Senior Master Sgt. Julio A. Flores takes a winning stance with his bicycle above his head at the 40th Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa. Known as RAGBRAI, it's the oldest, largest, and longest bicycling touring event in the world. (U.S. Air Force photo)
by Senior Master Sgt. Julio A. Flores
Buckley Air Force Base
8/15/2012 - BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo- -- I spent a week behind bars in Iowa from July 22-28, 2012. My time was spent promoting the U.S. Air Force in some of the hottest and unforgiving conditions. No, I didn't spend a week behind prison bars; I spent a week behind handlebars riding my bicycle as a member of the Air Force Cycling Team (AFCT) in the 40th Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, simply known as RAGBRAI. RAGBRAI is the oldest, largest, and longest bicycling touring event in the world and has been an annual stop for the AFCT for 18 years.
The event is held annually in Iowa during the final week of July. Though the route changes every year, it always begins by dipping your rear wheel in the Missouri river and ceremoniously ends seven days later by dipping your front wheel in the Mississippi river. This year's event began in Sioux Center, Iowa, and ended in Clinton, Iowa, for a total of 471 miles over seven days. The AFCT completed the optional Karras Loop on the third day of the event to accomplish a century (100 miles) for the day and increased the official distance total to 493 miles.
This year I joined 95 Wingmen from across the Air Force, 87 riders and eight support personnel. Although the Air Force officially sponsors the AFCT, it only provides permissive TDY for active duty members. Team members are responsible for registration fees, camping fees, riding kits (uniforms), transportation to Iowa and food.
This was my second year riding in RAGBRAI as a member of the AFCT. The team's role is to be an ambassador for the U.S. Air Force. With 15,000 to 20,000 participants, there are many opportunities to interact with the public. The public is curious about its military and I fielded questions like, "Where are you stationed?" and "What do you do?" Have you ever deployed?" By answering these questions and many others, I was able to tell my story and share a little about the U.S. Air Force. This would often initiate a five to 10-mile ride holding a conversation.
As ambassadors, the AFCT has developed a reputation for assisting riders in any way possible along the route. During the week in Iowa the AFCT changed 200-plus flat tires, were first responders to accidents/injuries, provided mechanical assistance and encouraged those riders challenged by the ride. This enabled to team to portray a positive image of the U.S. Air Force.
Next to interacting with the public, the best part of the week was the food. Event favorites include pies, pork chops, homemade ice cream and breakfast burritos. The most special moment of the week is the entrance into the final town leading to the Mississippi River. The team always finishes by crossing the finish line in a two-column formation. The procession is always greeted by fans lining the streets on their feet clapping their hands with cheers of, "WAY TO GO AIR FORCE!" "USA! USA! USA!" and "THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE!"
The AFCT is open to all active duty, Reserve and Air National Guard Airmen and their families, as well as U.S. Air Force civilians and retired U.s. Air Force members. I'm hoping to attract more riders from Buckley Air Force Base for next year's RAGBRAI.
Registration for next year's Air Force Cycling Team and RAGBRAI will open at the end of December. Visit www.afcycling.com for more information and follow the team at http://www.facebook.com/groups/67188808213/. If you're up to spending some time behind bars, check us out.