FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Sunday is "Military Appreciation Day" at Atlanta Falcons training camp, and the entire organization might want to give a collective salute to Ben Garland.
The 29-year-old offensive lineman, entering his fourth NFL season, already has been designated a captain -- by the United States Air Force. Garland went to the Air Force Academy, then became a second lieutenant after graduation. He served two years on active duty and was deployed for a short stint to Jordan, although Garland could not share details about the mission.
Now he's a captain with the Air National Guard 140th Security Forces Squadron, based at Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, Colorado.
"I do about 48 days, or the equivalent of time to make up for the year that I missed," Garland said of his offseason commitment. "I serve in whatever capacity they need me."
Garland's current duties are related to public affairs.
"Basically, what we’re in charge of is just sharing the Air Force’s story, just showing what we do," Garland explained. "A lot of it is dealing with the media, keeping the American public aware of what we’re doing and using it as a deterrent against any forces, showing how powerful and talented that we are."
Garland also has gotten the opportunity to operate fighter planes at the base, including flying in the F-16. The maximum speed of the 19,700-pound aircraft is 1,500 mph.
"The F-16 is by far the fastest, and that one is incredible," Garland said. "I've gotten to solo in a couple of aircraft -- the T10G and the Diamond 40 -- which is absolutely incredible. The first one I did a solo in was a glider, so it doesn't even have an engine. They go up and you cut rope, and you just glide on down and try to land."
Garland actually completed his military commitment a couple of years ago. That hasn't kept him from sticking with it.
"Right now, I'm just serving because I absolutely love it," Garland said. "Once you get in there, it's hard to find something like that -- that brotherhood and that commitment. A lot of things that I love about it is what I love about this [Falcons] team. It's completely a brotherhood. You talk about people taking care of each other, truly caring about each other, and being part of an elite team? A lot of people find that hole in their lives because they want to be a part of something like that, but just can't find it."
Football is Garland's focus right now. He finds himself in a battle with Wes Schweitzer for the starting right-guard spot vacated by the retired Chris Chester. So far, neither Garland nor Schweitzer has established much separation in the competition, at least not based on the reps at practice. The winner might not be declared until after a few preseason games.
"That's what this team is all about, just competing and getting better," Garland said. "I love that. I love that concept. We're working our tails off. He's making me better, and I'm making him better. And it's great to be a part of an organization where you can have kind of that rivalry but at the same time, that brotherhood."
Garland also appreciates having a coach in Dan Quinn who is willing to take time out to recognize military service, such as with Sunday's camp event. Quinn has an organization called Quinn's Corps dedicated to military families.
"It makes me more proud to wear this uniform because of stuff like that," Garland said of being a Falcon. "I mean, Dan Quinn really loves the military and really takes care of them. And it means a lot to guys. I mean [the military] does so much for us. Their families sacrifice when they're overseas, what they go through for a little bit of pay, but mostly for our country, is absolutely incredible. The more we can do for them, the better."
Quinn said he has the same type of appreciation for Garland.
"We talked about it quite a bit last year because I don't know if people knew Ben, but when they found out who he was and he spoke up about his experience at it and why he has so much pride in it ... the guys now know," Quinn said. "We all really respect Capt. Ben Garland."
The 6-foot-5, 308-pound Garland hopes to return to active duty after his NFL career concludes.
"If my body is still holding up, I'd love to go back to active duty," Garland said. "If I'm not there physically, I don't want lead from the back. I want to be out front, charging. If I'm healthy, I'd absolutely love to rejoin and be back to active duty, or just stay with the National Guard."