SIOUX CITY, IOWA --
The Air Force Cycling Team is riding again in the 2022 Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa or RAGBRAI. The trip is a weeklong recreational touring bicycle ride that takes cyclists from the Missouri river in the west to the Mississippi in the east.
The Air Force Cycling Team made their way to Sioux City where the Iowa Air National Guard’s 185th Air Refueling Wing played host to the team for the first night of the event.
According to Trey Munn, Executive Director of the cycling team, this year they have 105 riders along with 15 support members. The group of cyclists are joining over 15,000 other riders from around the globe during the weeklong event.
This year, RAGBRAI has riders on a northern route that covers nearly 462 miles beginning in Sergeant Bluff in the west and ending at Lansing in the east. Riders make nightly stops in Ida Grove, Pocahontas, Emmetsburg, Mason City, Charles City, and West Union, swelling their populations by several thousand for a giant overnight rolling block party each evening.
Munn has been a part of the Air Force Cycling Team for seven years and said he keeps coming back because of the positive experience.
“It's a fantastic way to talk about the Air Force,” said Munn. “To talk about where you come from, and to just find common connections with the people of Iowa.”
Members of the Air Force team come from all over the world and are part of the Active-Duty Air Force, Air Force Reserve, Air National Guard and Space Force. The team also includes family members as well as retirees.
Air Force cyclers have a rich history of acting as the “Guardian Angels of the road,” where they are known to provide aid to other riders with equipment issues and assist with injuries.
Air Force Cycling Team Chief Marketing Officer Drew Patterson explained that the team is riding in their 27th RAGBRAI event this year.
“We promote fitness, cycling, and being out in the community,” said Patterson.
As part of their tradition on the first day, as the sun rose, the team formed up and paraded out of town two-by-two. According to Patterson, members of the team typically ride about ten hours each day before tenting at each evening stop in the host cities.
For Air Force Cycling Team member Maj. Sara McDowell, RAGBRAI is serving as a kind of homecoming. The Cedar Rapids, Iowa, native is a Mental Health Provider for Headquarters Air Force and is a Regional Team Lead for the AFCT. McDowell explained how AFCT members greet and hand out swag to community members along the route.
McDowell said a big part of the experience for team members is that they get to interact and connect, forming bonds through comradery towards their common purpose.
“Airmen want to connect together,” said McDowell.
McDowell said wearing the Air Force wings on their cycling uniform is a great way for participating Airmen to come together while serving the community.
Even though McDowell is a native Iowan, she said she had not participated in RAGBRAI until joining the active-duty Air Force. Now, she is back for her fourth year.
The first day of RAGBRAI this year is themed after the Air Force’s 75th Anniversary, and many cyclists could be seen wearing patriotic colors and Air Force clothing.
Patterson explained that on the final day of riding, the Air Force team plans to meet two miles out from Lansing, which is the last town on the ride. As part of their tradition the team plans to parade into town on their bicycles, marking an unofficial end for RAGBRAI.
First-time AFCT rider and RAGBRAI newcomer Col. Jeffrey Pixley, Commander of the 737th Training Group at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, said he was looking forward to the community interaction this week.
“Having a very public face of the Air Force out there,” said Pixley, “not just out there in the form of commercials, but regular people from across the different AFSCs, officers and enlisted representing the Air Force.”
“They’re helping the community by putting service-before-self, literally on display as they ride through RAGBRAI and help people out,” he explained.
AFCT Organizers say they are open to all ranks in the Air Force and Space Force, as well as retirees, Air Force Civilian Service workers, and family members of Air Force service members. More information can be found on the Air Force Cycling Team website.
According to their website, the Air Force Cycling Team was founded in 1995 by Air Force recruiters from Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue, Nebraska, under the name “Team Aim High,” and the riders rode fast in order to impress, but over the years have changed, slowing down to connect with and help other riders along the way, allowing them to connect with the local population that does not have a large local Air Force presence.
The AFCT plans to be a part of the inaugural Air Force Heritage Monument to Monument ride, starting at the Wright Brothers Memorial in North Carolina on September 15, ending at the Airman’s Memorial in Washington D.C. on September 18, the 75th Anniversary of the founding of the U.S. Air Force.