East Rowan grad comes back to perform with Honor Guard
By Steve Huffman
GRANITE QUARRY ó As a member of the U.S. Air Force Honor Guard Drill Team, Rion (pronounced “Ryan”) Ehrman has performed numerous times before thousands.
He’s performed in front of the Lincoln and Roosevelt memorials in Washington, he and his comrades dressed in their spit-shine best, tossing their bayoneted rifles back and forth with the precision of one of the world’s most elite military squads.
They’ve performed at halftime shows of NFL games in stadiums where the seating capacity approaches 100,000.
So after touring the globe and performing before everyone from presidents to prime ministers, where did Ehrman’s nerves come closest to getting the best of him?
That’d be Wednesday morning as he and his fellow Drill Team members performed in the gym at his alma mater, East Rowan High School.
“This is the most memorable,” Ehrman said moments after he and the Drill Team’s 15 other members finished a performance before a goodly number of the school’s students. “A lot of these people here are my friends.”
Ehrman, 20, was sweating as he spoke, the humidity inside the gym high on a morning when the temperature outside was cool. He paused frequently to hug family members and friends.
Ehrman, an airman first class, graduated from East Rowan in 2007. His parents, Bob and Cindy Ehrman, were among those in attendance Wednesday. So were his sisters, Amanda Ehrman and Crista Stubbs.
Cindy, his mother, is a local Realtor. She watched her son’s every move with the intensity that only a prideful mother could match.
Cindy said her son worked with her husband briefly following high school graduation, then joined the Air Force in January 2008. She said she’s marveled at the transformation her son has undergone since enlisting in the military.
“To the very end, every grade, we never knew if he was going to make it,” Cindy recalled of her son’s less-than-stellar academic career. “The Air Force has been the best thing for him.”
Being selected for the Drill Team was a difficult undertaking, Rion Ehrman said. Members are selected from the Air Force Honor Guard, members representing the best of what the military branch has to offer.
Drill Team training is a grueling eight-week undertaking where the fundamentals of precision drill are taught.
“It’s really intense,” Ehrman said. “It’s the toughest thing I’ve ever been through.”
The purpose of the Drill Team is for its members to promote the Air Force and assist with recruiting. They’re a sight to behold, as polished and professional a group as exists.
Each performance lasts 15 to 20 minutes. A standard performance features a choreographed sequence of maneuvers, precise tosses, weapon exchanges and a walk by a commander through a gauntlet of spinning, bayoneted rifles.
Ehrman said he enjoyed performing at his alma mater ó the Drill Team performs in the hometowns of its members whenever possible ó but admitted the students who watched were a subdued group, not sure when to applaud.
Some crowds, he said, are more boisterous than others.
“This is tame,” Ehrman said of Wednesday’s performance. “It’s been a lot of fun, but it’s tame.”
Asked the last time he dropped a rifle during a performance, Ehrman laughed.
“Never,” he said. “It just doesn’t happen.”