"From his time at the Air Force Academy and continuing throughout his NFL playing career, Ben Garland has embodied and demonstrated the understanding and appreciation and sacrifice of the U.S. military and their families for which this award stands." - USAA Senior Vice President of Military Affairs, Vice Admiral (Ret.) John Bird
The Salute to Service Award presented by USAA acknowledges the exceptional efforts by members of the NFL community to honor and support U.S. service members, veterans and their families. In October 2018, 32 NFL clubs nominated coaches, active and retired players, and team executives and personnel, who best demonstrated support for the military community.
From the military to the NFL
Garland’s story to the NFL isn’t as conventional as majority of his teammates. Coming from a military background, Garland attended the Air Force Academy where he was later faced with a decision to continue his work in the military or pursue a career in the NFL.
He chose both.
Not only an offensive lineman, Garland is recognized as a Captain in the Colorado Air National Guard. In 2010, Garland was signed by the Denver Broncos as an undrafted free-agent and was placed on the reserve/military list so he could go on to serve an Air Force active-duty commitment. After serving two years of active duty, he returned to the NFL in 2012, later signing with the Atlanta Falcons in 2015.
During 2018 Garland traveled on two USO tours: the first to Italy and Germany in the spring and later that summer visited Kuwait and Iraq. Garland seeks out any opportunity that he can to visit with military and say thank you for all that they do for our country.
"My family has a long, proud history of service in the Armed Forces, so I was raised understanding what the families of loved ones go through. On top of that, I was able to serve myself." - Garland
During the offseason, Garland works in public affairs with the Colorado Air National Guard - fulfilling his duties as a Captain in the Colorado Air National Guard.
"Over the years, service members I have been very close with have been injured, divorced, committed suicide, suffered from PTSD, lost limbs and even made the ultimate sacrifice overseas. Like any family member, you support each other through all times, so I want to give back as much as I can to fellow service members." - Garland
He is extremely involved in focusing to help veterans get back on their feet after service and helps to raise awareness for PTSD. In 2018, Garland participated in the Armed Forces Mission's Georgia LOSS Walk at Patriot Park in Fayetteville, Georgia, walking alongside veterans, service members and families in honor of "Turning the Tide on Veteran Suicide".
more than just a number
Garland made a commitment to himself that each year he will match his jersey number - No. 63 - with the number of community events he attends. Last year, Garland visited 68 various schools, hospitals and attended a number of different events to give back to the community.
With his standard set each year of attending a minimum of 63 events, Garland is one of the most active Falcons players in the community. Whether he is attending dinners with breast cancer survivors, going on chartered fishing trips with wounded veterans, or visiting hospitals to sing carols during the holiday season, Garland is proud to give back to the city of Atlanta.
“You drive a long way and you might spend a lot of time in traffic and you don’t have much time but that’s a small investment you make of your time, you see these kid’s faces light up and it’s worth every minute of it.” - Garland
my cause, my cleats
This past season, Garland wore specialized cleats as part of the NFL's initiative, My Cause My Cleats, to showcase causes that have significance to him. Having worked with both organizations throughout the years, Garland chose SHARE Military Initiative at Shepherd Center as well as Children of Fall Patriots Foundation.
SHARE Military Initiative is a comprehensive rehabilitation program that focuses on treatment for active duty or separated service members who have served in the U.S. military since September 11, 2001.
"I chose Shepherd's Men to raise awareness and resources for a lifesaving treatment program at Shepherd Center called the SHARE Military Initiative. Each day, 22 veterans commit suicide and we simply cannot accept that as the norm." - Garland
The mission of Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation is to provide college scholarships and education counseling to military children who have lost a parent in the line of duty.
On the field
This season, the five-year veteran helped block for the sixth-ranked offense (389.1) and the fourth-ranked passing attack in the NFL (290.8). He saw action in 14 games, making four starts at right guard.