Broncos players, cheerleaders, staff, Ring of Fame linebacker Randy Gradishar and team President and CEO Joe Ellis visited the men and women at the Schriever Air Force Base.
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. —** As civilians entering the Schriever Air Force Base, the Broncos players didn't know what they were getting into. Phones, which are practically almost an extension of ourselves these days, were left behind at the bus as the group of Broncos players, Ring of Fame linebacker Randy Gradishar, team President and CEO Joe Ellis, cheerleaders and staff were transported into the restricted area, along with USAA, the Official Military Appreciation Sponsor of the Denver Broncos.
With a schedule taking them into the 50th Space Wing, the possibilities of what they would experience were as endless as the expanse the department researches.
"It felt like I was in some kind of movie or like we were about to go do a mission," Cody Latimer said. "The captain was ready to plan it, we were looking at the board and ready to attack this mission."
What they weren't expecting was to see the highly detailed and intensive accounts of how the work they do there factors into their everyday lives, especially in the devices that makes smartphones so smart.
It's more than likely that you've used the technology the people at Schriever have developed and currently maintain. In fact, there are good odds you've used it already today by the time you read this article.
On the tour around their campus, operations personnel introduced the assorted Broncos members to the basic aspects of their duties and the people behind them. They control and ensure the reliance of global positioning satellites that orbit the Earth that enables not only the military's use of what is more commonly known as GPS, but the general public's as well.
They also make available satellite communications for more specialized networks in the military, like providing a live Super Bowl feed for service men and women in the middle of the ocean. And from a military standpoint, their work in ensuring reliable communications around the world is essential.
For the players, taking the time out of their busy week to make the trek and not just meet and greet the folks at Schriever but getting to understand what they do made the experience all the more important.
"It was amazing just seeing people's jobs, how hard they work and being able to interact with them on our day off and just let them know that we care," Cody Latimer said. "I'm glad that we have them, great people in this field that help us get around daily and things like that. They put in a lot of work and we're glad we're here able to give back and sign some posters and interact with them."
The group of players—Latimer, Isaiah Burse, Bennie Fowler, Ben Garland and Ring of Fame former Broncos linebacker Randy Gradishar—were happy to meet with the men and women of the base, eager to talk about football, the Broncos, families and military life.
One of the special parts of being able to visit Schriever Air Force Base was being able to meet with the entire families of the service men and women. There are about 250 houses at the base, so it also has a community of families.
"Just being able to be still part of that and seeing families, kids, husbands, wives — just seeing that unit together just does my heart good," Gradishar said. "I am hoping it certainly is an encouragement to our military who are married, who have families and whether you don't have a direct family, you have an indirect family back at home somewhere: moms and dads, brothers and sisters."
And with Garland—an Air Force Academy graduate, current captain in the Colorado Air National Guard and public affairs officer—it made the visit all the more special for many of them as members of the Air Force or as their relatives.
Debbie Lewandowski was among that group. Her son and his wife are both captains in the Air Force, and the Broncos have always been her favorite team.
"This was awesome, and to see Ben Garland, who used to play for the Air Force Academy out here and supporting our troops and coming and being a Bronco — it's been a fantastic, amazing day just having the opportunity to meet the cheerleaders, Randy Gradishar, Miles, everything," she said.
She was far from the only person to remember Garland, of course. Garland had plenty of fans from his Air Force football days, and more than a few were those shared the football field with him.
About six former teammates recognized Garland on the tour, and it just put some things in perspective for him.
"It was a great experience not only to see my old friends but see what they're doing right now," Garland said. "They're off leading completely different lives down the road. The base isn't that far from us and just to see they're over here working with satellites in space and just down the road while your just up there playing football."
Even though they're all leading different lives, Garland felt at home spending his day on the base and connecting their lives after his took a different path into the NFL.
"It means the world to me because I just know how much the families actually go through," he said. "When there are families overseas and they're worried about them and they're facing danger but they're over here, still having to deal with everything and still life goes on over here while at the same time, their family's overseas. Being able to see the families and just brighten their day a little bit, we were really happy to do it."
The day spent at Schriever was just a small part of the NFL's Salute to Service Month. Another component of the month will come on Sunday at the Broncos' only home game of November, co-presented by USAA. From the opening preparations to the closing moments, the game will make a special experience for current and former members of the military. The first 500 current and former military members to show military ID will receive a surprise they can pick up at Gate 10 while supplies last; 60 members will be hosted at the game; a special Salute to Service coin will be used in the coin toss; and a military-inspired surprise will be provided for all fans.
The entire month is certainly special for Garland. There's been a Colonel Garland in the Air Force ever since its inception when it broke off from the Army. And for Captain Garland on the Broncos, he had his own memorable experience two weeks ago when he got his first active playing time, just days before Veteran's Day.
"This month's huge to me," Garland said. "It's one of those things where we take a little time out of our day to recognize what the veterans are doing for us. I mean, I get to play a game for a living and they're out there fighting and putting lives on the line so I can have that freedom and enjoy that. And just to take a moment, stop and thank them for what they're doing, it means the world to me."