Emory Ray Helton Warrior. Husband. Father. Friend. October 7, 1952 - September 2, 2019
COL (Ret) Emory “Ray” Helton, 66, finished his race on September 2, 2019, after an arduous battle with pancreatic cancer. On his annual family Labor Day vacation on Emerald Isle, North Carolina, his loving wife, children and grandchildren surrounded him as his unbroken spirit entered into well-deserved rest.
Ray’s life was characterized by his dedication to service, leadership and excellence. Born into a coal mining family, Ray’s journey began on October 7, 1952, in Charleston, West Virginia. Following graduation from Lake View High school in Chicago, Illinois, Ray married the love of his life, Barbara Amerson. He earned an undergraduate degree in Pastoral Studies from Moody Bible Institute, was ordained as a minister and worked in Christian Ministry. During this time, Ray felt a compelling draw to military service and embarked on a journey to fulfill his childhood dream of becoming a Special Forces Soldier. After his enlistment and training, he served as a 05B Radio Operator with 10th Special Forces Group.
Ray graduated as a Distinguished Military Graduate from the University of Illinois Army ROTC, and was commissioned as an Infantry Officer in 1981. He led two platoons in the 3rd Infantry Division and commanded two companies in the 101st Airborne Division before returning to Special Forces Branch in 1988. In the 10th Special Forces Group, Ray served as Detachment Commander, Battalion Personnel Officer and Battalion Operations Officer. He served as a Company Commander, Battalion Executive Officer and Battalion Commander during his time in the 3rd Special Forces Group. Additionally, Ray served as Chief of Assignments of the Combat Arms Division in United States Personnel Command, as a Strategic Planner and Writer on the Joint Staff, as the Garrison Commander of Fort Drum, New York and as the Director of Legislative Affairs for United States Special Operations Command. During the course of his long and distinguished military career, Ray conducted training and operations with Soldiers on five continents. His education includes, The Infantry Officer Basic Course, Airborne School, Combat Divers Course, Air Assault School, Ranger School, Special Forces Qualification School, Infantry Officer Advanced Course, Survival Escape Resistance and Evasion Course, Combined Arms Services Staff School, Joint Psychological Operations Course and Command and General Staff College. He earned a B.A. in History from the University of Illinois, a M.A. in National Strategy and Policy from the Naval War College, and a M.S. in National Resource Strategy from the Industrial College of the Armed Forces. Upon retirement from the Army, Ray served in the Veteran Administration as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Congressional and Legislative Affairs. More than the many recognitions and achievements he earned during his extremely successful military career, Ray valued the many relationships he formed. He was grateful and honored for the opportunity to serve This Great Nation that he loved so much.
In 2014, Ray returned to his roots in Christian ministry. Beginning as a volunteer, he retired as Executive Director of Operation Inasmuch, in Fayetteville, North Carolina. During the time Ray served at OIAM, he saw the ministry expand to include a men’s transitional shelter. “The Lodge” has become an instrumental partner to many men as they build successful futures. On August 27, 2019, Ray was honored to have “The Lodge” dedicated in his name. It was his greatest joy to share his faith and to see lives transformed as he partnered with the people and ministry of Operation Inasmuch.
Ray filled his life with meaningful, purposeful activity whether at work or play. He demanded excellence of himself, and expected it from those around him. Ray believed anything worth doing, was worth doing the right way. This was as true when he was teaching his grandchildren to fish or play board games (which he loved), as it was in his professional life or ministry. He was an active member of Snyder Memorial Baptist Church, where he taught Sunday school and participated in mission projects. As an avid runner, Ray ran many marathons, including the Boston Marathon, and founded the Marathon Training Group with the Fayetteville Running Club. He loved traveling, taking Disney World by storm with his children and grandchildren (lots of strategic planning involved), hunting with his SF friends, fishing with his grandchildren, and playing cards with his brothers. Ray loved observing holidays and traditions with his friends and family. Chocolate. Ray really loved chocolate. And ice cream, especially chocolate ice cream. He had unending hope for the Chicago Cubs, and was thrilled to watch them finally win the World Series alongside his grandson, Will. His warm smile and enthusiasm were contagious. He will be dearly missed by all who were fortunate to know him. Ray will always be remembered as having the spirit of a warrior, and the heart of a servant.
Ray is survived by his wife and life partner of more than fifty years, Barbara Amerson Helton, his daughters Charisa Carstens-Potter (Nicholas) and Bethany Grace Helton, and his beloved grandchildren, Reagan, William, Mackenna, Meredith, Madeline and Vivienne. He is also survived by his brothers, John Helton (Sue), Larry Helton (Carol), Jack Helton (Ginny), and a special nephew, Robert Helton (Angela), as well as many other beloved nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his parents George and Grace (Coots), brothers, Joe, James and Jerry, his sisters Bessie and Brenda Kay, as well as his daughter Kelsea, and grandson Nathaniel. He joyfully anticipated his reunion with these loved ones, as well as other dear friends and comrades, and especially with Kelsea and Nathaniel.
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 2 Timothy 4:7
Ray’s life will be celebrated, and he will be buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery. Service dates will be publicly announced when they are made available by Arlington.