Gaya, dark-eyed and gravel-voiced, has a photographic style that captures the stark loneliness of war, the endless hours of watching and waiting for something to happen.
"I think combat should be photographed in black and white and it should be grainy because that's the way I saw it," he said. It's a vision shared by his fellow soldiers.
"I showed one of these photographs to my friend and he looked at it and he said, 'You know, when I look at these photographs that's pretty much how I remember Iraq - black and white and grainy. I don't remember the golden sunsets or any of the brown from the sand.'"
Gaya is proud of his unit - the 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment based at Fort Lewis - and of its success in curbing insurgent attacks in western Mosul, the Sunni Arab part of the city where militants were most active. He served about eight months in Iraq.
But it came at a high price. Several of his friends were killed, including Sgt. Benjamin Morton of Wright, Kan., who shared his love for photography.
"I'm proud to have served with the unit," Gaya said. "We helped that city a lot."
Sgt. Gaya has lost most of the sight in his left eye and his American citizenship papers are currently jammed up--somebody get on this, please!*--but he's confident his future lies in photojournalism.
But his right eye is uninjured, and Gaya believes he can still shoot pictures despite a loss of peripheral vision.
"I don't think it hindered my passion for photography one bit," he said. "I've always been not much of a quitter kind of guy. Did it wear on me? It did at first a little bit. But I primarily use my right eye, so by no means is it going to slow me down at all - ever."
Lt. Col. Erik Kurilla, Gaya's commanding officer who also returned to Fort Lewis after being wounded in Mosul, called Gaya a "quiet professional. He's the type of soldier that every commander wished he had a hundred of."
Gaya says he won't let his injury define his life. On his lunch breaks at Fort Lewis, he uses a camera he bought from a pawn shop, venturing into the morning mist to snap shots of soldiers training.
And if Lt. Col. Kurilla's saying that, you better believe it. Kurilla is one of this war's great heroes, as you may remember from Michael Yon's dispatches.