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TACPs march to remember leader 1 year after his death

Aug. 9, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Led by Heather Gray, widow of Maj. Walter Gray, the DG140 group starts the final leg of a march from Dover Air Force Base, Del., to Arlington National Cemetery on Aug. 8, the one-year anniversary of Gray's death.
Led by Heather Gray, widow of Maj. Walter Gray, the DG140 group starts the final leg of a march from Dover Air Force Base, Del., to Arlington National Cemetery on Aug. 8, the one-year anniversary of Gray's death. (Colin Kelly / staff)
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At left, from left, Staff Sgt. Andrew Moore, Staff Sgt. Stephen Kellams, Senior Airman Joseph Farmer, Senior Airman Thomas Ghio, Senior Airman Tommy Allgier, Staff Sgt. Jonathan Olds and Capt. Matthew Perry rest at Arlington Cemetery after a 140-mile ruck march to honor Gray, who died last year in Afghanistan. (Courtesy of 'DG' 140)

Some of Maj. Walter David “DG” Gray’s airmen didn’t get to say goodbye.

On Aug. 8, one year after Gray died in Afghanistan when a suicide bomber attacked his vehicle, 13 of his men finished a 140-mile ruck march from Dover Air Force Base, Del., to Arlington National Cemetery to honor him.

The team members from the 13th Air Support Operations Squadron were deployed at forward operating bases across Afghanistan when they heard news of Gray’s death. They began planning the ruck in January to find a “monumental” way to remember him and decided to call it the “DG” 140.

“It’s important to me to make sure that the guys who couldn’t make it to the main service downrange or to the funeral service, can see him, especially on the anniversary,” said Capt. Matthew Perry, a 13L and the executive officer of the 13th ASOS. “To be able to show that the guys are still thinking about him, that they still care about him.”

Gray was legendary in his career field — an air liaison officer who had previously served as an enlisted tactical air control party airman, making his way through the schoolhouse twice in his career. He led from the front, dominating his squad’s physical training and ruck marches.

He told his wife, Heather, his guys would take care of her if anything ever happened to him. He was right.

“It’s like having 20 older brothers,” Heather said as she set out with the airmen on the fifth and final day of the ruck, a heavy backpack on her back. She hiked the final 13 miles from Maryland into Washington, D.C., alongside them.

“It’s amazingly humbling,” she said of the march. “He loves these boys, like they were his kids. It’s a testament to his leadership that they are out here.”

Gray, 38, was deployed to Kunar province, Afghanistan, when a suicide bomber attacked his vehicle. He was killed along with Army Command Sgt. Maj. Kevin Griffin, 45, and Army Maj. Thomas E. Kennedy, 35.

Gray was among the first officers to go through the TACP schoolhouse and was the leader of the first class of air liaison officers — known as 13 Limas for their Air Force Specialty Code. He received his commission through ROTC in 1997, after serving as an enlisted TACP. It’s one of the reasons his group respected him so much: He had been a TACP and was among the first to volunteer to make it through the schoolhouse again.

“He’s the kind of guy that would take just 10 minutes to make an impression, but he definitely did more than just make an impression on me,” said Staff Sgt. Andrew Moore

Gray’s teammates drove from their home base at Fort Carson, Colo., to Dover to begin their march. With assistance from Dover, they began Aug. 4, walking for five days, staying in hotels or camping outside of firehouses.

In three hotel rooms in suburban Maryland the morning of Aug. 8, the group taped their knees and ankles, while joking and getting ready for the last 13 miles of their hike. .

“We are holding ourselves together with tape and stubbornness,” Moore said. “We’d freaking crawl if we had to. We are driven by knowing that there’s no chance in hell he would not be out here with us.”

Gray was a brother to the airmen of the 13th ASOS and a father figure to the younger guys who were coming up, said Master Sgt. Mitchell Polu, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the squadron.

“That’s the only thing that keeps us going every day,” he said. “Through knee problems, back aches, blisters. To ask 13 men from the same team to go through it, that’s pretty monumental.”

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