Service to America's fallen heroes recognized
February 4, 2014
Providing support to the families of our nation's fallen heroes by the Arlington Ladies group is often described by its members as an honor and privilege. This past week, one such Lady received recognition for her actions.
Sandra Gray, wife of Chaplain (Col.) James "Dusty" Gray, Joint Force Headquarters-National Capital Region/Army Military District of Washington wounded warrior chaplain, was awarded the Outstanding Civilian Service Award for her work as an Army Arlington Lady and other volunteer positions during a ceremony held at Fort Lesley J. McNair, Jan. 31.
"Receiving the award was very surprising and very humbling," said Gray. "I so appreciate it."
Gray received the third highest civilian award for her volunteerism and heroic work providing service members and their families comfort while they grieve for their fallen heroes at Arlington National Cemetery.
Volunteering to help honor fallen warriors often has a profound impact on the volunteer. It may also impact the family and the nation as a whole.
While the Gray's were stationed in the NCR, Sandra was provided an opportunity to help others. Chaplain Gray was assigned to assist Soldiers and their families while at Arlington National Cemetery. Gray recalls that her husband came home one night and mentioned the Army Arlington Ladies.
"He thought the Army Arlington Ladies would be a good fit for me," she said.
The Arlington Ladies is a group of volunteers who attend the funerals of those laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. The group was created in 1973 by the wife of Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg.
Vandenberg witnessed that no one was present for several Air Force funerals. Vandenberg's wife gathered members of the Officers Wives Club to begin attending funerals. Since then, no service member has been laid to rest at Arlington without an Arlington Lady being present.
As an Army Arlington lady, Gray represents the Army Chief of Staff as each Soldier is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
"The main reason Arlington Ladies are there is to prevent someone from being buried alone," said Gray. "We want someone outside of the military to be present and show that person and their family that the whole Army family extends gratitude for their service and to show they will never be forgotten."
Her work has assisted in building Army strong families, comforting the grieving and honoring the fallen.
"I want the grieving family and the nation to realize that it is not just another funeral at Arlington. We are provided with information about the deceased. I try to personalize the burial."
Generally each Arlington Lady does about three services a day. Gray vividly recounts one day in particular at Arlington.
"During the snowstorm a couple of years ago I was called in because Arlington never closes," said Gray. "Snow had been pushed aside and I was walking through trenches of snow. That day spoke volumes to me because services are held on a strict schedule at Arlington and the mission continues no matter the weather."
Gray has dedicated her life to helping others. She has been a teacher, high school principle and guidance counselor. The Outstanding Civilian Service Award was presented to Gray in recognition of, not only her work as an Army Arlington Lady, but also as a Strong Bonds Instructor and Grief Recovery Facilitator.
"Serving others is very rewarding work," said Gray, who has been an Army Arlington Lady for seven years.
"I was raised in a family where we helped others. We were very involved in church from a young age and I have modeled my parents and grandparents lives," said Gray. "My father always said, 'it doesn't cost you anything to help someone but it could be life changing for them.'"