Air, Space Force Communities Cycle Nearly 350 Miles in Inaugural M2M Ride for AF75
By Samantha Mitchell, Air & Space Forces Association
Four days. Almost 350 miles. That’s how Memorial to Memorial (M2M) riders commemorated the U.S. Air Force’s 75th Anniversary. The ride’s beginning and end had a poignant significance—starting at the Wright Brothers Memorial in Kitty Hawk, N.C., and finishing at the U.S. Air Force Memorial in Arlington, Va.
“The Wright Brothers were a bunch of bicycle mechanics that then built the first airplane back in 1903,” said Brig. Gen. Robert “Surf” Beletic, USAF, (Ret.). Beletic is the Director of M2M and one of the lead organizers and proponents of the ride. “So, we say the ride is from bike trails, to contrails, and beyond.”
While the M2M ride was free to all riders and open to the public to promote fun and fitness, it also afforded an opportunity to promote heritage, camaraderie, and recruiting for the Air and Space Forces, all while raising money and showing support for the Air & Space Forces Association’s Wounded Airman Program.
“Great organizations celebrate their heritage. We’re a cycling team, so this is kind of our way of doing it,” Beletic added. “The vision here is for this to grow to thousands—to tens of thousands—of riders every year ... And the goal is that the people who do this will have accomplished … a really big challenge, and along the way, they’re going to interact with Airmen and Guardians and they’re going to learn about their Air and Space Forces.”
This year’s special 75th anniversary ride brought in more than 100 cyclists. Organizers say the idea for the ride was inspired by the Des Moines Register’s Great Bicycle Ride across Iowa (known to the cycling world as ‘RAGBRAI’). Beletic credits the kickstart of the M2M to the 21st Chief of Staff of the Air Force, Gen. David L. Goldfein, USAF,(Ret.). Goldfein, who was the Chief of Staff when the Space Force became a separate service under the Department of the Air Force, also physically kickstarted the ride from the Wright Brothers Memorial, riding all four days of the ride.
“Goldfein and I were speaking back in February, and he just mentioned, ‘Hey, you know, it would be cool to do a ride from the Wright Brothers Memorial to the Air Force Memorial celebrating our heritage and celebrating the history of flight,’” Beletic said. “We had this discussion and then I had a few days off and I had time to put together a plan, and it just blossomed into actually happening this week.”
Beletic says he was hoping for just a handful of people at the time, with an ultimate goal of six riders. But he says he loves that it took off from there. He and the other riders seem to agree that the best part about the ride is the people involved.
“As people signed up, they brought their skills, one person is a logo person, so she said, ‘I’ll build you a logo,’” Beletic enthused. “Another person said, ‘I can get T-shirts made,’ another person said, ‘I’m really good at getting police escorts’—the North Carolina police and the Virginia police have been incredible. The AFA has also been tremendously supportive, and I want to mention [AFA President retired Lt.] Gen. [Bruce] Wright and his team and what they’ve done.”
The donors, including Kihomac, USAA, AFA, Campus Cycles and Penske, made everything possible for the ride, according to Beletic, all the way from food to drone footage. The ride has since raised more than $10,000 for the Wounded Airman Program.
“It allows our Airmen to combine passions of exercise and fitness with something that they’re already passionate about—being a part of the Air Force or the Space Force—and to tell their story and interact with the public,” Master Sgt. Josh “JJ” Johnson, Coach of the Air Force Cycling Team and First Sergeant at 233rd Security Forces Squadron at Buckley Air Force Base, Colo., said about the M2M ride and being involved with the cycling and Air Force Triathlon team. “It means a lot, because our Airmen are fighting wars, and their outside overseas and they don’t always get to interact with the citizens that they’re protecting. Going to RAGBRAI, getting into the community like this, allows them to meet the people that they’re serving, allowing them to tell their stories, you get to see the faces of the people who thank them for their service—and it just means the world [to them].”
Cyclists began to gather on Sept. 14 in preparation for the ride to start. The ride between Kitty Hawk and Norfolk, Va., was spearheaded by retired senior leaders, including Goldfein, and promised “flatter than flat” elevation over the initial 92 miles. After dismounting from the Wright Brothers National Memorial, riders trekked through Kill Devil Hills, N.C., located in the Outer Banks. The riders were also treated to a ride through the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, known as the largest intact remnant of swamp, which used to cover more than a million acres of land.
“Most people need to train for this ride over four or five months—it’s kind of similar to running, you’re not going to go out and just run a marathon usually,” Beletic said. “Most of us in the cycling community, no one really rides 94 miles, if you’re going to ride that far, you want to get a century, which is 100 miles.”
The second day of the ride between Norfolk and Richmond, Va., still produced a relatively flat elevation gain and a ferry ride to Jamestown, but brought with it more distance for riders, for a buy-in of 104 miles for the day.
Goldfein offered a signed photo of the ride to the Virginia War Memorial’s director, who helped host the cyclists and support crew along with a free Missions Barbecue dinner in Richmond, Va. on Sept. 16.
“It was an easy decision for us [to host the M2M riders at the museum],” Dr. Clay Mountcastle, Director of the Virginia War Memorial, said to Goldfein as he was handed the token of appreciation. “It was an easy decision for us when we heard who was coming and what it was all about—and personally, frankly, I owed it to you all anyway. Many years ago, I was company commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, my company was stranded out in McGregor Air Range, our C-130 had broken down and we had no ride back to Pope Air Force Base, [N.C.]. And somehow, some crew heard about it and the next thing we knew, another C-130 pulled up next to us, the tailgate drops, and a master sergeant started yelling at us, ‘Get on, hurry up, let’s go,’ and we had a ride all the way home. Just because the Air Force guys, ‘One Team, One Fight,’ they heard that there were some paratroopers who were stranded out there and they wanted to help out and we really appreciated that. I wanted to pay it forward a little bit, so great event, thank you so much for including us.”
The third day was set between Richmond and Quantico, Va. Even though the ride seemed to be an easier, shorter day of 83 miles, it also introduced several scenic hills. The route passed through several Revolutionary and Civil War historic battlefields.
Riders celebrated the Air Force’s 75th birthday for the last 53 miles, as the cyclists traveled between Quantico and Arlington on Sept. 18. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr., joined for the final mile, along with an Arlington police escort from the Pentagon City shopping mall to the Air Force Memorial. The two by two formations of cyclists in commemorative Air Force 75th anniversary cycling kits rolled out towards the Air Force Memorial for a closing ceremony that included group photos, awards, and an address from Brown.
"I can't thank you enough for connecting with communities and talking to folks about the Air Force," Brown said of M2M.
It's a historic moment in its own right to have 75 years of the U.S. Air Force, but the M2M ride took it one step further by bringing the past to the present.
“General Goldfein, kind of representing history in this case, he led us out of the Wright Brothers Memorial, and then, the current commander of the Air Force [Gen. Brown Jr.], [led] us into the Air Force Memorial, so I think that’s another neat [hand-off] from a historic perspective from the past to the present,” Beletic added.
The resounding sentiment from Goldfein, an avid cyclist and runner, about the ride, was that “it’s not about a person, it’s about the heritage of the organization.”
Heritage continued as the theme for the ride, from the cyclists gritting the course, to the awards delegated to the deserved riders. The Orville Wright Award signified the best rider of the week, and the Wilbur Wright Award signified the best support person.
The Wilbur Wright Award was given to Chief Master Sergeant Steve Huges (Ret.), 1st Sergeant at Aviano Air Base in Italy, Kadena Air Base in Okinawa and Offutt Air Force Base, N.E., where he retired in 2003.
“He lined up sponsors, he coached me on how to run an event,” Beletic announced to the crowd gathered at the Air Force Memorial. “He’s ridden his bike up and down the east coast and back and forth across America, he’s just an amazing, retired chief.”
Capt. Anya Wallace was awarded the Orville Wright Award.
“She’s just an amazing athlete and she’s been great to all of us,” Beletic said.
Because of the overwhelming success and response, M2M organizers plan to turn it into an annual ride. They have already announced the next M2M ride for Sept. 7 – 10, 2023 as a lead up to AFA’s 2023 Air, Space & Cyber Conference.