A Falling Star

Owen Ray started his career in the Army as a Private. He worked his way up to becoming a full bird (O-6) Colonel, chief of staff of I Corps, and was a former commander of the 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne). On top of that, he served as a military aid to President Obama for several years. A distinguished achievement by anyone’s accounting. On December 27th, 2020, Ray was arrested on felony domestic violence charges. According to the DuPont, Washington police department, the decorated officer was responsible for a two-hour standoff that resulted in his being charged with two counts of felony harassment, kidnapping in the first degree, and reckless endangerment. Their press release also noted that they were dispatched “for a domestic assault in progress involving a firearm.”

Stars and Stripes reports charging documents sourced in Pierce County Superior Court state that the Special Forces officer has apparently been drinking before the confrontation and threatened to kill any police officer who tried to arrest him. The records show that police arrived at the Ray home shortly after midnight on the 27th, and he allowed his wife and children to leave the scene by 12:30 AM. The assault charges were made as a result of allegations that Ray kicked his wife in the face and chest with his boots. The Colonel maintained that she was injured as a result of him opening a door with her on the other side.

After surrendering, Colonel Ray, 48, was booked into Pierce County Jail and has been free on $100,000 bail since January of 2021.

document explaining the arrest of Col Ray
Media release from the DuPont, Washington police department regarding Col. Ray’s arrest for domestic violence. Image courtesy of Facebook.

A spokesman for I Corps, Lt. Col. Neil Penttila, was quick to inform the press that Ray had been suspended. He put out the following statement:

“We have been in contact with local law enforcement, who have informed us that the investigation is still on-going. While the investigation continues, we will work closely with the Family and the Officer to provide support services including counseling, behavior health support, and legal assistance. The safety of everyone involved is the command’s priority.”

War and Remembrance

Upon hearing of Colonel Ray’s case, I immediately recalled an incident from Fort Carson, Colorado, home of the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) and my last duty station. “Incident” is much too mild a word to describe what happened there. That word makes it sound like a minor car accident. It was March 2003. Chief Warrant Officer Bill Powell and his wife Laura lived in Monument, CO…a little less than half an hour’s drive from Post.

Bill had finished up a five-month deployment to Iraq, his third, I believe and had been home for about three weeks. The couple had three kids; the youngest was only seven months old at the time. Around 9:30 PM, a local 911 dispatcher received a call; it was Laura:

“My husband just hit me, and he’s going downstairs to get his gun.” 

According to the police record, she hung up and tried to get away. I heard a bunch of talk at the time about what he supposedly said, but that’s hearsay; I won’t write about any of that. Suffice it to say; I don’t think he was very happy about the police being called on him.

Laura recalled that her husband  pulled a .357 revolver from his waistband, pointed it in her face, and said, “You’re going to watch this.” In the next few moments, police officers made their way through the icy yard. They must have caught Bill’s attention, and when they did, Laura took the split-second opportunity to knock his arm up and away, the weapon no longer pointed at her. Bill’s next movement was to put the gun to his temple and pull the trigger. At the same time as Bill’s fatal shot, a police officer shot him in the arm.

Laura would later tell police that she could make no sense of what happened, “He was a good dad and a good officer,” she said. She further remarked, “The guy standing in that door that night was not my husband. He in no way resembled him. The look in his eyes was, ‘Who are you?’ It was death.” 

This is but one of the numerous suicides of soldiers assigned to the Mountain Post. There have been so many that documentaries have been made about the subject.

No Loss of Life in the Ray Case

Despite the fact that Col. Ray supposedly made numerous threats and had a pistol during his hours-long standoff with police, he didn’t kill anyone. That was a major point that his defense team made to the jury during his trial. According to Cision PR Newswire (Source: Jared Ausserer, Puget Law Group), a jury found Colonel Ray not guilty of kidnapping and not guilty of two counts of harassment. However, he was found guilty of one count of assault in the second degree, one count of harassment, and reckless endangerment.

col ray during a deployment
Colonel Ray on deployment with the flag of Afghanistan in the background. Screenshot from Facebook.

Ray’s defense team argued that he “suffered an emotional and mental breakdown from the cumulative impacts of untreated mental and physical health issues, operational and career stress across eight deployments, high-pressure jobs, and severe relationship distress resulted in a state of complete mental exhaustion.” During his 20 months on bail, Ray was evaluated by the Department of Veterans Affairs and was found to be 100% Permanently and Totally disabled due to the severity of his service-connected health conditions, which included traumatic brain injury and depression.

The Colonel has issued the following statement to the press:

“There are no words that adequately explain how sorry I am for any fear that my children and wife felt the evening I decided to end my life. I deeply regret any unintended physical harm that my wife encountered due to me kicking the door. I never meant to hurt anyone other than myself. For the last two years, I have worked, in complete compliance with the court and legal system, and sought medical treatment to heal mentally and physically. I have faith that the night I decided to live versus ending my life will lead to restoration and hope – not just for myself but for my family and others.”

According to Stars and Stripes, Ray was honorably discharged from the Army last year.

During his time awaiting sentencing, the Colonel must have hired a PR firm because there is an entire professionally done website at owenray.com that addresses how people (especially former service members) can best seek help for issues with their mental health. I’m trying not to be cynical here. It’s not my job to judge Colonel Ray. That has already been done by a jury of his peers. At the same time, I feel that military officers of any rank are not above the law. I’ve closely reviewed the Colonel’s website, and there are a lot of useful resources on there.

On October 28th, 2022, Colonel Ray was sentenced to 60 months behind bars. Shortly thereafter, his attorneys announced their intent to appeal the guilty verdicts. His lead counsel stated:

“We thank the jury and the Court for their hard work, attention, and for the multiple not-guilty verdicts for Colonel Owen Ray. However, Colonel Ray does not agree with the guilty verdicts and will be appealing all convictions. It was clear, based on our discussion with the jury afterwards, there was a misunderstanding and misapplication of the law.  That, along with several issues, will be challenged on appeal.”

This is an ongoing story, and SOFREP will report back at a future time on the results of the appeals process.