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Face of Defense: Airman Serves Country On, Off Court

By Air Force Tech. Sgt. Kenya Shiloh
52nd Fighter Wing

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany, Feb. 27, 2013 – They say the third time's a charm; however, for one noncommissioned officer assigned to Aviation Detachment 1, 52nd Operations Group, six seems to be his lucky number.

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Air Force Tech. Sgt. Marico Gray drives the ball to the basket during a basketball game against the Army in May 2012. U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class John Collins

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Six is the number of times Air Force Tech. Sgt. Marico Gray, a contracting NCO, was selected for the Air Force basketball team, and six is the number of consecutive times he and his teammates took home a gold medal in the all-services basketball competition.

Of the 19 players who tried out for this year's team, including nine enlisted members and 10 former Air Force Academy players, Gray was among the 12 selected to represent the Air Force team.

"I started playing basketball at the age of 7," said Gray, who hails from Birmingham, Ala. "I remember sometimes going out in 30-degree weather to play basketball by myself."

All that practice paid off, because it enabled him to earn a spot on the Air Force team playing nearly every position. Even when he was chosen for the all-armed forces team and the all-tournament team, he said, he played multiple positions, such as forward and point guard, allowing him to hone his skills and help to groom younger players who one day will take his place on the court.

Playing in different locations such as Lithuania and Belgium helped him develop a special bond with his teammates, Gray said, not to mention continuing the friendly rivalry with other services’ teams. Gray said playing other services was like playing your closest friend.

"We are friends before we get on the court, joking and laughing with each other," he said. "But once the game starts, the friendship is put to the side. We're trying to do whatever we can within that rectangle to win the game and ultimately take home that gold medal."

Air Force Senior Airman James Lewis, a member of the 52nd Comptroller Squadron and Gray’s teammate, said Gray is "relentless" when it comes to the team. He shows that same passion when it comes to performing his duties as a contracting specialist for the detachment.

"He produces an energy that is seldom matched, and he has a knack for continuing to push when others simply can't anymore, and it’s due to his will to win," Lewis said.

Having the ability to pursue his passion while also serving his country is what Gray said makes him proud to be in the Air Force instead of trying to play in the National Basketball Association.

"I never felt as strong of a desire to play in the NBA like I feel to serve my country," Gray said. "You hear most individuals in the NBA say they love to give back, and they do, but most times it's only to certain individuals who are fortunate enough to receive it. By serving my country, everyone benefits -- it's the ultimate fulfillment."

Despite his grueling schedule of work, practice and travel, Gray said, he wouldn't trade this experience for anything, and he encourages others to pursue their dreams as well.

"If an airman wants to try out for any Air Force-level team sport, I say give it your all and play the game that got you invited to the trials in the first place," Gray said.


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