Major killed in Afghanistan buried in Bushnell, remembered for his joy and faith

BRANDON — At first, the song made friends and family cry as they remembered Air Force Maj. Raymond G. Estelle II.

I smile, even though I'm hurt, I smile.

But the song, which friends say exemplified Estelle's enthusiasm and joy, soon had them bobbing their heads a little in celebration of his life.

You look so much better when you smile, so smile.

Estelle, 40, was buried Monday at Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell.

He died April 27 on his first day in Afghanistan, when an Afghan military pilot opened fire at the Kabul airport. He was one of eight U.S. troops killed in the attack.

Estelle was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, among other military medals.

He started his career at MacDill Air Force Base as a military communications officer from 1999 to 2001. Estelle also served on temporary duty at U.S. Central Command.

He met his wife, Maj. N'Keiba Estelle, through the military. Her family is from the Brandon area.

The couple lived in Yorktown, Va., with their 8-year-old daughter, Shayla, and 7-week-old son, "Little Ray." They planned to someday move back to Tampa.

At his funeral at Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Brandon, Estelle's family filled the front rows. Some wore all white instead of black. They filed past his half-open, flag-draped casket, pausing to touch his shoulder.

Enlarged photographs showed Estelle pressing his face next to his daughter's cheek. In another, he cradled and kissed his sleeping baby.

Friends remembered Estelle as a man passionate about his family and his faith.

He marked passages in other people's Bibles for them to read. He led Bible studies and men's groups, carried a pocket Bible in his uniform and pursued a prayer challenge with his wife: five minutes of praying every day for 40 days.

If there was a disagreement at work, said his friend Eric Saunders, 42, of Hampton, Va., Estelle would defuse the dispute by saying, "Stop and share the love."

He was a mentor to younger generations, said 25-year-old Desiree Sewell of Tampa, a friend who considered Estelle her godbrother.

"He just liked to be a part of it," she said, "and feel like he was giving back to the public."

Estelle was always willing to lift another up, friends said, and help carry their burdens.

During the service, an Air Force colleague took three coins out of his pocket. They were stamped with the words, Put on the whole armor of God.

He handed them to the family, including one to Estelle's daughter, Shayla. He also gave her a pin with Air Force wings, "because Ray taught me how to fly," he said.

At the end of the funeral, Shayla followed her father's casket out of the church, wings pinned to her white jacket.

Stephanie Wang can be reached at swang@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2443.

.Biography

Maj. Raymond Gray Estelle II

Born: Jan. 16, 1971.

Died: April 27, 2011.

Survivors: Maj. N'Keiba Estelle, wife; daughter Shayla, 8, and son Raymond G. III, 7 weeks ; daughter Chanelle Diaz, 20; mother Regina Estelle; sister Nyiesha Estelle; grandfather Burton Gifford; father- and mother-in-law Levi and Lynn Knox; and numerous aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and friends.

Major killed in Afghanistan buried in Bushnell, remembered for his joy and faith 05/09/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 10, 2011 12:15am]

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