ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY, Va., March 28, 2015 —
Crisp winds snapped across the sprawling grounds here today as members of the National Basketball Association’s Houston Rockets visited gravesites of fallen service members, met with an Army widow, and laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The Rockets face off against the Washington Wizards tomorrow. But today, the Houston team members opted to tour the cemetery and later in the day they met with Defense Secretary Ash Carter at the Pentagon as part of “Commitment to Service,” the Defense Department’s partnership with the NBA.
Jane Horton, whose husband, Army National Guard sniper Spc. Chris Horton, was killed in action in Afghanistan Sept. 9, 2011, led Rockets Head Coach Kevin McHale and his team throughout Arlington’s grounds, including her husband’s gravesite and the Memorial Amphitheater.
Widow Recalls Husband’s Service, Sacrifice
Horton, 28, told the team her husband was only 26 when he succumbed to enemy fire in Paktia province while supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.
“Even though my husband died at such a young age, he still had eight more years than so many buried here who died at age 18,” she said. “There was nothing more that Chris wanted to do than serve his country during wartime and unfortunately he was one of 2,215 that were killed in Afghanistan.”
The significance of the setting seemed to resonate with the basketball team members who read gravestones belonging to service members close in age to the athletes.
Former Boston Celtic McHale joined Rockets shooting guard James Harden and center Dwight Howard in the wreath-laying ceremony.
“I think we’re all here because of the sacrifices people made not only over in the Middle East, but starting with World War I and World War II,” McHale said. “My father fought in World War II and so did my uncle so I’m very proud of their service.”
‘It’s a Great Honor and a Blessing to be Here’
Harden described his participation in the ceremony as “an amazing experience.”
“I got to do something that the President does every year,” he said. “It’s a great honor and a blessing to be here.”
Howard shared Harden’s sentiment, calling his visit an honor and humbling.
“I’ve never experienced anything like this,” Howard said. “To be in the presence of these great people is amazing and it’s something I’ll never forget for the rest of my life.”
Army Maj. Gen. Jeffrey S. Buchanan, commanding general, Joint Force Headquarters-National Capital Region/U.S. Army Military District of Washington, noted the precision and significance of the changing of the guard ritual that ensures the tomb is guarded 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, in any weather.
Tomb Guard sentinels, all volunteers, are elite members of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) headquartered at Fort Myer, Virginia.
(Follow Amaani Lyle on Twitter: @LyleDoDNews)