Cadet NCO of the Year Excels in New Mexico Wing as Leader
As a high school freshman, Verity Gray promised she would take the initiative to challenge herself and serve others around her at the same time.
“Though this was a very general goal of mine, it has become one of the values that is most central to my personal identity,” Gray said.
Now that she’s a senior at East Mountain High School in Sandia Park, New Mexico, as well as a cadet first lieutenant in the New Mexico Wing’s Albuquerque Heights Composite Squadron, Gray can relax: At age 17, she’s already accomplished her goal.
But “relax” isn’t part of her vocabulary, judging from her extensive list of achievements and honors from her school, community, state, and Civil Air Patrol.
Most recently, Gray was recognized as the Air Force Sergeants Association National Cadet Noncommissioned Officer of the Year at CAP’s 2023 National Conference in August. One of many nomination letters came from Maj. Gen. Mark E. Smith, CAP national commander from 2017-2021, who’s familiar with Gray’s accomplishments as an Albuquerque Heights squadron member himself.
Smith commented on the cadet’s talents, coupled with a strong drive for excellence and tempered by humility and kindness, resulting in a “highly superior leader who is making an impact to a growing number of people in her circles of influence.”
In CAP, he said, Gray excels as a teacher and mentor.
“She has mastered every assignment she has been given,” said Smith, the squadron leadership officer —“assistant public affairs officer, Airman Leadership Lab instructor, element leader, flight commander, and NCO Leadership Lab instructor.”
In school Gray excels in the classroom and in sports, music, and other extracurricular activities.
She consistently is named to the dean’s list with highest honors, serves as student body president, and is student representative on the school board.
She belongs to the National Honor Society and maintains a perfect grade-point average. She excels in violin, playing in the New Mexico All-State Symphony Orchestra and the Albuquerque Youth Symphony. She’s also cross-country team captain and is serving as New Mexico youth governor a year after being named New Mexico youth secretary of state.
Her accomplishments, coupled with her leadership abilities and willingness to help others, caught the eye of her teachers and East Mountain High School Principal Trey Smith, who also wrote a letter of recommendation for the national award.
He has worked with thousands of student leaders during his career, he said, and Gray is in the top tier as a ”driven academic, a courageous leader, and a compassionate friend.”
“Years from now,” the principal wrote, “I know we will all be hearing about Verity’s accomplishments in college, graduate school, and career.”
Gray is the Albuquerque Height’s squadron deputy commander for operations, recruitment officer, and public affairs officer. She also is vice chair of the New Mexico Wing Cadet Advisory Council.
And she’s just getting started in Civil Air Patrol. Gray joined the squadron in August 2021. She learned about CAP while researching the U.S. Air Force Academy, where she hopes to be a cadet next fall. Her ultimate goal is to become a physician in the Air Force.
The main attraction CAP offered, though, was its leadership opportunities.
“The organization has offered me countless challenges and learning opportunities that I can apply to leadership roles I hold in other aspects of my life as well,” Gray said.
Her abilities were quickly recognized in her squadron, and she has been treated accordingly, topped by the recent national award.
She attended her first summer encampment in 2022 and served as cadet commander of the 2023 New Mexico Wing encampment. Over the summer, she also attended Medical Orientation Training School in Texas.
“My experience there was one of the highlights of my entire time in CAP,” she said.
No one is more familiar with Gray’s abilities and character than her squadron commander, Maj. Mary Fox, who’s also director of cadet programs for the New Mexico Wing.
The cadet’s leadership and mentoring skills were on full display, Fox said, when she took it on herself to help a 13-year-old cadet NCO create a newsletter for the squadron. The result was a two-page newsletter that can be used for promotional purposes.
Gray was named squadron recruitment liaison in January, making her the first person in a leadership role who prospective cadets’ parents meet. That first impression has worked wonders, with parents leaving her presentation eager to sign their child up as a cadet.
From September-December 2022 she served as a leadership instructor. The 18 cadets she mentored have gone on to be leaders in the squadron, Fox said.
“Her impact overall on the squadron has been to create leaders out of young cadets,” Fox said. “Our squadron is one of the strongest in the wing as a direct result of her leadership and teaching skills.”
Over time, Gray’s promise to herself as a high school freshman became an identifying trademark. That mindset translated to her academic, athletic, extracurricular, and personal life. Like a true role model, though, she’s reluctant to talk about the results of her willingness to serve others and to mentor younger cadets and classmates.
“I hope that my simple existence has served a positive and valuable purpose in the lives around me and that my hard work has reached further than myself,” Gray said.
This profile of Cadet 1st Lt. Verity Gray is 15th in a regular series of articles showcasing how CAP and its members make an impact throughout the nation.