Three ARPC members feed, assist other riders at RAGBRAI

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Rob Hazelett
  • Air Reserve Personnel Center Public Affairs
Three members from the Air Reserve Personnel Center recently took to the heartland and made their presences known via their volunteering and riding efforts during the Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa bicycling event held July 20-26, 2014.

The RAGBRAI is a week-long bicycle touring event that organizers claim is the longest and largest of its kind in the world. The Register, a daily newspaper from Iowa's capital city, Des Moines, has organized the event for 42 years. It began when two journalists from the paper challenged each other to ride their bicycles across the Hawkeye state, while writing about the experience for the paper.

Karen Willett, ARPC executive secretary to the commander, was among the volunteers at RAGBRAI as she helped her brother with his barbeque catering business for the third consecutive year.

"During RAGBRAI, we set up each day at 4:30 a.m., and tore down around 4:30 p.m., in different towns along the route," the 18-year ARPC employee said. "We provided barbeque to the riders and anyone else who stopped by."

Willett started assisting her brother to spend more family time with him and her sisters. She said RAGBRAI isn't like any other bicycling event she's ever seen and already looks forward to next year.

"I was in awe each day when I saw the waves of riders coming into town. It's quite a sight to see," Willett said. "After the first year, I not only enjoyed the family time but meeting the riders and getting to know more about them. I have met many of the Air Force Cycling Team members who stop by each year to see us and talk."

This summer marked the 20th year the Air Force Cycling Team has been riding across Iowa. The Air Force team has grown to more than 100 active-duty Air Force Reserve, Guard and civilian riders.

Lt. Col. Michael Rothermel ARPC assignments division chief, and Maj. Trent Champion, ARPC technical advisor, were among the cycling team members whose goal is to "promote the Air Force in the most positive way possible using cycling as a way to display 'wingmanship' and fitness."

Rothermel, who has biked intermittently for 17 years, said the AFCT team had a 60-percent turnover this year and being a part of the team keeps getting better.

"The magnitude is overwhelming," said the 24-year veteran as he described the unique experience. "The AFCT has a rich history with this event and is chartered primarily to be a positive representation of the Air Force."

Champion, a 25-year Air Force veteran, described his most memorable event from the ride.

"When the last-minute opportunity rose to participate in this historic event, I jumped at the chance," he said. "I appreciated not only the physical demands of this event but also the overarching AFCT mission set as well. I'd have to say after hearing the numerous great news stories throughout the week, it all culminated at the end of the ride when the AFCT members lined up and rode the last couple of miles together in two rows. Hundreds of spectators and participants lined the route and really showed their appreciation and gratitude for all the support the Air Force team provided along the way."

The event has grown so large, that today the number of registered riders is limited to 8,500 participants, which is larger than of many of the small towns where the riders spend each evening during the weeklong event.

This year's route began in the Northwest Iowa hamlet of Rock Valley, as riders trekked 468 miles in seven days through eight Iowa communities, and concluded their ride on the Mississippi River bluffs of Guttenberg along the border with Illinois.

Rothermel said the AFCT is the only entity on the course that will assist riders who've had mechanical or physical problems on the RAGBRAI route.

"While the event's formal Support Aid Group and police provide emergency medical services during incidents, the AFCT is usually first on the scene. This year we were involved in rendering aid in so many incidents that the ride's EMS director came to camp to thank us for our work - even to the point of administering more advanced self-aid buddy care," Rothermel said. "While the majority of our effort is helping other riders change flat tires or fix minor mechanical problems we inevitably shift into the role as first responder when we see crashes. The participants quickly recognize that the AFCT is part of something bigger; helping others or service before self. Being able to focus on and live out this core value throughout the week is a wonderful experience."

Rothermel added the AFCT was well supported by many local recruiters and it was very rewarding to share and be an Air Force representative with the wide-eyed children who lined the streets of each town along the route.

"I was motivated by the camaraderie of this team," Rothermel said. "I, and the other 123 AFCT riders this year, agree it is worth the effort."

If you are a member of any component of the Air Force, the cycling team may have a place for you. For more information, view their web site