Present Arms! VAFB Airman joins USAF Honor Guard
By Staff Sgt. Allen Puckett, 30th Space Wing Public Affairs
/ Published October 03, 2006
VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- While standing firmly at attention in the middle of a stadium somewhere in the heart of Los Angeles, one Airman watches as thousands of cheering fans, athletes, celebrities and news broadcasters fall silent, stop what they're doing and stare directly at him. While some would be a nervous wreck in this type of situation, this Airman doesn't mind the attention. He actually enjoys it.
Staff Sgt. Aaron Gray, a bioenviron-mental engineer with the 30th Medical Group, has been a member of the base Honor Guard for the past three years and has loved the experience so much that he decided to make a full-time job of it by applying for the USAF Honor Guard team at Bolling AFB, D.C.
After speaking to his leadership about the decision and submitting the required paperwork, Sergeant Gray heard the good news from D.C.
"It was unbelievably exciting to hear that I made it," Sergeant Gray said. "I called my wife up to tell her and she was pretty much screaming on the other end of the phone. So we were both pretty happy about it."
As a member of the USAF Honor Guard, Sergeant Gray will be responsible for representing the United States and the United States Air Force in a variety of military and civilian ceremonies throughout D.C.
"It's a very tough but rewarding job," said Staff Sgt. Andrew Absher, a planner with the 30th Logistics Readiness Squadron, who recently finished a tour with the USAF Honor Guard. "When you're doing six to eight funerals a day it can be physically and emotionally draining, but it's very important, first and foremost, to provide funeral honors for the people who made the ultimate sacrifice and to be there for their family members."
Providing funeral honors was one task that initially motivated Sergeant Gray to join the base honor guard, he said.
"A lot of people stay away from the honor guard because you're around families at their weakest point, but it's always a special thing to give the loved one a flag ... you can always tell that they really appreciate it," Sergeant Gray said. "You also get a chance to hear stories from some of the vets, especially from the World War II era, who really appreciate that kind of thing."
In addition to funeral details, Sergeant Gray may also have the opportunity to perform with the drill team and colors flight while performing in joint service ceremonies and at official events involving the President and senior leadership from the Department of Defense.
"I'll most likely be put on a colors team because of my height," the 6-foot-1-inch Sergeant Gray said. "It's exciting because there are always big crowds watching you pay respect to the flag, which is a very important military tradition."
As ambassadors for the Air Force, all honor guard Airmen must be sharp and prepared to participate in high-profile events, said Sergeant Absher.
"I was part of a Joint Service Guard of Honor that guarded President Reagan's casket for two days," he said. "I had a chance to hear (Vice President Dick) Cheney speak and see about 500 people including congress members and chief justices. It was definitely the biggest thing I've ever done."
Sergeant Gray looks forward to the new challenges and believes that his time spent with the base honor guard has prepared him for his next assignment, he said.
"The practice and the details keep you sharp, so you're always learning," Sergeant Gray said." "If there's a mistake and you're trained up well enough, which the team here definitely is, you'll know to compensate for it."
"Sergeant Gray is the perfect candidate for the USAF Honor Guard, not only because of his height and build, but also his perfect discipline and mentality," Sergeant Absher said. "They need NCOs that can really take charge."
Overall, serving on the honor guard has been one of Sergeant Gray's favorite things about the military and he encourages others to get involved, he said.
"It's been a very rewarding position," he said. "If anyone is even considering it, they should talk to Tech. Sgt. McAlister."
"You definitely get more out of it than you pay in," he added.