Capt. Jeremy Sparks fights bulls. Whoa!

He has his finger on the trigger of ground-to-air nuclear missiles for the Air Force. Cool!

But get past the "whoa!" and the "cool!", and Sparks insists both aspects of his life come down to one essential fact: He protects people.

Boy does he ever.

For most of the year, Sparks is a nuclear-weapons specialist with the Air Force, stationed at Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne. The Air Force assigned him to Warren for a reason: So he could easily travel to as many rodeos as possible. He gets to about 15-18 per year, including Cheyenne Frontier Days and, for the second year in a row, this week's College National Finals Rodeo.

He has become the Air Force's ultimate recruiting tool: A man with one of the toughest jobs in all of sports, and a man who joined the Air Force after 9/11 because, as he put it, it was "time to serve."

"They understand the western culture," Sparks said of the Air Force. "If I were to get sent, let's say, to New Jersey or somewhere, I'd have a lot harder time being successful in the rodeo arena and the recruiting arena."

Bullfighters like Sparks work the arena floor during bull riding events, trying to prevent bulls from goring riders after they've been bucked off. They use a variety of tactics to distract bulls, and work in pairs to help prevent injuries.

The best way to distract bulls, Sparks said, is to work together in a non-choreographed dance to distract the bull.

Aaron Loewe is the other bullfighter at the CNFR this week. On Monday, Loewe was pinned against a fence underneath the scorer's table at the Casper Events Center. And even though he spent part of Tuesday morning in the medical trailer, Loewe said bullfighting isn't as dangerous as it appears.

"The major injuries aren't that common," Loewe said. "You learn to live with the bumps and bruises. Stitches are common."

The most important part of a bullfighter's outfit is his protective vest, which Loewe said the bullfighters didn't have when he started 15 years ago.

Sparks had another piece of clothing on Sunday that weighed him down a bit. During the "Bulls and Broncs" performance of the CNFR, Sparks wore a camera on his head. He's happy to provide the television networks, in this case CSTV, with what he calls the "oh no" shot.

Sparks, who has been fighting bulls since he was 14 years old, said he no longer gets an adrenaline rush from the experience of playing chicken with a 1,700-pound animal.

Which is why, when it comes down to it, he thinks he's protecting the cowboys more than anything.

"I'm serving the country on one end, serving the cowboys on the other," Sparks said. "I'm just trying to be a peace protector, I guess."

His mission at Warren involves protecting more than a handful of cowboys. He operates ICBM missiles, a mission he took on after two years in Cheyenne.

Every month, he and his fellow officers take three written tests and a simulation test. Every day, he works in a bunker at Warren, testing equipment and simulating missions.

Sparks hopes to someday switch to space technology, which is closely linked with missile technology in the Air Force. He thinks he'll be transferred out of Wyoming in 2007, because he's already been at Warren longer than most.

But no matter where he goes or what he ends up doing, Sparks will never think of himself as a "whoah!" or a "cool!" type of person.

"I think I'm just an everyday guy," Sparks said. "I happen to do something not everybody does. But people do stuff that I can't do. I don't look myself any differently than anybody else."

Contact senior sports reporter Peter Hockaday at (307) 266-0596 or peter.hockaday@casperstartribune.net

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