HILL AIR FORCE BASE — When you join the military, you know — at the very least somewhere in the recesses of your mind — that there’s a chance you could pay the ultimate price for the decision to sign up with Uncle Sam.
A group of airmen at Hill Air Force Base has raised a new monument there, designed to honor the spirit of that reality.
Todd Cromar, with Hill’s 75th Air Base Wing Public Affairs office, said in a news release that the base’s 75th Operations Support Squadron recently inaugurated the “Wall of Exemplar” inside the squadron’s Heritage Room, which is located in a hangar along the base’s flight line.
Cromar said the memorial is modeled after a similar program at the U.S. Air Force Academy in which cadets vote for their class’s “exemplar,” or role model, and then highlight the individual selected. The brainchild of Lt. Col. Joseph Michaels, commander of the 75th OSS, Hill’s Wall of Exemplar features plaques of Maj. Walter “David” Gray and Capt. Nathan Nylander, who both died fighting in Afghanistan.
Gray died Aug. 8, 2012, from injuries suffered during a suicide bomb attack in the Kunar Province in Afghanistan, Cromar said. Nylander died April 27, 2011, after being involved in a small arms fire exchange at Kabul International Airport in the country.
“They were heroes long before their lives were taken,” Michaels said of the decision to honor Gray and Nylander. “Both were great people and embodied service before self. I believe there are a lot more heroes than we realize walking around and, given the same circumstances, they too would act in a similar manner.”
Cromar said the plaques of the two airmen are meant to serve as a “visual reminder of their service and sacrifice.” Also part of the project, street signs with the pair’s names will be erected on base.
“This is our opportunity as a squadron to pay it forward and celebrate what it means to be a selfless leader,” Michaels said. “What you see is that people of this caliber have the ability to inspire trust in those around them, and that’s when units are operating most efficiently.”
The base regularly pays tribute to those who lost their lives serving their country. In 2008, base officials dedicated a large monument at Hill’s Memorial Park, honoring the fallen airmen of Team Lima — Tech. Sgt. Timothy Weiner, Senior Airman Daniel Miller and Senior Airman Elizabeth Loncki — who were killed Jan. 7, 2007, while investigating a vehicle-born explosive device near Al Mahmudiyah, Iraq.
Members of the base populace regularly hold remembrance ceremonies at the monument on or near the anniversary of the airmen’s death.