When our US military cowgirls and cowboys brainstorm an idea, it’s gonna get done!
By Rick Iannucci, former Green Beret
Photos by Bill McRoberts, 23-year Army veteran
What started out as a conversation between four friends in eastern New Mexico and west Texas is now a premier rodeo association that caters to the military cowboy and cowgirl. In 2000, three Air Force Master Sergeants and a retired Army Sergeant Major wanted to organize a military rodeo association that would closely adhere to the same professional qualities they had grown accustomed to in the United States Military. Their vision was for a worldwide organization that co-sanctions with other established rodeo associations, thus allowing its members to earn points to qualify for an all-military world finals rodeo. Foremost in their thoughts was their wholehearted military belief in that no member would be left behind. In addition, a board of elected officials would work hard to gain sponsorships for top prize money and year-end awards that were competitive with all other professional rodeo associations.
The response to their pioneering vision was almost overwhelming. At the end of that same year, the first Professional Armed Forces Rodeo Association (PAFRA) world finals were held in Clovis, New Mexico. Military cowboys and cowgirls came from all across the United States to participate. A contingent of bull riders and steer wrestlers, while serving remote assignments to Korea, took leave and flew back to the United States to compete. Despite the vast successes of the first year, it was understandable when the following year’s finals were cancelled due to the tragedies that occurred on September 11, 2001. Instead of focusing on rodeo, many of PAFRA’s professional soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines were deployed around the world in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and the Global War on Terror.
In 2002, hard work coupled with a determination to return to normalcy allowed PAFRA to finish a very successful year. The town of Bandera, Texas, hosted the world finals. A large group of military cowboys and cowgirls from Germany flew in to compete in several of the events. During these finals, the competition was electrifying! Those spectacular performances were punctuated with an awards banquet that was particularly emotional. That year the world finals were dedicated to those, who because of their military service and ultimate sacrifice, were unable to attend. As world events unfolded, PAFRA again suffered in 2003 when its military members were called to duty in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, continuing missions in Afghanistan, and the Horn of Africa.
Despite these necessary setbacks and temporary reductions in membership, PAFRA has slowly grown into a premier global military rodeo association. PAFRA members have fostered an international community for rodeo participants who share a connection to the United States Military and the love of rodeo. As a result of this, PAFRA has created its own traditions. Since 2005, the PAFRA World Finals Rodeo is appropriately held over Veteran’s Day weekend. Until 2010, the world finals were held in Fort Worth, Texas, at the Cowtown Coliseum. The venue served as the perfect backdrop due to it being located in the heart of the richly historic Fort Worth Stockyards. The 10th Anniversary World Finals moved and was held in Glen Rose, Texas. The rodeo was a spectacular event that brought back the founding members to open the performances. Stories of old and new were shared among the members regarding the history of PAFRA and the vision of the association for the future. Intermixed with those conversations were the heart-wrenching memories shared by those who are now veterans of foreign wars and the sacrifices endured by both military members and their families.
The next round of membership growth and PAFRA coming into its own started in 2011 by moving the world finals rodeo to the Midland Horseshoe Arena in Midland, Texas. Members who now qualify for the world finals are enjoying three patriotic go-round performances in a first class venue. The American dream is realized through PAFRA’s sponsors who give annually because of their dedicated belief of what PAFRA represents. In the words of one of the founding members, “PAFRA now is exactly what we envisioned back then. Our members are running at tens of thousands of dollars of added money and the prestige of wearing a one of a kind buckle forged in military tradition, the love of rodeo, and the love of country.”