chief Warrant Officer 2, Mr. Don Viray.
I was struck by his youthful appearance and his superb skills as an aviator. He was 25-years-old. We both chatted
extensively about Hawaii and my connection to the islands having lived there for a long period of time on the Big Island and
working at heli-pads for Blue Hawaiian Helicopters in the 90's and into the new millennium. We laughed and joked about how
bleak the surroundings were in Afghanistan.
Later that day we loaded back up on the helicopter and headed for Camp Dwyer where I would stay for a couple days before
returning to forward operating base Edinburgh. Before we departed that afternoon, I just had the sense to take a few photos
of Mr. Viray, (Don). So, I snapped four quick photos of him drinking a bottle of water. That was the first photograph I took at
The next day, at Camp Dwyer, I began to get my things together and start doing some audio recordings.
Among the very first audio recordings I would do was one on this local boy from Hawaii, Don Viray. I would experiment with
him and see how this goes. He made it very easy for me. I really didn't know where to begin but he was the first. He
explained to me that he was the "chase" pilot for the medevac helicopters and that his aircraft was armed. He also told me
that he was part of the 25th ID and they were the brigade assets for the folks that I would remain embedded with for the next
two months. I figured it all out as we talked at length.
It was such a simple and nice interview.
I had talked that day with him about my personal experiences in Hawaii and how much I missed the Big Island. Don told me
about his time in the Army and how he joined at the young age of 17. He kept striking me as such a gentle soul and one who
absolutely loved his job. I remember chatting with him before the audio got started about how much he actually enjoyed
getting paid for what he did as a job flying the chase bird into medevac situations.
In the middle of the interview, there was a call for "medevac". Those were the last words on the audio as Don and his crew
immediately headed to their aircraft for a mission.
I never posted the audio because I felt it wasn't finished. I never got another chance to finish it. But I kept the audio for
historical purposes along with the photographs I took.
As the days recently passed, I kept my eyes peeled to the news for word of who the KIA's were from the helicopter crash. I
kept telling my wife that I knew one Hawaii pilot and prayed it was not the one I knew. I never want it to be anyone I know or
anyone for that matter. The other day I was over at a neighbors home who hired me to do some work with a shovel to dig out
around her trees for the summer. I love to work with a shovel preparing for irrigating things. While in the heat of working
and dripping with sweat, I got a call on my pre-paid cell phone from my wife Candi. She told me the names of the four
soldiers that were killed in the helicopter crash.
The last name she told me was "Viray". I began to cry. I kept saying, "No, no Candi. Don't tell me this. Not Don Viray. I know
this young man. Oh please, not him. Are you sure?" She confirmed it was him.
I hung up.
I kept digging around the trees and banging the shovel in the dirt. I've been through this before where I have an audio of a
soldier and then he gets killed. It would be one of those things where I have to give something to the family that they want
but don't want. It will be hard, but they will want it as the years go by. They will live by all the words on the audio of their
I finished the job at my neighbors and then came home. I got the audio out and made my wife sit down with me and listen to
it. We sat still and took in every word. I prepared the photograph that I had of CW2 Don Viray.
I haven't been able to write since leaving Kabul on April 4th. Too much happened and I just couldn't compile all the things
that have happened until now. From April 4th until now, the only thing that I really needed to write about was this story. It
breaks my heart to write this story and post this audio. But, I must.
There is a long connection between New Mexico and Hawaii in my family. I knew it when the Captain I was among at FOB Edi
was from Hawaii. His name is Captain Kevin Doo. I told him today upon welcoming him home that I needed to get this audio
to the family of CW2 Viray. He assured me it's a good idea.
I will never forget Mr. Don Viray although my experience with him was rather brief, relatively speaking. There was much aloha
shared between us. As the audio ended abruptly, so did the life of CW2 Don Viray and his three companions. There is much
discussion currently about how the helicopter was brought down. What is known is that Don and his fellow soldiers were
enroute to assist Afghans that had been blown up and others that were in danger. There are many reports of tracer fire all
over the place that night. Nothing is official as of this writing.
The only thing that is for sure at this moment is that Don Viray died serving his country and coming to the aid of Afghans in
need. I don't like war. I've been through this a lot in the past decade. I know a lot of names personally that are no longer
with us that died because of war. One of the first audios I conducted on this recent journey was on Don Viray. It is the last
one I am putting up at the moment.
There is the verse, "The last shall be first". CW2 Don Viray is currently first on my list. Today is more than bitter-sweet. It's a
hard day. A lot of things are going through my mind. Those that listen to the audio need to remember that it is real and it is
true. War is not something that is beautiful. It is something that is horrific and it hurts like nothing else. I hate war, yet I love
the people I've met in war.
I am a better man having met Don Viray. And now he is gone.
Aloha and adios, amigo.
In Memory of
CW2 Don Viray