UPDATE: USAFA grad's path to success: Ben Garland wins Denver Broncos' 2014 Walter Payton Man of the Year Award

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Wolfram M. Stumpf
  • 140th Wing Public Affairs
(This feature is part of the "Through Airmen's Eyes" series on AF.mil. These stories focus on a single Airman, highlighting their Air Force story.)

Many young kids have hopes and dreams of doing something amazing when they grow up. Many want to be an astronaut, or a police officer. Others may want to serve in the armed forces or become a professional athlete.

But for an Academy Class of 2010 graduate, more than one dream can come true.

Capt. Ben Garland, a public affairs officer with the 140th Wing of the Colorado Air National Guard, actually succeeded in combining two coveted careers into one.

"As a Colorado Native, I grew up idolizing my grandfather, retired Col. Hugh Garland. In the fifth grade, I started talking about my desire to follow in his path to become an Air Force officer by attending the Air Force Academy." Garland said of his young childhood memories.

It was also around that time that Garland fell in love with the sport of football. Having played the game in front of the house with his father and two brothers, and soon thereafter on a little league team, his dreams started to grow.

During football season, his enthusiasm for the sport was further fueled as he cheered on his two favorite teams, the U.S. Air Force Academy Falcons and the Denver Broncos. Little did Garland know, those teams would have a huge influence on his future endeavors.

In school, Garland was noted as a talented student, earning several accolades, not only in academics, but also in football. He was determined to earn acceptance to the Academy. As a result of his work, he graduated with a high grade point average, lettered all four years in football, and was able to go to the college of his choice.

As a freshman at the Academy, Garland played four games as a defensive lineman for the Air Force Falcons.

"I set three goals of something to focus on and improve on each and every day." Garland said about what he did to play in more games for the rest of his time at the Academy. "Over time those small steps added up making me grow as a player."

His efforts would pay off for him during his sophomore, junior and senior years for the Falcons and he started in all 39 games after that freshman season. Racking up 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 won the Brian Bullard Memorial Award, the highest honor a Falcon football player can earn, in his senior year.

"At the Academy they are taught the Air Force Core Values," said Syndee Garland, Garland's mother. "He takes those to heart and lives those values. This was evident when he was chosen by his team mates 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 Air Force after graduating, he was still given leave to compete during the Broncos 2010 preseason. Garland was then 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 saw his other goal within reach -- making the Nation Football League's active roster with the Denver Broncos -- but making the jump to professional sports as member of the military would not come easily.

As a second lieutenant, Garland was stationed at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, and 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 and Air Force shape was a difficult balancing act. 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 necessarily 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 military fitness assessment as well.

"To be in shape for the NFL I trained every day before and after work while stationed at Scott AFB, including weekends and holidays. The Air Force training was a great change of pace for my workouts, keeping my body guessing. Three mile wing runs isn't your standard NFL workout." Garland said with a smile.

Helping to ease the transition between his two careers, Garland was approved for his separation from active duty in May of 2012 and joined the Colorado ANG. He could now chase his football dream head on. He spent the next two seasons on the Denver Broncos practice squad, absorbing and leaning everything he could trying to make the official 53-man roster.

In the off-season, Garland fulfills his military obligations as a public affairs officer with the ANG at Buckley AFB in Aurora, Colorado. Spending his mornings at the gym and working half days in the afternoon, Garland is able to fulfill all annual requirements for a member of the ANG before the NFL's organized team activities start back up in mid-April.

In the 2013 offseason Garland was sent to Jordan under Colorado's National Guard's State Partnership Program, to work alongside with the state's public affairs counterparts and learn from each other's successes within the career.

Before the 2013 season, Garland was moved from the defensive line to the offensive line where he was expected to participate in plays that he hadn't done since high school, which at the NFL level 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 plays. 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, Garland said he did not dwell on his odds for making the Broncos active roster, even though news outlets and fans predicted no chance for him. He was new to his position in the offense, competing against experienced 2013 players and new hopefuls; however, throughout the 2014 preseason, Garland received more time in the game and even started in the last preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys.

On Aug. 30th, Garland beat all odds and earned a spot on the official 53-man roster for the Denver Broncos as an offensive guard.

"It was surreal ... (it) felt like a dream that I'm still waiting to wake up from!" Garland said about making the Broncos roster. "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 said that joining the Air Force helped him in his pursuit of a jersey.

"The NFL and the Air Force are both elite teams striving to become the best in the world," he said. "The mental toughness, work ethic and core values you gain from the Air Force are essential in becoming successful in the NFL."

"Anything that Ben does, it doesn't surprise you," said Broncos Head Coach John Fox in an interview with the Denver Post. "He was trained by the best in the business in our military. He's very smart and very tough."

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 Air Force and the ANG with honor.

As a young boy from Colorado, Garland dreamed big. Actually succeeding in those dreams is a testament to his character and the positive role models throughout his life.

Walter Payton award

Garland was named the Denver Broncos 2014 Walter Payton Man of the Year award recipient for his community involvement, according to the team, Dec.  4.

The former Falcon serves as the executive director of the SoDE Solution, a nonprofit organization that raises awareness of sex trafficking.

Garland, a longtime supporter of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Denver and the Denver Rescue Mission, worked extensively with the Broncos' high school football platform program.

He was honored in Denver Dec. 7 at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, and the Broncos made a $10,000 donation to the charity of his choice.

Garland is now in the running for the NFL's national award, to be announced during Super Bowl week. Two finalists for the national award will be announced later this month, with the winner receiving a $50,000 donation to the charity of his choice.

John Elway is the only Bronco in history to win the national award.