NEWPORT, Maine — Apache helicopter pilots are an elite group of soldiers, and Army Capt. John “Jay” Brainard III of Newport, who died in Afghanistan on Memorial Day, earned that distinction through hard work, according to Maine Army National Guard Maj. Darryl Lyon.

Brainard, 26, loved his job and dedicated his life to his military service, his wife, Emily, said in a Facebook message to the Bangor Daily News.

“Jay always wanted to be a soldier, and he was an amazing, strong leader,” she said. “He believed his most important job was to help other soldiers and he spent every day of his career doing just that. He will be always missed and remembered.”

Brainard was a 2004 graduate of Foxcroft Academy and a 2008 graduate of the University of Maine, where he met his future wife and Lyon, who was the Army ROTC enrollment officer at the time.

“He’s just the perfect example of a kid who came from modest means and who worked hard to do what he wanted,” said Lyon, who became commander of the Army National Guard’s 11th Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team based in Waterville last week. “It’s a tragic loss and Maine is going to hurt for a while.”

Lyon had just returned from serving a year in Iraq when he met Brainard in 2007. The UMaine student became a commissioned officer through the university’s ROTC program in May 2008 and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science. He went on to attend and graduate from flight school at Fort Rucker, Ala., in October 2010, his wife said.

“It’s very hard to get accepted into flight school for one thing, and to be accepted into Apache flight school is even more difficult,” Lyon said of Brainard’s accomplishments. “It’s not just getting drafted into the NFL, but also starting in the NFL on your first game. It’s pretty impressive for a guy from Newport.”

Brainard also helped Lyon when the ROTC program at Husson University was expanded to include on-campus classes.

“The Black Bear Battalion lost an distinguished alumni recently,” the Facebook page for UMaine’s ROTC program states. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of Capt. Brainard.”

Brainard was an active-duty helicopter pilot with several units before being assigned to Headquarters Company of the 12th Combat Aviation Brigade, based in Katterbach, Germany, his wife said.

“He deployed with this unit to Afghanistan on April 30,” Emily Brainard said.

Maine’s congressional delegation and Gov. Paul LePageinformed the public of Brainard’s death on Tuesday.

“Brainard was piloting an AH-64 helicopter when it went down on patrol,” 1st District U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree said in a statement. “The cause is being investigated.”

LePage and his wife, Ann, as well as U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, 2nd District U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, and Pingree expressed condolences to Brainard’s widow, other family members and friends.

The Apache helicopter crashed in Kabul, Afghanistan, and killed Brainard and another member of the 12th Combat Aviation Brigade, Chief Warrant Officer Five John C. Pratt, 51, of Springfield, Va., according to the Department of Defense casualties list.

Brainard’s funeral arrangements have not been released. A family member reached Wednesday in Newport said Brainard’s loved ones are grieving and do not wish to make a comment.

Lyon said he kept in touch with Brainard through Facebook and watched as his young friend filled his life with adventure.

“He went to Pompeii, Rome, all over,” the major said. “He was stationed in Germany and had photos of he and his wife skiing the Alps. It’s so sad — all that life.”

Jay and Emily Brainard went tandem skydiving in Schlierstad, Germany on April 1, 2012, and his wife posted the jump on YouTube. Most of the six-minute video features Emily, but it starts and ends with her getting a hug and kiss from her husband.

“Jay was my best friend, the love of my life, and my hero,” she said. “We spent almost seven incredible years together. I am so honored to have called him my husband and am proud of his military service.”

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