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Gandalf and artillery

Guardsman empowered other soldiers

A young Gordon Jay of the Washington Army National Guard stands on the spot where he had earlier directed artillery fire. Photo credit: Courtesy photo

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In 1976 a bored Gordon Jay wandered into a recruiter's office.

"I was attending college at Centralia Community College, but I had to wait for the guy who carpooled with me from Elma to finish his classes," began the retired warrant officer. "I started talking to the guy, and the rest is history."

Asked by a buddy while stationed in Germany in 1977 why he enlisted, Jay answered that he must have watched one too many John Wayne movies while growing up in Shelton and Elma.

"The truth within my seemingly flippant answer was I had grown up in an era and within a community and in a family where the military was generally viewed favorably. I saw my enlistment as a way of belonging to something bigger than me ... serving others," he explained.

While on active duty from 1977 thru 1980, Jay served as an artilleryman. Jay served on active duty for three years, from January 1977 to 1980 and was assigned to the Howitzer Battery, 1st Squadron, 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment as a cannon fire direction specialist.

In under two years, he was promoted to acting sergeant and assigned as the Section Chief/Chief Computer of a Battery Fire Direction Center (FDC).

To make matters more interesting, Jay also served as an Emergency Message Authentication System/Nuclear Release Authentication System team member, as a custodial agent with the responsibility of maintaining control of nuclear weapons which might be "loaned" out to other NATO countries for possible use in a European conflict, and as the artilleryman responsible for the assembly and setting of fuse functions on 155mm nuclear projectiles.

"It was a pretty fun and challenging tour of duty for me," Jay added.

Leaving active duty in December of 1979, he joined the Washington Army National Guard in July of 1980.

Sometime shortly afterward, Gordon Jay expertise around artillery became apparent and earned him the moniker "Gandalf the Jay."

In JRR Tolkien's novels The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, Gandalf is a wizard and the bearer of the Ring of Power.

While training four new second lieutenants in the art of fire direction, on numerous occasions Jay and his students had to walk between a battery fire direction center to the battalion fire direction center.

"While we were making yet another trip to and fro, another soldier made a connection to Gandalf and the four Hobbits from the Lord of the Rings," explained Jay. "It helps that I have been a Lord of the Rings fan since I was first introduced to the books when I was stationed in Germany."

He added that he used the "tidbits of knowledge" he had accumulated over the years to teach others in an interesting and entertaining way. His training paid off when the Guard's mortarmen were deployed to Iraq in 2004-2005.

Since retiring from the WANG after 43 years of service, Jay serves as a federal technician as a budget analyst.

But at heart, he is still "Gandalf the Jay."

"When you hear the big guns, crew-served weapons, and small arms firing on JBLM at night, sleep well," he concluded.

"And believe it or not, I actually DO sleep more soundly when that ‘noise' is going on.... It's like raindrops on the roof of a tent."

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