SEYMOUR JOHNSON AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. -- The auditorium was filled to capacity; more than 500 people, all wearing the same camouflage-patterned uniform. It was easy to blend in with the masses, which was her strategy to survive Basic Military Training. A tiny spec in a sea of green, she thought she was undetectable.
But in an instant, she went from flying under the radar to being directly in the spotlight. For Senior Airman Amber Coley, a 4th Medical Operations Squadron physical therapist here, it was the moment that completely upended her military career and set her on a journey from being just another face in the crowd to being one of the faces of the U.S. Air Force Honor Guard.
Coley watched as members of the Honor Guard took the stage to demonstrate what being part of the elite group required. The recruiter spoke to the crowd, explaining not only the professionalism and dedication it took to fill the shoes of an honor guardsman, but also the physical prerequisites. He mentioned that females must be at least 5 feet 6 inches tall.
"I heard the recruiter say the minimum height, but he never said the max," Coley explained. "I knew the idea was for everyone to look the same, so I raised my hand to ask. I didn't even get a word out before he asked how tall I was."
She replied, 5 feet 11 inches.
Without hesitation, the recruiter encouraged her to apply for the Honor Guard. She made the cut.
After completing BMT, Coley was sent to Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, Washington, D.C. for eight weeks of disciplined training.
"It was like BMT on steroids," she described. "We were on the bus to the base and we weren't even allowed to look out the windows; eyes straight forward at all times."
From the moment she got off the bus, Coley said they were constantly pushed to their physical limits. She had to carry all four of her bags from BMT, which included her uniforms and gear, a half mile from where they were dropped off to their dorms without letting any item touch the ground.
The recruits were also tested on their military bearing, which Coley said was difficult to adapt to at first.
"Until you've gone through it, you just can't understand the feeling of standing at attention, staring at your roommate, for almost three hours straight," Coley said. "But when you're performing at a funeral and you see a toddler crying and you can't budge, you go back to that training."
When she finished training and began full time as an honor guardsman, Coley was one of only seven females in a group of approximately 260 members. She was also the only female selected to be in the colors flight, which presents the colors at Air Force specific and joint service events.
During ceremonies, she was responsible for displaying and guarding the Air Force flag, which carries battle streamers from every conflict the Air Force has been involved in since its birth as the U.S. Army Aeronautical Division in 1907. According to Coley, the flag can weigh upward of 40 pounds with all its decorations.
"I gave my blood, sweat and tears to Honor Guard," she said. "But at the end of the day, it's a brotherhood and I will remember the people and the experiences for the rest of my life."
For three years, she performed in countless ceremonies, retirements and funerals as the standard for discipline and military professionalism.
"As one of seven, we were the face of women in the Air Force," Coley said. "We were the example for every little girl who saw us at a football game or ceremony. It was a lot of pressure, but it just pushed me to be the best I could be."
After her assignment with the Honor Guard, Coley was rewarded with a career field of her choice. She opted for physical therapy, where she continues to set an example for other Airmen to follow.
"Senior Airman Coley is an extremely confident, young woman who exemplifies the standards for discipline and military professionalism," said Maj. Jana Weiner, a 4th MDOS medical services flight commander. "She has superb attention to detail in both her work in patient care as well as the administrative tasks she is asked to perform."
Whether as an honor guardsman or a physical therapist, Coley continues the standard on which the Air Force is built upon.