Lackland Air Force Base, Texas –
On March 23, Travis returned to Lackland after being on deployment in Irag for six months. Two weeks later, Travis was beginning to prepare for another mission-one that would take him halfway across the country.
This time, however, he would not be riding in any military sanctioned transportation, but rather a pickup that would be hauling a horse named Drifter behind it.
Travis Sterling, a senior airman assigned to the 37th Security Forces Squadron, had entered and was training for the team-roping event for the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.
Like any other cowboy, Sterling was proud of his accomplishments and wanted every fan and fellow competitor to know that when his gate swung open and he came out riding, he was competing for something greater than himself. He was riding for the entire Air Force.
"Wearing the Air Force logo on my back means a lot to me," said Travis. "I'll be introducing the Air Force to a different arena and a different crowd. But I come from a cowboy heritage and the same principles I was taught growing up, such as dedication and determination, are the same values that the Air Force holds true."
Travis was approved by the Air Force Services Agency to wear the Air Force, Lackland and Security Forces Squadron logos and patches on his shirt while competing. The shirt will be Air Force colors. Travis will be the first cowboy to wear the Air Force logo while competing in any rodeo event on the PRCA.
"I would love to clone the kid," said WarHawk Fitness Center and Base Fitness Director Kenneth Hack. "He's not doing this for monetary gain. All he kept saying was, 'How can I put the Air Force logo on my back?'"
According to Hack, Travis received a contract from Wrangler Jeans, issuing him a uniform with the Air Force logo on the back. Hack aided Travis in obtaining permission to wear the logo while competing.
"This is huge for the Air Force," Hack said.
The rodeo is a rapidly growing sport, one that has recently become a frequently nationally televised event.
Travis did have a few more loose ends to tie up before he could begin his mission. Because the rodeo is not an officially recognized sporting event by the Air Force, there was no immediate funding for his quest.
Travis also needed to be officially assigned by the Air Force to participate in the rodeo. He hoped to receive 36 days of permissive temporary duty to participate in the rodeo, giving him from June 11 until July 16 to practice and compete in some of the smaller rodeos as well as the bigger ones.
Travis was somewhat surprised when he was granted the full TDY he had requested.
"People jumped through hoops for the kid because they thought it was a great opportunity," Hack said.
This will be Travis' first professional rodeo experience, but he has been roping for the better part of his life.
"I was about 3 to 4 when I started," Travis said. "That wasn't horseback, that was just roping dummies with my dad."
While some might be intimidated being a rookie on the rodeo circuit, Travis sounds very confident in himself.
"My competitiveness and overall desire to be the best that I can be keeps me working hard every day," said Travis. "To be honest, I don't see the point in doing something unless you are going be the best you can be at it."
Travis isn't traveling alone. His team-roping partner and road-tripping buddy is also his father, Paul Sterling. It is not often that a son and father get to share an experience like this, and it does not seem like Paul is taking this opportunity lightly.
"This is something I've dreamed about since he was 3 or 4 years old, and whether or not it was ever going to come true or not was up to him," Paul said. "If he wanted to be a professional surfer I would have bought him a surfboard and moved to California, but this is great because it's something that we can enjoy together."
Paul is also no stranger to rodeo events, especially roping.
"I'm 47 now and to think back that far hurts," Paul said. "Basically I've been doing this all my life."
The roping duo not only share the uncommon bond of being a father-son team, they also face an uncommon obstacle. Because of Travis's commitment to the Air Force, he has been on deployment and out of the country for the better part of the last 5 years.
"We are definitely in this to win, but you got to remember Travis has been gone," Paul said. "So any little thing we can learn along the way helps."
While some people might view being overseas as an obstacle too difficult to overcome, Travis took a practice steer head with him on all of his missions. As soon as he would get settled into his new surroundings, he would find a hardware store.
"Dad, what are the measurements to build a dummy for roping, I need to keep practicing," Travis would ask at every stop.
Travis could be seen roping a dummy steer head in Guam, London and Iraq. In London,
Travis was fortunate enough to find a family that was in the horse business, allowing him to keep practicing roping and riding.
"We are just trying to get sharp right now," Paul said. "I mean there is no way that the Air Force would have sent Travis to Iraq without boot camp, and the same thing goes with training for the rodeo."
Reno, Nev., June 16-24, was Travis's first opportunity for the main stage. He was in front of approximately 10,000 people and was given an incredible welcome by the fans that were present to watch.
"I get goose bumps just thinking about it," Paul said.
Travis is hoping to get a few more days added to his TDY. He would like to extend it until Aug. 2, which is when the rodeo circuit ends. If he does get the extension he desires, he will have competed in 18 rodeos in six different states.
Because of the long and exhausting travel, Sterling switched his horse Drifter out soon in favor of another horse named Mocha.
While the horses might get a rest, Travis and Paul just keep on competing.
"I tell you what, there are too many people that live an 8-to-5 life and get up in the morning just do it all over again," Paul said. "People like my son understand that life can be short and they want to do something with it before it's too late, and that's what this is all about."