TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Fifty mobility Airmen from Travis AFB were put to the test Aug. 13, during the USAA ‘Salute to Service’ Boot Camp at the San Francisco 49ers practice facility in Santa Clara.
The Airmen competed in teams of five in a variety of drills including the 40-yard dash, three-cone shuttle, vertical jump and quarterback arm challenge.
The event, which is part of a national program designed to honor, empower and connect service members, veterans and their families, was organized by USAA in conjunction with the 49ers.
“Many service members love football and we look for opportunities to bring them together with the sport they love,” said Roger Wildermuth, USAA media relations director. “Today, we have an opportunity with the 49ers and we are really excited.
“Salute to Service Boot Camp offers service members a chance to test their skills and go through some of the drills the players go through,” Wildermuth added. “It also offers an opportunity for service members and NFL players to connect, which hopefully enhances understanding on both sides.”
The Airmen were assessed on each skill, similar to how NFL players are evaluated by coaches and scouts. The Airmen performed well, with one Airman running the 40-yard dash in 4.8 seconds and another taking first place in the quarterback arm challenge by heaving a football 62 yards.
“Maybe I’ll leave here with a contract,” joked one Airman.
Prior to competing against one another, smiles covered the Airmen’s faces as they watched a 49ers practice and met with some of the team’s coaches and players.
“I’m a lifelong Niners fan, so, once I heard about this event I couldn’t miss it,” said Staff Sgt. Nicholas Vincent Butera, 60th Maintenance Group quality assurance inspector. “This is like a dream come true. You watch these guys as kids. I played football in high school and this is something I always wanted to be. I’m living a different dream right now by being in the Air Force, but being able to be here is kind of like me living that dream as well.”
Airman 1st Class Ethan Summers, 60th Civil Engineer Squadron water and fuel systems maintenance apprentice, shares the joy Vincent Butera described.
“I am so excited for this opportunity to see the 49ers and meet one of my favorite players, Marquise Goodwin,” Summers said. “I’ve followed him since he played at the University of Texas.”
Summers also said he appreciates serving at Travis AFB where he feels a strong bond with the communities that surround the base.
“Being a part of and involved with the community is important to me because when I was growing up, I helped out where I could,” he said. “Whether that was helping the homeless, supporting breast cancer awareness or helping in another capacity. I feel like that’s what we do in the Air Force really well, we are one community and we do everything in our power to help.”
Airmen at Travis AFB have supported wildfire relief efforts in Napa and Sonoma counties, hurricane relief efforts in Puerto Rico and Texas, and helped deliver food to Mozambique after the devastation of Cyclone Idai.
Summers smiled as he watched the 49ers practice and seemed to reflect for a moment at the teamwork he was seeing and how it correlated with his own journey.
“I grew up helping people and to be a part of the mobility mission brings me great joy,” he said. “We care about our brothers and sisters in arms and the communities that we live and serve in.”
49ers offensive lineman Ben Garland, who is also a captain in the Colorado Air National Guard, spent a few moments interacting with each Airman. He shared stories about his Air Force and NFL journey, enjoyed a few laughs with the Airmen and thanked them for their service.
In February, the U.S. Air Force Academy graduate and 2010 undrafted free agent who started his football career with the Denver Broncos, said the NFL and the military have some similarities.
“With the military, you take a diverse group of people from every background, every race, every color and you put them together to become the best in the world,” Garland said. “That’s essentially what we do in football. We have to come together as a unit, just like the military, to try to be the best in the world. I love those correlations, it’s all about community, the brotherhood and that bond.”
While many military members may admire NFL players, Garland said, the admiration is mutual.
“Many military members may see NFL players as their heroes, but many of us view military (service members) as our heroes,” he said.
“There is not anyone I respect more than military members,” said 49ers tight end George Kittle. “They do what they do, so I can do what I do.”
Before driving back to Travis AFB, Summers had one message for USAA and the 49ers.
“On behalf of myself and the Airmen who were with me today, we are so thankful for this opportunity,” he said. “It was great to hang out with the 49ers.”