ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) – Ben Garland fulfilled his childhood dream Wednesday when he donned his Denver Broncos uniform in the morning and his camouflage fatigues in the afternoon for his swearing-in as a member of the Colorado Air National Guard in a ceremony outside team headquarters.
He’s now a public affairs officer whose civilian job is playing defensive tackle.
“As a Colorado kid, I couldn’t ask for anything more,” said Garland, a 24-year-old from Grand Junction, Colo., who signed with the Broncos as a college free agent in 2010 from the Air Force Academy.
He spent the last two years on the club’s military reserve list while he was stationed at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois east of St. Louis, and recently was released from his five-year military commitment so he could pursue his NFL career. He had saved up all of his leave so he could attend these offseason workouts.
“Welcome aboard the team,” Brig. Gen. Trulan Eyre, the 140th Wing commander at Buckley Air Force Base told 1st Lt. Garland after he swore an oath to support and defend the U.S. and state constitutions. “Welcome aboard this (Broncos) team, as well.”
Eyre noted that it’s possible, albeit unlikely, that Garland could return to active duty to serve in the Middle East this fall if his unit is called up.
“I’ll be ready to go,” Garland said. “Chances are slim, and obviously I wouldn’t want to spend any time away from this facility if I don’t have to, but if they’re called up, I’d be happy to go.”
It’s also not a given that Garland will make the Broncos roster.
On Wednesday, though, he said he felt doubly blessed to don his orange and blue Broncos uniform and then switch into his Air Force airman battle uniform.
“I’ve wanted to be a part of the military and be a player for the Denver Broncos ever since I was a little kid,” Garland said. “It’s always been my dream to come out here and do this. I love being out here, being able to practice. I got my practices in and I got to get the best uniform in the world.”
On hold is Garland’s desire to serve as a pilot in the Air Force, which would have required a 12-year military commitment and ended his hopes of playing professional football.
“It was tough,” Garland said. “I spoke to my chaplain, to my grandfather, to my family. … My big thing is I want to be a part of the Air Force and I’m having that opportunity. I’m also having the opportunity to play for the team I dreamed about playing for as a little kid. So, it was tough, but I’m really happy with the decision that I made.”
If Garland doesn’t make it as an NFL player, he has until he’s 27 to go back to active duty and attend flight school, a two-year training program that would be followed by a 10-year military commitment.
Garland was granted an early release from his Air Force duty through the “Palace Chase” program that allows airmen to cut short their commitment for a career that will help recruit or bring positive publicity to the Air Force.
“If I do end up making the team, if I ever make a tackle, you know that announcer’s going to say, ‘Ben Garland, from Air Force,’ or ‘Lt. Ben Garland.’ And that little blip right there is going to give you way more press than a bus billboard or anything else you’re going to see,” Garland said.
Air Force coach Troy Calhoun, who attended the swearing-in ceremony, called Garland the best defensive linemen the academy has had in the last 20 years. Garland totaled 115 tackles, 11 1/2 sacks and three forced fumbles in 39 games with the Falcons.
After playing at 268 pounds at Air Force, Garland added 20 pounds for his first training camp and now packs 305 pounds on his 6-foot-5 frame but is lean, with a 38-inch waist, in keeping with his military fitness requirements.
“I’m stronger, bigger, faster than I ever was and feeling the best I ever have,” Garland said. “I’m going to do my absolute best every day to push hard and probably harder than anyone around me. And if that doesn’t get me on the team, I did my best.”
Broncos coach John Fox said, “there’s probably not any better-trained guy in teamwork in the world” than Garland. “We sell it in the NFL, but the ultimate commitment and sacrifice is in the U.S. military.”
Eyre, the 140th Wing commander, said he’s going to fly the F-16 jet when Fox, the son of a Navy SEAL, does a ride-along later this summer. His ride-along with the Air Force Thunderbirds in Colorado Springs on May 21 was scuttled when his air conditioner malfunctioned.
“The problem was, all the other jets were one-seaters and I wasn’t going to fly those,” Fox cracked.
Fox spent time driving on NASCAR tracks during his nine-year tenure with the Carolina Panthers, where he drove 180 mph and pulled 2 1/2 G-forces.
“I can’t imagine pulling nine Gs in a jet,” Fox said.
NOTES: Unlike last week, Peyton Manning looked rusty Wednesday, along with the rest of the offense, after a four-day break. … The Broncos had a golf outing Tuesday, but Fox demurred when asked who was the best golfer. “What’s good is we don’t have a great golfing football team,” he said. … The Broncos are the latest team to replace the thick paper playbooks with iPads.
– By Arnie Stapleton, AP Sports Writer
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