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Utah soldier dies in Afghanistan

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Cpt. Ellery R. Wallace

Cpt. Ellery R. Wallace

Fort Campbell

SALT LAKE CITY — Capt. Ellery Ray Wallace survived two tours of duty in Iraq. But when the Utah soldier said goodbye to his wife and four young children this summer before leaving Fort Campbell (Ky.) for deployment to Afghanistan, he felt something he'd never felt before.

He knew he was seeing his family for the last time.

The Department of Defense announced Monday that Wallace's premonition became reality Sunday; the 33-year-old died from wounds inflicted when a rocket-propelled grenade stuck his vehicle in Nangahar, Afghanistan. Pfc. Bryn T. Raver, 20, of Harrison, Ark., also died as a result of the same attack.

"Ray went over to Afghanistan not only because it was his company and he was the commander of it — he went knowing that he wouldn't be coming back," Dewayne Wallace, Capt. Wallace's father, said during a phone interview Monday. "What I would like people to know is that his death is not wasted. It was for something important."

While attending the University of Utah nearly a decade ago, Ray Wallace participated in ROTC. He graduated with a sociology degree in 2003 and immediately joined the Army. Although he grew up in Texas, the military considers Wallace a Utahn because he resided in the Beehive State at the beginning of his military service. He belonged to the U.S. Army's 1st Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault).

A really straight shooter

When Theresa Martinez, associate professor of sociology at the University of Utah, received the reporter's e-mail Monday asking about Ray Wallace, she hoped that he hadn't been one of her students.

But when she looked at the roll from her fall 2001 Sociology 1010 class, memories of the respectful, thoughtful student who wore his ROTC uniform to class, who spoke his mind and contributed to class discussions, came rushing back.

That was the semester that included Sept. 12, 2001, the class date in which Martinez had her students discussed the terror attacks of the previous day.

Some students said the United States deserved the attacks.

But not Ray Wallace.

She remembers that he said he didn't believe Americans deserved to be attacked, that there was a moral problem if someone believed that.

"He was just a really straight shooter," Martinez said.

As one of the few students in uniform, he stood out, and he brought the soldier's perspective to the 188-member class.

"He was very balanced," she said, and despite his strong opinions, "he didn't jump down people's throats."

She remembers Ray Wallace as being service-oriented.

"He was really an all-in-all great kid," Martinez said. "I'm not surprised he stayed in the military this long."

After 20 years of teaching at the university level, Martinez has lots of memories of her students. Among them is Ray Wallace, one of the students who hugged her at the end of the semester.

Always wanted to be in the military

The oldest of Dewayne and Elaine Wallace's seven children, Ray displayed a keen interest in all things military from a very early age.

"From the time he was just a little bitty boy, Ray always wanted to be in the military," Dewayne said. "Even as a little boy he was looking at books about soldiers and weapons and all kinds of things like that. That was just a thing that he did, and he always wanted to be in the military."

He met Janelle Jolley as a teenager. After Wallace attended Ricks College and served an LDS mission to the Ivory Coast, he and Jolley married in the Salt Lake Temple. They had four children together — Liam, Adara, Kael and Ehlana.

"Ray was a great dad," Dewayne Wallace explained. "With the deployments and military training, he was away from them quite a bit. There was a lot of time away from the kids, but he loved them deeply. When he was home, he was with them a lot. He took care of them and loved them."

One per month

As president of the LDS Church's Kabul Afghanistan Military District, Eugene J. Wikle is the spiritual leader of the 1,000-plus Mormon soldiers and military contractors spread across Afghanistan. Reached by phone early Tuesday morning in Kabul, he solemnly acknowledged that Capt. Wallace is the eighth LDS soldier to die in combat this year in Afghanistan.

"We've experienced a huge increase in LDS members (deployed to Afghanistan) with the surge of people coming," Wikle said. "I told the brethren (church leaders) that I anticipated that there would probably be more casualties this year. Unfortunately, that's a true statement.

"We've now had two (LDS soldiers) killed this month, and that's number eight (for the year). We're averaging one per month now."

e-mail: jaskar@desnews.com; jdougherty@desnews.com