U.S. Air Force Cycling Team Rides Across Iowa

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Rich Murphy
  • 185th Air Refueling Wing, Iowa Air National Guard

Over 160 men and women of the United States Air Force joined thousands of bicyclists for the Des Moines (Iowa) Register's 38th Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, better known by the cyclists as RAGBRAI.

The Air Force Cycling Team (AFCT), under the leadership of Air Force Lt. Col. Joseph "Mad Max" Robinson, donned their team jerseys and started their 16th trek east from the shores of the Missouri River in Sioux City, Iowa, across over 420 miles of Iowa highway, to the shores of the Mississippi River in Dubuque, Iowa.

RAGBRAI, the oldest and largest recognized non-competitive bicycle ride in the nation, attracts over 10,000 riders from around the world every year. The ride historically begins on the west coast of the Iowa border, where riders dip their back wheel into the Missouri River. Riders then begin a 7-day journey through several small towns across Iowa until they reach the east coast of Iowa, where they dip their front wheel into the Mississippi River.

Air Force Master Sgt. Frank Stevens, a Category 4 racing cyclist and a member of the 142nd Fighter Wing in Portland, Ore., made his first RAGBRAI trip this year. "Really, this event combines the best of both worlds: my love of cycling and my career."

He added, "Though Iowa does not have the mountains we have in Portland, the large hills can be quite deceiving. You really need to be in good shape to get through this."

While the AFCT is not an official part of the Air Force Fitness program, team leader Robinson said that the team epitomizes what it means to be fit. Really, our cyclists are at the forefront of physical fitness. "This team is in incredible shape. Everyone I talk to around here comments on how fit our team is."

The AFCT is supported by the Air Force Recruiting Program, which aims to get the word out about the benefits of serving in the United States Air Force. Started in 1994, the AFCT began as a recruiting event for recruiters out of Bellevue, Neb. After showing incredible growth, the team got official sanctioning and sponsorship from the United States Air Force.

Retired Air Force Col. Elise Pitterel, a former Maintenance Officer from Hill Air Force Base in Utah, said that the race is an excellent way to connect to future Airmen. "The kids love to see us come along."

Pitterel added that this event is a particularly great event to reach young women who may be considering a military career. "Even today, I find that young women do not realize that the military is a good career choice for women."

In addition to recruiting young men and women, the AFCT provides an excellent opportunity to reach out and support the community. Robinson noted that the team has a strong reputation among the RAGBRAI community. "The overwhelming response I get from the organizers of this event is that this team is the most professional, courteous, and fit group of people that they have seen."

As part of that service to the community, the AFCT cyclists carry extra inner tubes to assist the other cyclists in the event. Robinson said, "If we see someone on the side of the road in need of help, it is our duty to pull over and help them. When we are out here, we represent the Air Force and we want to make sure that people leave RAGBRAI feeling pleased that this is where their tax dollars are going."

Although the United States Air Force officially sponsors the AFCT, it only provides support transportation. The cyclists pay for most of the trip including registration fees, camping fees, jerseys, transportation to Iowa, and food.

"All of the riders on this team are truly dedicated, since they spend at least $600 to $700 in just the event. This is not even including the personal equipment necessary to complete the trip," said Pitterel.

Many of the cyclists say that RAGBRAI is an event they look forward to all year. "Really, RAGBRAI and the Air Force team reignited my love of this sport," said Johnson, who has been riding in this event for the last seven years.

Retired Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Kevin Swenson, an Iron Man Triathlon competitor, says the best part of RAGBRAI is connecting with the local communities. "I always look forward to all the homemade pies. I tell everyone that I am eating my way across Iowa."

Stevens agreed and added, "The best part is the strawberry rhubarb pie. I found my weakness."

"I am also really looking forward to getting a 'hamball' in Plover, Iowa. I am not sure what it is, but some church ladies are selling them to raise money to rebuild the roof of their church, so they are selling hamballs," said Swenson.

While members of the AFCT enjoy the yearly trek across Iowa, Robinson finds that it is sometimes difficult for everyone to make the trip every year. "With the tempo of the Department of Defense and all of the deployments, our team roster is incredibly fluid."

The AFCT is open to all active duty and Air National Guard Airmen and their family. Registration for next year's RAGBRAI will open at the end of the year. A registration fee is required and includes one short sleeve team jersey, one pair shorts, one pair of socks, one T-shirt, RAGBRAI registration fee, an AFCT patch, an AFCT coin, three liters water per day, and camping fees.

The 38th RAGBRAI will conclude this Saturday, July 31st, in Dubuque Iowa. For more information about this event, visit the official website of RAGBRAI.

The appearance of hyperlinks does not constitute endorsement by the 185th Air Refueling Wing, the Iowa Air National Guard, the United States Air Force or the Department of Defense of the external website, or information, products, or services contained therein. For other than authorized activities such as military exchanges and Services/Morale Welfare and Recreation (MWR) sites, the United States Air Force does not exercise editorial control over the information users may find at these locations. Such links are provided consistent with the stated purpose of the website.