FORT CARSON, Colo. – **Supported by thousands of fans each Sunday, on Tuesday – the players' day off – Ben Garland and Steven Johnson became supporters themselves as they paid a visit to soldiers at Fort Carson as part of the Broncos' Salute to Service, presented by USAA and OtterBox.
"These guys are the real heroes," Johnson said. "We're just merely entertainers at the end of the day. When it comes down to it, these are the guys that we look up to."
Garland and Johnson were joined by Broncos President Joe Ellis, former Broncos Randy Gradishar and Ken Lanier, four Denver Broncos Cheerleaders and Miles the Mascot as they met with and presented game balls to soldiers in the 4th Combat Aviation Brigade and the 52nd Engineer Battalion.
In the morning, they Broncos met with the 4th CAB, who provided assistance in fighting the Black Forest fire this summer and in the evacuation of flood victims a few months ago.
"There's a war going on and they're fighting outside the United States and all of a sudden we have the catastrophes with the floods and or the fires here particularly – in Colorado Springs and up north with the floods," Gradishar said. "Having that local impact and seeing the military going out and being able to help our local citizens I know means a tremendous amount."
While in the hangar, the Broncos explored two different helicopters while the soldiers explained the purposes of different parts of the aircraft.
"They got to walk around on the aircraft and learn a little about what we do every day," Spc. Eric Embry said. "I think it's a pretty important job, what we do – looking up to these guys – maybe they get to come into our house and look around, take a step back and see who they're playing for and meeting real fans. We appreciate what they do so maybe they'll appreciate we do also."
During lunch with more soldiers and some of their families, the Broncos answered questions and Garland expressed his gratitude for all their hard work.
After lunch, the group met with the 52nd Engineers, who also helped in the fight against the Black Forest fire. They helped create fire barriers by digging holes to halt the progress of the flames.
Garland and Miles climbed up into some of the machinery the unit used and Garland drove a Hyex machine around.
The trip to Fort Carson is a part of NFL's Salute to Service campaign and was coordinated in conjunction with the USAA – the Broncos' and the NFL's official military appreciation sponsor. Ellis said that going to Fort Carson is the "one of the best days of the year" and the Salute to Service is "one of the best periods of the season."
Not only is the experience fun for the soldiers, it's fun for the Broncos, too.
"The support is mutual and everybody loves pro football," Ellis said. "I think a lot these people are Bronco fans, which makes it exciting. There's mutual admiration and mutual respect, which makes it a great day."