Air Force team provides helping hand along the route

There’s a story Mike Widener likes to tell about someone on RAGBRAI who once asked what kind of tire tubes the Air Force uses that cause so many flat tires.

“They apparently thought we were on the side of the road because we had flats, but really we were helping other people,” said Widener, an officer at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia.

All week long he and the 93 other members of the Air Force cycling team have been helping riders along the route.

They’re the largest military group and one of the largest teams overall on RAGBRAI.

Members provide basic medical assistance and direct traffic around accidents until local authorities arrive, fix flat tires and help with other bike problems.

“Sometimes it’s just to give them a little bit of company at the end of the ride,” Officer Ryan Gabel, also of Virginia, said.

Members of the large group, which also includes a support crew of about a dozen people, hail from all over the country.

For the most part, they pay their own way, but they get free time off, Gabel said.

The ride is part recruiting trip and part vacation.

“We’re here to promote a positive image of the Air Force,” Gabel said.

That’s one reason they help other riders and wear their Air Force gear day after day.

The opportunity to meet new people and take in Iowa are two things that keep Widener and others coming back.

He’s on his fifth RAGBRAI.

“On other long rides I’ve done, the focus is on the bike,” he said. “Here it’s on the socializing and taking in the small towns and scenery.”

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