August 4, 2014 Updated: August 4, 2014 at 6:17 pm
Before the Denver Broncos took the field on Saturday to play their summer scrimmage game in front of 30,000 fans, 50 Colorado service members got the chance to train at Mile High Stadium.
As part of the USAA Military Combine, soldiers and airmen from around the state were invited to practice on the field and talk with Broncos players and staff.
"I have family in the military and friends in law enforcement, so service is something that is very near and dear to me," said Ryan Miller, a Bronco's offensive linemen who came out to meet the troops.
Several other players, head coach John Fox and a few cheerleaders also stopped by to talk and sign memorabilia.
The service members participated in five events that NFL players do when they are at the annual draft combine: a three-cone drill, 40-yard dash, vertical jump, broad jump and bench press.
For Air Force Master Sgt. Bryan Pemberton, who pumped out 23 repetitions of 185 pounds on the bench press, the day was about "getting to show off our stuff as military."
The top scoring male and female were awarded tickets to the Broncos' preseason game against the Seahawks on Saturday.
Air Force Academy Tech. Sgt. Christopher Ryals, a 33-year-old radiology technician, was the top-scoring man.
"To come out here and do - not just come to a game, but to be involved in an event like this - is pretty cool," he said.
Ryals, who said he has never played organized football, also said he had never been inside a stadium.
Cadet Cayce Dossett,an Air Force Academy senior, was the highest-scoring woman.
"It was a really good experience," said Dossett, who is majoring in civil engineering. "Everyone was really encouraging."
Lt. Col. Rob Price, head of the Fort Carson Army Wellness Center, said the event was "a chance to come up here and enhance esprit de corps and competition."
The event, more than a measure of appreciation, embodied a shift in the way Fort Carson approached physical fitness.
Price said the post is placing a greater emphasis on what he called the physical triad: sleep, activity and nutrition.
"Our job is to always be ready to fight our nation's wars," he said. "We try to make sure every soldier is iron horse strong."
Capt. Mike Konetsky, head of Fort Carson's Tactical athlete program, pointed out the similarities between the endurance aspects of military fitness and football training.
"(Soldiers) are doing a lot of the same things you've seen on TV the Broncos doing," he said.
Konetsky also pointed to obvious differences between the training, noting that soldiers "have to be able to traverse terrain with heavy loads."
For the Carson leadership, the event was about learning new techniques from the Broncos to effectively and safely promote physical fitness.
"This is what they do, how can we bring this back to train soldiers?" Master Sgt. Jeremy Bolinger said.
USAA spokesman John Hancock said the event was a different way to show its appreciation for the military.
"It's a way to show, in a very tangible way, we appreciate what they do," he said. "A lot of people say it, but we want to show it."
It was a unique experience for all involved, and clearly left a lasting impression on the service members who participate.
"It gave you the type of feeling as if you were going into the NFL," Fort Carson Pfc. Edwin Valazquez said. "It was a good experience that I am going to take back and let my kids and my family know about it."
For many, the reward, more than the chance to train on the field of Denver greats, was simply recognition.
"I loved that some of the players came out and autographed our jerseys, and thanked us for our service," Fort Carson Sgt. Elisaul Virella said. "It just really shows that people do appreciate what we do out there, and for our country."
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