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Guardsman helps Air Force claim top volleyball honors

Arizona Air National Guardsman Staff Sgt. Ray Valles sets the ball for Staff Sgt. Clarence Hucks from Yakota Air Base, Japan, at the Armed Forces Volleyball Championship at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C. The Air Force’s men’s team won first place during championship finals, June 10. (Courtesy photo by Kavika Lacar)

Arizona Air National Guardsman Staff Sgt. Ray Valles sets the ball for Staff Sgt. Clarence Hucks from Yakota Air Base, Japan, at the Armed Forces Volleyball Championship at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C. The Air Force’s men’s team won first place during championship finals, June 10. (Courtesy photo by Kavika Lacar)

TUCSON, Ariz. -- An Arizona Air National Guardsman joined forces with active duty Air Force athletes to win the Armed Forces Men's Volleyball Championship recently.

Staff Sgt. Ray Valles, a drill status Guardsman in the 162nd Fighter Wing's communications flight here, won a gold medal with the Air Force Volleyball Team at the conclusion of tournament play at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., June 6-10.

The Air Force's 10-man team went undefeated in the championship with a standing of six wins and zero losses. They competed against the Marine Corps, Navy, and Army teams to win first place.

"In the competition we played each branch of service twice. The Marines were our toughest competitors. They won the gold last year. It was hard, but it was fun," said Sergeant Valles.

The Department of Defense Armed Forces Sports Program is available to all active duty, Reserve and National Guard members on active duty status. Among many objectives, the program promotes goodwill among the armed services and provides an avenue to participate in national and international competition. 

An appointment to the Air Force's official team is an achievement in itself as the selection process is highly competitive.

Sergeant Valles is no stranger to athletic trials. His volleyball career is filled with victories. He won a silver medal playing with the All-Army team in 2000.

"Through a resume process I was selected to tryout for the team. I participated in a three-week long tryout and ultimately made the team. I was the only Guardsman selected to play this year," said Valles.

To prepare for tryouts, Valles trained three days a week throughout the year in hopes of being in the best physical condition to place in the competition.

"I would go to the gym or meet up with friends and train for hours. We wouldn't keep track of time, we would just play," said Valles.

"We all knew how important this team was to Ray," said Tech. Sgt. Mike Coleman, one of Valles' coworkers. "He's always talking about the team, his training or his local volleyball leagues. He's worked so hard and we're all so glad to see him reach his goal."

Sergeant Valles, a Tucson native, has played volleyball for the last 18 years and has volunteered as a coach at various middle and high schools.

With the competition over, Valles' new plans are to take a slower pace and enjoy time with his family.

"It was fun, but I'm retiring from future competitions. I've accomplished my goal of winning a gold medal with the Air Force," said Valles.

"We were all happy for Ray when we found out the team won it all," said Sergeant Coleman. "I told him, 'Congratulations champ.'"