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Airman Stays Grounded

Posted Apr 20, 2012

Broncos defensive lineman Ben Garland is back with the team, working out as part of the club’s voluntary conditioning program after successfully applying for early release from the Air Force.

Ben Garland finished his sprints and headed directly into the weight room for a lift. An hour and a half later, he emerged from his workout and walked into a meeting room for film study. After grabbing a quick lunch, he went back into meetings and more classroom work – a productive day for someone who was on vacation from work.

Garland is a Lieutenant with the United States Air Force. In 2010, he tried out for the Broncos, but due to his five-year, post-graduate obligation to the armed forces, Garland was placed on the team's Reserve/Military list.

The Air Force Academy graduate spent the next two years fulfilling his responsibility, not taking a single day of vacation time. Instead, he elected to let it accumulate so that he could participate in the Broncos voluntary workouts and camps this spring and summer.

He built up a few months of leave and planned to spend it all in Denver working out with the team as much as he could with the hopes of making the squad in September.

“Air Force was definitely always my No. 1 priority and I always want to make sure I serve first,” he said. “That’s the commitment I set out for and I was going to put all my effort into that. But absolutely, I have always wanted to come back here and this is a dream I want to live out.”

His leave was set run out sometime in mid-June -- but that no longer matters.

Garland has been accepted in a program called ‘Palace Chase’ that allows airmen to end their commitment after two years if they have the opportunity for a career that could have recruiting or public affairs benefits to the Air Force.

Playing for the Broncos qualified.

"I think every little kid who plays football dreams about playing in the NFL, especially for your hometown team," Garland said in 2010, the last time he was with the team.

Garland’s journey since first leaving the Broncos has taken him from Colorado Springs, Colo., where he worked as a strength and conditioning coach at the Air Force Academy, to Scott Air Force Base in Illinois, to defense information school in Maryland and then back to Scott Air Force Base, where he currently resides.

Despite being away from football for nearly two years, Garland never lost sight of the chance to compete for a roster spot this summer.

While staying in shape goes with any job in the Air Force, Garland would wake up as early as 4 a.m. to get in a workout before starting his job as the chief of media operations for the base in addition to a post-work lifting session.

“That’s the great thing about the Air Force too – P.T. standards, you have to uphold them,” Garland said. “Air Force and fitness go hand in hand. I had the ability to work out in the morning before I went to work and after I went to work. There were airmen right beside me running sprints and doing everything else we needed to lift weight and everything else.”

Working in public affairs wasn’t something that Garland had envisioned going into, but when he declined pilot training, that’s where the Air Force decided to put him.

“I never really heard about it before, but I was excited to work in it and I’ve really enjoyed the rewarding experience of being able to serve in public affairs,” he said. “That’s one of the great things about The Academy. They definitely set you up for any career field.”

He said he enjoyed the fast-paced job and the transparent approach that the military takes to its communications with the public.

“As the chief of media operations, your job is basically to relay from the military to the civilian world and the internal audience to get as much information out as possible to tell our troops what is happening and to make sure the public knows, ‘Hey, there is a base here and this is what they’re doing,’” he explained. “We’re not going to hide anything, and we want to get the truth out as fast as possible.”

While communicating with the public during his day job, he also stayed in touch with the Broncos’ strength and conditioning staff and has been working with the same program that the rest of the players.

“Denver has been great about working with me and not only allowing me to serve my country and fulfill those commitments but letting me be able to come back and try out,” Garland said. “I was out there in the middle of wherever I could setting up cones and trying to make it the most realistic football training as possible, but you can’t ever replace that full contact, full speed and that muscle memory. I did what I could, but you can’t just go beating up airmen out there.”

Garland followed the Broncos throughout the past two seasons, often gathering a group of his fellow airmen to watch the games. Growing up in Colorado, he’s been a Broncos fan since he “was old enough to understand what football was,” he said.

He knows it’ll be tough to get back between the lines after two years away from the game, but he is ready to make the most of this chance.

“It’s going to be a challenge,” Garland said. “That’s what the NFL is. It’s one of the most competitive sports, especially at this level. I expect to be pushed beyond where I’ve been. I expect to work hard. I’m just glad and humbled that I have this opportunity.”

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