Cyclists from Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland and JBSA-Randolph participated in a Memorial Day weekend ride to Kerrville to visit with veteran’s from the Kerrville Veterans Hospital in May. (Courtesy photo/David Larabee)
JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas —
Members of the Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland Air Force Cycling Team aren't your ordinary cyclists riding along their merry way.
Over the past few months, the cyclists, part of a larger U.S. Air Force cycling contingent in Texas, have participated in several treks to promote Air Force goodwill.
Recently, the team, led by cycling captain Larry Gallo, participated in the Air Force-wide Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa. RAGBRAI uses cycling to recruit people for enlisted and civilian positions in the Air Force, guard and reserve.
In late July, Gallo led 30 Texas cyclists; including 15 riders from JBSA-Lackland, on the six-day trek across Iowa.
It was the Air Force's 18th year participating in RAGBRAI.
"We are recruiters on wheels," Gallo said. "It's not a sign on a piece of paper type deal." It's all about networking with people they meet along the way and finding out whether they, or their friends and relatives, would be interested in joining the Air Force as enlisted members or civilian employees.
The Air Force cyclists even wore blue uniforms to attract potential enlistees.
"The young people identify with the Air Force blue. They see the flash, and they say, 'Oh, those are some neat jerseys,'" Gallo said. "That might be just a little thing to pull them over toward enlisting."
Before participating in the recruiting ride, the 15 riders from JBSA-Lackland participated in a July 14 charity ride called the David's Ride in McQueeney, a 70-mile ride honoring fallen cyclist David Eikenburg, a pastor who was killed seven years ago.
Proceeds from the event went to Camp Agape, a Christian bereavement camp for neglected and abused children. The charity camp is southwest of Austin in Spicewood.
Gallo said his group was drenched in sweat for the first 20 miles of the ride.
What is common during these races is the gratitude of the people who cyclists meet in their travels. After participating in RAGBRAI and other races every year, the Air Force cycling team is well known amongst the public.
"If you bring up a name, some people say, 'Oh I know who that is,''' said Andrew Patterson, a JBSA-Lackland cyclist. "Next thing you know, they could be neighbors or they know someone who works on base. It's a cool deal."
Sometimes, the cyclists can get sidetracked when traveling from destination to destination. They've had to provide assistance to pedestrians or motorists along the way.
"If we encounter someone who is injured, we (control traffic) on the road and allow people to pass safely until the ambulance shows up," Gallo said. "We have nurses and doctors who are part of our team."
While the Air Force cycling team reaches people's hearts through their goodwill, sometimes they too are touched by those they meet.
JBSA-Lackland and JBSA-Randolph cyclists rode to Kerrville over the Memorial Day weekend to visit with injured veterans at the veteran's hospital.
Gallo said hearing their stories made the team's weekend.
"After visiting with them and letting them tell us their story, we as a team left very proud," Gallo said. "The best thing we do is when we give back to communities."
By the end of every race, every resident of a town the Air Force cycling team visits knows what the service is about.
"We are all about promoting the Air Force. I can say (I'm proud of) joining the Air Force," Gallo said. "What better way to share the message of the Air Force than by riding a bike and staying fit."