by michael tummillo | photos by jennifer gracin
Efrain Carrion, a retired Master Sergeant from the United States Air Force, served honorably for 20 years. “When I received my orders to Sheppard (SAFB), it was wonderful for me and my family.” He described Sheppard as “a big school house.”
“It’s a training base... there’s structure here. I had class at a specified time in which to do my duties. At Langley, I would deploy sometimes twice a year. As an Instructor at Sheppard, I knew I wouldn’t be deploying.”
Currently working at SAFB as a Training Manager, he could not have imagined he would wind up being an Air Force Cycling Team (AFCT) member.
How was Efrain immersed in the cycling world? “I wasn’t into cardio work-outs, but my brother-in law was a cyclist in Philadelphia. He just returned from riding 65 miles while I was visiting. I thought he was out of his mind,” he exclaimed. “Then, my dad started cycling, too. One day, he came to Sheppard and I rented some bikes...I couldn’t keep up with him, that’s when I got bitten by the cycling bug.”
The AFCT consist of Active Duty, Reserve, Guard, Civilian, and Retired USAF. Each member must agree to a list of requirements that ensures they meet standards, are committed to serving the public, and are a positive representative of the Air Force and the communities they live in. They must complete local rides like Hotter’N Hell Hundred (HHH), and prior to going to Registers Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI), they must be able to complete a “Century” Ride (100 Miles), must be able to complete minor bike maintenance along with minor first aid, self-aid and buddy care.
The AFCT recently rode in the Hotter-n-Hell Hundred, as they have for the past 13 years. Efrain remarked, “Since 1999 I always rode the 100 miles, this year was a new experience because I rode the 25 miler. It was nice to see the families and kids out there. Representing the AFCT, gave me the opportunity to help get those that were stranded back on the road. It also gave me time to visit with them and hear their stories about this being their first HHH, or about riding together for the last 25 years. It was a blessing to be able to serve and to get those friends and families back on the road to continue enjoying their HHH experience.”
“People are completely humbled and thankful you are repairing their tire, applying a bandage, directing traffic for an ambulance, or talking to their child about the virtues of military service and how incredible being an Airman is.”
- Larry Gallow | Executive Director for the AFCT
Lt. Col Jason Gracin also rode and agreed stating, “The nice thing about riding the HHH as part of the Air Force Team is talking to the many former Air Force members and retirees along the way who love to share their stories and reconnect.” Efrain admitted, “We couldn’t do this without the support Wichita Falls offers, not only for Sheppard, but the cycling community as a whole.” He continued, “Larry Gallow, a retired Reservist, has been the Executive Director for the AFCT the past 13 years. He even designs the kits for the 14 regional areas, including California, Florida, Colorado, Washington DC and more.”
Gallow commented, “The AFCT Leadership are responsible for the Team at large and has a huge operation - all volunteer - that we manage and lead year in and year out. The AFCT took a team of 145 members to ride in the RAGBRAI, an annual event that the AFCT participates in as one of many events across the country. This is our banner event where teams like the Utah region, that are 8 people strong, join the larger team. RAGBRAI offers us the opportunity to represent the USAF by showing a positive representation of the Air Force by assisting the public with bike malfunctions, medical emergencies and conditions, and public outreach.”
“The real hard work is completed by our “Support Team”, typically young Airmen from each base who come and work with us. Many of these are aspiring to ride RAGBRAI in coming years, and their dedication is tested as they are responsible to set up tents, provide water, transport equipment, in short, do the real hard work while the Team Rides their bikes during the day. This portion of the team is amazing and completes this huge task with only 15 Airmen.”
- Efrain Carrion | SAFB Training Manager
Efrain added, “The real hard work is completed by our “Support Team”, typically young Airmen from each base who come and work with us. Many of these are aspiring to ride RAGBRAI in coming years, and their dedication is tested as they are responsible to set up tents, provide water, transport equipment, in short, do the real hard work while the Team Rides their bikes during the day. This portion of the team is amazing and completes this huge task with only 15 Airmen.”
Gallow said, “The Team is completely funded out of the pockets of the members with each member paying over $500 in uniform and ride fees. They then must pay their way for the week with food and other incidental costs. The Air Force does not provide any funding for this effort which makes the Team that much more amazing... Without the strong community support that we enjoy here in Wichita Falls and all around the U.S., it would be a very difficult to pay for the trip to Iowa.”
“Throughout the year, team members across the country volunteer at hospitals, put out flags at cemeteries on Memorial Day, volunteer at homeless events and are on the roadside helping people.” - Larry Gallow | Executive Director for the AFCT
Assuredly, he noted, “The most satisfying part of this Team is that it truly is a Team. Each member depends on the rest of the Team to get through the challenging week. Riding 7 days straight, sleeping in a tent on hard ground, helping people in the heat, and always being in the limelight, is something best accomplished as part of a Team. The AFCT has truly made a name at RAGBRAI and across the country as Guardian Angels of the Road.”
Gallow said, “That focus is something that is truly a comfort to the public. As you ride the roads of Iowa with 15-20,000 of your good friends, you will hear people saying “Thanks, Air Force” and “We’re glad you’re here, Air Force” or “Way to Go, Air Force.” It’s when you stop and help someone that you really get the real sense of the importance of the Team. People are completely humbled and thankful you are repairing their tire, applying a bandage, directing traffic for an ambulance, or talking to their child about the virtues of military service and how incredible being an Airman is. Those are the interactions that make being on the Team worth every penny, every moment invested by you and your teammates. You get to see how thankful the American public is for our service, and representing that makes you humble and focuses you back on what is important...Service.”
“Being part of the Air Force Cycling Team (AFCT) brings a huge since of pride to me. While rid-ing this year’s HHH for the first time in several years, representing the AF and the AFCT, was very satis-fying. I constantly strive to improve my riding ability and ways I can help others enjoy their rides also. Being a member of the AFCT has been a fulfilling experience and I hope to be able to contribute to the AFCT and others.” Said team member TSgt. Scott Anthony.
“It is great that we have Sheppard Air Force Base right there to accommodate us with lodging. This is just a small representation of what we do. Throughout the year, team members across the country volunteer at hospitals, put out flags at cemeteries on Memorial Day, volunteer at homeless events and are on the roadside helping people,” said Gallo with pride. †
For more on the AFCT team,