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Travel Agents

3/23/2005

On most days, 1st Lt. Jeremy Sparks fulfills his obligation to his country by serving as a missileer with the 90th Space Wing at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyo.

He also fulfills his obligation to ProRodeo as a bullfighter.

In both cases, Sparks always has a mission and people to keep safe. He'd have it no other way.

"I'm still doing what I love to do," Sparks said. "I'm pretty fortunate. The military these days has such high visibility with obligations overseas. By fighting bulls, it lets the civilian population know that we have a life outside the military."

For Sparks, he spent a week earlier this month outside the country, displaying his craft to more than 150,000 fans at the Cheongdo International Bullfighting Festival in South Korea.

Being endorsed by the U.S. Air Force gives Sparks rather unique opportunities to represent both his country and the PRCA.

"I was invited to represent our lifestyle of rodeo," Sparks, 27, said. "My PRCA status is what brings me over and the military endorses me to represent the U.S. Air Force. That way, I can go without taking leave, and it makes it a lot easier to enter the country being a soldier instead of a tourist."

Sparks, along with Ira McKillip, a PRCA bareback rider and former U.S. Marine, helped put on an exhibition bull riding during the festival. The two spearheaded the one-day bull riding and bullfighting exhibition, doing everything from taking flanks and bull ropes, recruiting guys to ride and loading the chutes.

And after the experience and subsequent 16-hour plane trip back to Cheyenne, Sparks still said the week was well worth the effort.

"It was definitely a good time with great people and great hospitality," Sparks said. "I have been there a few times, and it's almost like you're a celebrity. Plus, you're a tall American guy, and people want to talk to you for different reasons other than just putting on a rodeo."

Korean bullfighting is exactly that, bulls fighting.

"The stadium has as many people as it can hold. The people are basically sitting on top of each other," Sparks said. "It's a huge cultural event. It's kind of like cockfighting. They take two bulls, and they fight until one gives up. People bet on it."

For his efforts, Sparks was awarded with an official government document and a set of traditional Korean drums presented by a high-ranking official with the Cheongdo province.

After a week abroad, Sparks was happy to live a more modern life in the United States.

"Cheongdo is a very rural town and has nothing modern about it," Sparks said. "I was definitely glad to get home. The first thing you do when you get back is make a lot of phone calls. Your voice mail is full since you can't make phone calls from over there. My wife made me a sandwich and I had a steak; there's no meat over there."

Following his third trip to Cheongdo, Sparks hopes to host the Korean contingent at the Daddy of 'em All — the Cheyenne Frontier Days in July.

"With only one day there, they don't get to see the full (rodeo) thing," Sparks said. "They liked what they saw, and we're trying to bring them to the Frontier Days this year. We want to bring their culture over here."

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