TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Interacting with the American public at cycling events across the United States may not sound like something many people think of members of the Air Force doing.
However, that’s the mission of the Air Force Cycling Team, a group of Airmen who call themselves the “Guardians of the Road.” According to the team’s mission statement, it’s dedicated to promoting the Air Force in the most positive way possible.
The team consists of more than 400 Airmen in regional chapters from California to Massachusetts. Every year, the members participate in numerous cycling events, often serving as course marshals where they help cyclists fix flat or punctured tires, replace broken chains and even provide water to those in need.
“We are a group of riders who like to help people,” said Senior Airman Jacob Pinkney, 860th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron C-17 Globemaster III crew chief and AFCT member since 2015. “Some people may have been riding for years, but others may not know how to change tires or fix parts on their bikes. We enjoy donating our time to something we love while helping others and representing the Air Force.”
Pinkey is a member of the California chapter of the AFCT based out of Travis Air Force Base, California. He said the greatest experience he’s had as part of the team was helping riders during the 2017 Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa in July, a 500-mile trek starting along the state’s western border with the Missouri River and ending at Iowa’s eastern border along the Mississippi River. The RAGBRAI is the oldest, largest and longest recreational bicycletouringevent in the world.
At RAGBRAI, Pinkney was one of 150 AFCT members serving as course sentries. The event closes the team’s riding season every year and often draws more than 20,000 people.
“On the first day of RAGBRAI, I met an elderly gentleman who brought all these tools and supplies,” said Pinkney. “We joined forces and stopped every few minutes to help someone with a flat tire or whatever else was wrong with their bike. I think I fixed about 20 flats that day, along with one bike with a broken rim.”
On day four of RAGBRAI, Pinkney helped a young mother.
“She was having trouble pulling her kid in a stroller carrier as she was becoming quite fatigued,” he said. “She was an avid cyclist, but she was having a hard time. I attached the stroller carrier to my bike and pulled her child into the next town for her, which was about 15 miles.”
Tech. Sgt. Samuel Kennedy, U.S. Air Force Band of the Golden West regional bandsman and member of the AFCT, shares Pinkney’s sentiments.
“We want to show people the highest levels of excellence that exist across the Air Force,” he said. “Our team consists of men and women, active-duty Airmen, reservists, Air Force civilians and retired service members. We care about all we do, whether we’re riding 100 miles or serving on the flight-line.”
During RAGBRAI, Kennedy helped several people, including an older gentleman he said he will always remember.
“I saw an old man who was struggling on the second day. He must have been 93 years old and he looked dazed, so I stopped to help him,” said Kennedy. “I got him some water and we sat down in the shade for an hour talking. I shared my story about how I served at five different duty stations and I learned he was a World War II veteran who served in the Navy.
“After that, we got on our bikes and continued the ride, but it was neat to meet him and swap stories. I also enjoyed knowing I was able to help him finish that day’s ride, which was the longest single-day ride of the event, more than 80 miles.”
Throughout the seven-day event, members of the AFCT assisted an average of five cyclists every day, amounting to more than 5,000 total assists and people noticed.
“RAGBRAI 2017 was my first and I was amazed at how I always saw Air Force team members stopping to help others,” said Diane Sartori, a retired Air Force reservist on the team’s Facebook page.
“We love seeing and having the Air Force Cycling Team in Iowa. You have helped us more times than I can count,” said another rider from Grapevine, Texas.
Thanks to the Air Force Cycling Team for all the help the team gave to riders on the course, said Sheila Semenas, an Oshkosh, Wisconsin resident.
“I was fortunate not to have a bike or medical issue throughout the ride, but comforted in knowing that your team was on the road with us,” she said.
Having an opportunity to be a positive force for the Air Force means a lot, said Kennedy.
“I like wearing the Air Force jersey and showing my pride to as many people as possible,” he said. “At RAGBRAI, we’re riding with 20,000 riders every day so we’re bringing the Air Force to people who may have never interacted with the Air Force before. We’re also helping people in a myriad of ways all while representing the Air Force.
“We may come across someone who may not be a military supporter. And maybe, we stop to help that person with their bike or give (him or her) some water, and maybe, that changes their perspective.”
The AFCT hopes to recruit more riders and have an even greater impact with their 2018 season, which runs from February to August, said David C. Bell, the team’s California regional leader.
Bell has been an Air Force civilian employee for nine years and works as a regulatory media expert for the Regulatory and Legislative Engagement Division for the Air Force Civil Engineer Center. He has been a member of the AFCT for three years.
“I would like to see our regional teams grow,” said Bell. “I want to build a larger team so we can provide a greater service for charity rides we support. Often, we only send four or five riders to those events, but it would be nice if we could send more riders to showcase the Air Force.”
Bell stressed anyone who has a love of cycling and a desire to represent the Air Force can join the team.
“The AFCT isn’t a competitive racing team,” he said. “All are welcome regardless of their fitness level. We ride for the enjoyment of the sport, to be active in an activity we enjoy while serving as ambassadors for the greatest Air Force in the world.”
For more information about the AFCT, visit the team’s website athttp://afcycling.com/.