JOINT BASE ANACOSTIA-BOLLING - Seaman Gavin Smith, a native of St. Clair Shores, Michigan, spent his 21st birthday where most people dream to go, the Super Bowl.
Smith is a member of the Color Guard Platoon for the U.S. Navy Ceremonial Guard and represents the naval service in presidential, naval, military, and public ceremonies around the country.
"When I was told I was selected to go to the Super Bowl, I thought they were joking," said Smith. “It took a minute for me to realize what had happened.”
Not only was Smith attending the Super Bowl on his birthday, but he was going with one of his friends from his hometown, who is a member of the U.S. Air Force Honor Guard, Airman 1st Class Justin Chambe.
“He’s someone I’ve hung out with since kindergarten,” said Smith. “I have a lot of respect for him because he kind of followed the same path I did.”
Smith arrived in California two days before the Super Bowl to begin practicing with the Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and Space Force representatives.
When they weren’t in the stadium rehearsing, they would spend their time with youths that were a part of the Sunburst Youth Academy and the University of California, Los Angeles Army Reserve Officers' Training Corps teaching them movements and flag bearing techniques.
“I feel we had a real impact on a lot of young teenagers,” said Smith.
On Super Bowl Sunday, while waiting in a tunnel for their moment on the field, Smith and the rest of the Joint Armed Forces Color Guard were able to watch the players take the field.
“When the players walked out and the music started playing, I could see their emotions and how ready they were,” said Smith. “It gave me chills.”
When the big moment happened, and with millions of people watching, Smith walked out onto the field like it was just another routine event.
“I wasn’t nervous or anything,” said Smith. “I had full trust in our team and that we were going to go out there and kill the mission.”
It wasn’t until after the ceremony that Smith felt a sense of relief from the tension built up inside him.
“I feel like we all had a weight lifted off our shoulders,” said Smith.
For Smith, the best part about being at the Super Bowl was more than his birthday celebration.
“I guess you could say that I got to represent the Navy in front of millions of people,” said Smith. “It was all I could ask for.”
Before joining the Navy, Smith spent his teenage years floating through life without structure or discipline.
“I barely graduated high school and was falling into a bad group of friends and relationships,” said Smith. “I had to make a decision fast. I was either going to settle with living in the same area or build myself up and move on and not blame my wrongs on situations in my life.”
He was raised with his brother by his mom, who was a pillar of stability in his life.
“My mom has always supported me in any decision I've made,” said Smith. “When I was a kid, she always told me, “the only laundry I will ever do for you when you're older than 18 is your uniform.” So I always knew whatever I did in life she was going to support it, but it had to be a job, and it had to have a uniform.”
When Smith was 17, a Navy recruiter spoke to him at his high school and enticed him into the Navy with the promise of travel and seeing the world.
“I feel like the Navy was the best option over any other branch,” said Smith. “I could see the opportunities I had with each job I could pick in the Navy.”
While attending basic training, he was selected to join the U.S. Navy Ceremonial Guard (USNCG) after meeting physical requirements and passing a rigorous interview process. He now represents the naval service in presidential, naval, military, and public ceremonies.
“He’s a Sailor that is dedicated to his duty and committed to helping those around him,” said Cmdr. Dave Tickle, commanding officer of USNCG. “He brings the best to everything he does and is an incredible representative for the U.S. Navy.”
For the next two years, he worked to become an outstanding member of the color guard that would earn him a spot on the field during the Super Bowl.
"I love the guard. It's given me a bunch of opportunities," said Smith. "It was an honor to be selected. I'm really proud that I got to represent the Navy at the Super Bowl."
Established in 1931, the United States Navy Ceremonial Guard is the official ceremonial unit of the Navy. Located at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, Washington, DC, the Navy Ceremonial Guard’s primary mission is to represent the service in Presidential, Joint Armed Forces, Navy, and public ceremonies in and around the nation’s capital. Members of the Navy Ceremonial Guard participate in some of our nation’s most prestigious ceremonies, including Presidential inaugurations and arrival ceremonies for foreign officials. In addition, the Navy Ceremonial Guard serves as the funeral escort and conducts all services for Navy personnel buried in Arlington National Cemetery.