America Supports You: Bikers Complete 'Ride for America's Patriots'
By Cheryl Harrison
Special to American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 25, 2006 Their mission here accomplished, three Virginia businessmen are scheduled to arrive home today after completing their "Ride for America's Patriots," a 3,200-mile roundtrip motorcycle ride designed to raise money for wounded veterans.
Bikers representing American Legion Post 593 in Converse, Texas, lead the way for three Virginia men arriving on their "Ride for America's Patriots" May 19 after a four-day trek from Fairfax, Va. Photo by Cheryl Harrison
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
On May 15, three riders - Tom Donegan, Joe Kurnos and Bob Loy - set off in cool temperatures from Fairfax, Va., rode 320 miles a day, and arrived in San Antonio May 19. Along the way, they made it their mission to bring awareness to the American public, pick up other riders and supporters, and meet with media to promote the reason for their ride.
The journey, however, began long before the road trip to San Antonio.
Tom Donegan, a Fairfax, Va.-based RE/MAX broker and owner, met former Army Spc. J.R. Martinez at a 2005 real estate convention in Orlando, Fla. Both Army veterans, they struck up a conversation and a friendship formed. After his meeting with Donegan, Martinez invited Donegan to "look him up" if ever in the San Antonio area.
"I was inspired by this kid's unbelievable spirit and positive attitude," said Donegan, a former Army major. "I asked J.R., 'What we can do to help soldiers like yourself? Is there something you need?'"
In April 2005, Martinez was driving a Humvee in Iraq when his vehicle hit a landmine. He suffered severe burns to more than 40 percent of his body. Sent to Brooke Army Medical Center here for treatment, he has undergone more than 30 surgical procedures, including skin grafts and cosmetic surgery.
Impressed by Martinez, Donegan decided it was time for a ride.
"A friend of mine from church and I are big motorcycle enthusiasts and had been talking about doing a long ride, and this seemed like the ideal time," Donegan said.
As a result, Donegan and Loy established the Ride for America's Patriots.
"Tom and I have been friends and fellow bikers for a while. When I heard about the ride and what it was for, I had to be a part of it," said Loy, an Army veteran of 22 years.
"When Bob and I decided to do this ride, we wanted to make it worthwhile," Donegan said. "We wanted to bring awareness to other Americans about the men and women who have been injured while serving our country, and we decided to raise funds for the efforts as we rode."
Originally scheduled for September 2005, the ride had to be postponed when Mother Nature threw a curve with hurricanes Katrina and Rita. But the devastation did not thwart the riders' efforts; it was simply a matter of logistics in rescheduling for this group of busy business and family men.
Kurnos, also a RE/MAX employee, was involved in the efforts as well. But before he truly committed to the long trip, he kept coming up with excuses for not participating. "I kept telling myself, I can't take that time off from work; two weeks is a long time to be away from my family; it's a long trip," said Kurnos, "I had all kinds of reasons for not making the trip.
"The plans had to be postponed due to hurricanes, and I still had not made a commitment, but I heard an interview on TV with a soldier who had lost both arms and had severely damaged his legs," he continued. "His only complaint was that he couldn't help his buddies by simply tying a tourniquet.
"My excuses were so lame," he admitted. "I decided I had to go. Now that we are into it, it is a decision I will never regret."
Kurnos is the official "blog master" for the group and updated its Web site, www.rideforamericaspatriots.com, with details of each day's ride before going to sleep each night.
The plan was to ride 320 miles each day, arriving in San Antonio May 19 with T-shirts and donations to help servicemembers who have sacrificed for their country.
Right on schedule, at about 2 p.m. May 19, with temperatures in the high 90s, the original group of three and a large following of other bikers drove into the parking lot of the American Legion Post 593 in Converse, Texas. Awaiting their arrival were Martinez and members of the Legion, cheering the group and giving them a warm Texas welcome.
"All Tom and these other riders want to do is help soldiers," said Martinez, who is now medically retired and serves as spokesman for the Coalition to Salute America's Heroes. "Everything these men have done is from their hearts. Their passion for bikes is being used for the good."
The long ride from Virginia to San Antonio and back has not yet ended. The bikers will return to their jobs and their families, but the work they started will continue. They have brought awareness to the American public by reaching three goals: recognizing servicemembers, raising awareness of the sacrifice they have made and are still making daily, and raising money to directly support soldiers, the trio said.
The Ride for America's Patriots has raised more than $25,000, which was donated to the Coalition to Salute America's Heroes and to the Fisher House at Brooke Army Medical Center. During their three-day stay in the San Antonio area, they visited soldiers at BAMC, bringing a simple gift of T-shirts, but a bigger gift of appreciation for their sacrifices.
"We are not just doing this ride; we want to do other rides. We don't know where yet, (but) we just want to keep raising money," Donovan said.
(Cheryl Harrison is assigned to the Fort Sam Houston, Texas, Public Information Office.)