JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas –
The Air Force Cycling Team, known as the "Guardian Angels of the Road," recently participated in Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, or RAGBRAI.
The oldest, largest, and longest multi-day bike ride in the world, the ride takes place across Iowa and is now in its' 49th year, and is quite an achievement for avid bike riders.
The 37th Training Wing’s Col. Jeff Pixley, 737 Training Group commander at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, participated in this year’s event, his first since joining the team in 2021.
The team’s South Texas region is located in San Antonio and has more than 40 members, which Pixley said are “supportive, diverse, dedicated, and overall impressive.“
On day six we were more than 400 miles into the ride across Iowa. the colonel and I chatted at the AFCT campsite in West Union, Iowa.
Q: What do you do in the Air Force?
A: I am the commander of the 737th Training Group. We are responsible for Air Force Basic Military Training and the only enlisted basic military training location in the Air Force. We turn more than 35,000 civilians into Airmen each year.
Q. What led you to join the Air Force Cycling Team?
While stationed in Tucson from 2016 to 2018, I started cycling and ran across the team’s website. As I recall, there was no team in Arizona, so I didn't pursue it. Then, late last year, a buddy of mine called me up and said, "Dude, let's do this ride across Iowa with the Air Force team.” I joined the team to experience this ride with like-minded people who are serving or have served, but also as a way to improve my own fitness levels.
Q: How has your RAGBRAI experience been this week?
A: Most of my knowledge about the ride came from other San Antonio team members during on-the-bike conversations while on training rides, watching many online videos by civilians, and the team videos. The actual ride has exceeded all my expectations due to the size and volume of the people participating and the role the team plays here.
Col. Jeff Pixley
"While here, if you're paying attention, you get to see all the slices as you ride along, and there's something for everyone here."
Q: What kind of riders and people have you met this week and how does that compare to the Air Force?
A: I've seen athletes who are focused on being ready for a competitive race. I've seen people who look like they've never exercised. I've seen young people, older people, and every kind of random variation of American, and international folks here. I'm trying to think of another activity that is as inclusive. When you watch somebody's video about RAGBRAI, you generally see their perspective, and only that one slice. While here, if you're paying attention, you get to see all the slices as you ride along, and there's something for everyone here. Just like in the Air Force, we have a diverse pool of recruits that become Airmen filling many types of positions across the Air Force and Space Force.
Q: What’s been your experience with your teammates and riders from other teams?
A: The thing that struck me was the number of teams I didn't know existed. Groups, such as the Dream Team out of Des Moines and the Man-Up team, along with other small teams, doing something to make a difference. So, we make our difference as the "Guardian Angels of the Road” by acting as bike patrol helping riders who need assistance and also by being Air Force ambassadors. The other teams make their difference in other ways.
It's also been great to have veterans on the team explain who they are because just passing by them, you don't know if it's a jersey they just bought off the internet or if they're part of something that matters. There's a heck of a lot of them who are part of something that matters, and it's just been great to be a part of it. I wouldn't say I wish it to be a longer event, but my interactions with the people on the road have focused my desire to return.
Q: How have you seen our teams’ impact here?
A: The Air Force's reputation is phenomenal here. That was true in all the online videos as well. I don't think there's a single one where someone doesn't mention the Air Force in the video. So, I got thanked a thousand times or more this week. I didn't help a thousand people. I was just riding by or next to someone.
Q: Should the Air Force and Space Force be participating in these types of events?
A: I think so. I'm a firm believer that what we're doing out here is making a difference by connecting with people and speaking about the Air Force. The perception of the Air Force here has shown me this. I think it's impossible to participate in this event and not appreciate the Air Force in a new way as an organization. I don't know where else the Air Force has this kind of impact day over day. The Thunderbirds come to mind, of course. However, one-to-one engagement with a person is worth something. So is pulling over and tearing apart someone's bike, getting your hands dirty, and getting to know them while helping them get across the state. It's essential for recruiting and for the Air Force's reputation.