914th First Sergeant embodies new Air Force slogan: "Above All"

NIAGARA FALLS AIR RESERVE STATION, N.Y. -- Master Sgt. Jeff Gray, 2008 Air Force First Sergeant of the Year, poses in front of an Afghanistan mountain range during his most recent deployment to Southwest Asia.

NIAGARA FALLS AIR RESERVE STATION, N.Y. -- Master Sgt. Jeff Gray, 2008 Air Force First Sergeant of the Year, poses in front of an Afghanistan mountain range during his most recent deployment to Southwest Asia.

NIAGARA FALLS AIR RESERVE STATION, N.Y. -- -- The Air Force has selected Master Sgt. Jeffrey Gray as the winner of the 2008 First Sergeant of the Year Award.

Sergeant Gray, a traditional reservist assigned to the 328th Airlift Squadron as well as a City of Buffalo firefighter in his civilian capacity, could not believe he was chosen for this honor.

"I was in disbelief when I found out I won," he said. "It was great to represent the wing at the Numbered Air Force (NAF) level and a pleasant surprise to win for Twenty Second Air Force. I didn't expect to win at the Air Force Reserve Command level or even the Air Force level," added Sgt. Gray. 

Chief Master Sergeant Steve Larwood, command chief of the 914th Airlift Wing was astonished when he received the news that one of his first sergeants was chosen for this honor.

"Sergeant Gray was the first reservist to ever win this award," said Chief Larwood. "I wasn't at all surprised when he won here at the wing or for 22nd Air Force or even at the AFRC level because I knew he was head and shoulders above his competition," he added.

"I was surprised when he won going up against Active-Duty and Air National Guard first sergeants, simply because tradition has it that Active-Duty Airmen usually win because they are performing this job 365 days a year and reservists approach it from a part-time basis. However, if you looked at Sergeant Gray's accomplishments then it should be no surprise that he won," said Chief Larwood.

The Air Force established the First Sergeant of the Year Award in 1985 to recognize the important contributions and leadership qualities exhibited by Air Force members in this special-duty career field. Nominees are considered for their areas of leadership and job performance in their primary duty, significant self-improvement, and base or community involvement.

"Sergeant Gray will be the first to tell you that it wasn't about him, he would say he was just doing his job," stated Chief Larwood.

"I make mistakes but I work as hard as I can for the Airmen I take care of. I believe it's that hard work that is recognized with this award. I just try to be consistent and work hard. Outside of that, the only things that stick out in my mind are those I feel I could have done differently," said Sergeant Gray.

"I believe this an award all first sergeants should strive for," said Chief Larwood. "But one of the things I tell first sergeants who interview for the job is in order to be an effective first sergeant, they have to be at the point of their career where they are done winning things for themselves. Your success comes through the success of the people you take care of," the Chief added.

"My only goal has been to do the best I can for the people in the squadron and I can always do better," said Sergeant. Gray.

"The Air Force is 'total force' and the Air Force Reserve is an equal partner with the Air National Guard and Active Duty," said Chief Larwood. "If you put us on the job state side or in a war zone, there is no difference between Active Duty, Guard or Reserve when it comes to performing on the job. Sometimes we even outperform because (being in the Reserve) we can bring another set of skills from our civilian capacity to the table that will help accomplish the Air Force mission," he added.

"Sergeant Gray is the kind of person who will always take care of the people he is around, not only as a first sergeant but also with the City of Buffalo's Engine 31 on Buffalo's east side," said Chief Larwood. "This award has not changed him one bit, he is still marching on, doing the job the exact same way whether or not this award came his way," said Chief Larwood. "He is a very humble man."

"I'm very proud of him. It's great for our command and great for our wing," concluded Chief Larwood.