Jim Cantore (right), a TV personality with The Weather Channel, presents Atlanta Falcons offensive lineman Ben Garland with this year’s Salute to Service Award.
Atlanta Falcons offensive lineman Ben Garland was officially named the eighth annual Salute to Service Award, presented by USAA in an announcement yesterday. The U.S. Air Force Academy graduate and Air Force veteran is being recognized for his efforts to honor and support members of the military community.
He will be recognized during "NFL Honors," a two-hour primetime awards special to air Saturday, the day before Super Bowl LIII, on CBS. USAA will contribute $25,000 in Garland's honor to the official aid societies representing all five military branches. The NFL will match USAA's donation of $25,000, which will be donated to the Garland's military charity of choice.
"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,” said Garland. “Over the years, service members I’ve 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.”
To help celebrate the recognition, Garland shared more about his connection to the military, what serving meant to him and how he relates it to his NFL career.
What is your favorite memory from the U.S. Air Force Academy?
One of my favorite memories from my days at the Air Force Academy, oddly enough, was graduation day. It was the culmination of so much hard work. You are standing next to a lot of friends with whom you have been through so much. You went through training camp, all kinds of early mornings and hard work outs. That final throwing of your hat into the air as the Thunderbirds roll over your head. It was an incredible moment.
What is a moment that stands out from your NFL career so far?
One of my favorite moments from my NFL career was the last game in Georgia Dome. It was the NFC Championship game. We won the game, the confetti rained down and we were headed to the Super Bowl. I was in the confetti with my family, with my mom. To be able to share that moment with my family was incredible.
Beyond your service, why is it important to you to give back to the military community?
It’s important to me because I know what they’re going through and what their families are going through. They are away from their families for a long period of time. It puts stress on relationships. It’s one of those things where they are sacrificing their bodies and their minds. They are doing so much for us, so any time we can help them out and give back we should. It’s called service for a reason. These men and women aren’t getting paid much, but are giving so much.
What advice would you give your 18-year-old self as you are about to begin your first year at the Air Force Academy?
Don’t be afraid to fail. Go out there and push your boundaries and use it as a way to grow. I think you learn a lot from your mistakes. A lot of us don’t go out and try things because we are afraid we are going to mess up. Well, of course you are. It doesn’t manner if you’re a Hall of Fame quarterback, you are going to throw a couple of interceptions. How do you learn from that? How do you grow from that? I think if we all did that a little, our growth potential is unbelievable.
Who would you like to win the Super Bowl?
That’s probably your hardest question. For me, I’m going to root for the Rams and the NFC. They’ve got a really good defensive line. I think they’re going to pull it out on top.
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