Colorado Air Guardsman’s path to the NFL

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Wolfram M. Stumpf
  • 140th Wing Public Affairs
Many young kids have hopes and dreams of doing something amazing when they grow up. Some want to be an astronaut, or a police officer, maybe a member in the armed forces or play a professional sport.  And some actually get to live more than one dream, as is the case with Capt. Ben Garland, a public affairs officer for the 140th Wing, Colorado Air National Guard.

A Colorado native, Garland grew up idolizing his grandfather, retired colonel Hugh Garland, and on Saturdays they would go to the United States Air Force Academy football games together.  Garland also enjoyed playing football in the street with his dad and two brothers, as well as watching the Denver Broncos games on Sundays. In the fifth grade Garland started talking about his desire to follow in his grandfather's path and become an Air Force officer by attending the USAFA. It was also about that time that Garland started playing little league football.

Garland's determination to attend the Academy led him to earn several accolades not only in academics, but football as well, knowing that he had to be the best he could possibly be to get his acceptance to the USAFA. Graduating from Central High School in Grand Junction, Colo. with a high grade point average and lettering all four years in football, he turned down an offer to play football in New Mexico and was easily accepted into the USAFA in Colorado Springs, Colo.

It was at the Air Force Academy where Garland learned firsthand about the Air Force's Core Values: Integrity First, Service Before Self and Excellence In All We Do. Like most members of the Air Force, these three values became a way of life.
As a defensive lineman, Garland played four games as a true freshman for the Air Force Falcons.  His desire to be the best at what he does and his positive attitude led him to play in all 39 games during his last three years at the academy. His hard work resulted in a total of 115 tackles (52 solo), 11.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, two blocked kicks and second-team All-Mountain West Conference honors his senior year. Garland also won the Brian Bullard Memorial Award, the highest honor a Falcon football player can earn, in his senior year.

Garland's mother, Syndee Garland said, "at the Academy they are taught the Air Force Core Values - Integrity first; Service before self; Excellence in all we do. He takes those to heart and lives those values. This was evident when he was chosen by the team for the Brian Bullard Award which is based on unselfishness, 110 percent effort, total team commitment and pride in his role on the team."

Garland's determination to be the best was not only noticed by his teammates. In April 2010, Garland was acquired as a College Free Agent by the Denver Broncos, one month before graduating from the Air Force Academy. 

Knowing that he had a commitment to the United States Air Force after graduating, he was allowed to compete during the Broncos 2010 preseason and was placed on Denver's reserve/military list for two seasons so he could fulfill his active duty obligations.

Having achieved his first dream of becoming an Air Force officer, Garland also had the goal of making the Nation Football League's active roster with the Denver Broncos within reach, but this would not come easily.

As a second lieutenant, Garland was stationed at Scott Air Force Base, Ill. as a public affairs officer,  where the Air Force core values would again play a key role in fulfilling his childhood dreams.

Despite not being on a football field for two years, Garland's commitment to the Air Force and the Broncos was never in question. Putting in long hours before and after work to stay in "football" as well as "Air Force" shape was a balancing act many people would have given up on. The Broncos expected him to be a 300-pound defensive lineman and the Air Force requires every member to meet specific physical fitness standards. Knowing that the two do not go hand in hand, yet keeping true to the core values, Garland was able to not only stay in defensive lineman shape, but aced his AF fitness assessment as well. 

"From day one, Garland was this larger than life presence in our shop--a true leader in that he made quick, firm decisions while providing top cover for the team,"  said Director of Public Affairs Karen Petitt at Scott Air Force Base, Ill. "He united the team and everyone rallied around him naturally. But even those with natural leadership abilities need to have some skills, and he was great at everything he did--media, community relations ... even taking pictures."

Garland was approved for his separation from active duty in May of 2012 and joined the Colorado Air National Guard shortly thereafter.

Once again Garland stuck with his core values as he would spend the next two seasons on the Denver Broncos practice squad, trying to make the official 53-man roster.

In the off-season Garland fulfills his military obligations as a public affairs officer with the COANG at Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, Colo.

Spending his mornings at the gym and working half days in the afternoon with the COANG, Garland is able to fulfill all annual requirements for a member of the Air National Guard before the NFL's organized team activities start back up in mid-April.

Before the 2013 season, Garland was moved from the defensive line to the offensive line where he was expected to do things in football that he hadn't done since high school, which required him to practically re-learn the sport from the ground up.

"The difference between playing on the defensive line and the offensive line is like night and day," Garland said. "Defense is a lot about reacting. To play on the offensive line, there's a need to understand how the other team's defense works and how the offense works together."

Going into the 2014 season, the odds of Garland making the Broncos active roster was something he never thought about. However, news outlets and fans predicted no chance for him based on the fact that he was still learning the offense and competing against players from 2013 plus off season acquisitions. The road ahead looked dismal at best.

However, throughout the 2014 preseason, Garland found more and more play time and even started in the last preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys.

On August 30, 2014, Garland's second childhood dream came true. He earned a spot on the official 53-man roster for the Denver Broncos as an offensive guard.
"It was surreal... felt like a dream that I'm still waiting to wake up from!" Garland stated when asked how it felt to make the Broncos official roster. He added, "my mom was the first person I told; I would have never made it this far without her."

Finally both of his dreams had come true and Garland knows that joining the AF helped him in his pursuit to be in the NFL. "The NFL and the Air Force are both elite teams striving to become the best in the world. The mental toughness, work ethic and core values you gain from the Air Force are essential in becoming successful in the NFL," he said.

"Anything that Ben does, it doesn't surprise you," said Broncos coach John Fox. "He was trained by the best in the business in our military. He's very smart and very tough." (as reported in the Denver Post)

Now a newly-promoted captain, Garland spends many of his off days volunteering in local Denver communities and all around Colorado. He represents not only the Denver Broncos but the U.S. Air Force and now the Air National Guard with honor.

When summing up his thoughts about wearing the U.S. Air Force uniform, Garland mentioned "The people you work with are, without a doubt, the best part of working in the Colorado Air National Guard. We have a great group of Airmen who you can be proud to serve with!"