America Supports You: Trio Riding for America's Patriots
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May. 15, 2006 Inspired by a severely injured veteran of the war in Iraq, three men set out on a nearly 1,600-mile motorcycle ride today that will raise awareness and money to help injured servicemembers.
Bob Loy (left), Joe Kurnos (center), and Tom Donegan get ready to hit the road on a nearly 1,600-mile trek May 15. The journey, meant to raise awareness of servicemembers' sacrifices as well as money for the troop support organization Coalition to Salute America's Heroes, will take the trio from Fairfax, Va., to San Antonio in five days. Photo by Samantha L. Quigley
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The Ride for America's Patriots was born of an invitation from former Army Spc. J.R. Martinez and will benefit the nonprofit Coalition to Salute America's Heroes, which provides financial assistance, family support, and job training and placement to severely injured servicemembers.
Martinez, now medically retired, was severely burned in April 2003 when the Humvee he was driving hit a landmine in Karbala, Iraq. Since his injury, he has undergone more than 35 surgeries for burns covering more than 40 percent of his body.
Martinez and Tom Donegan met at a 2005 real estate convention in Orlando, Fla. After talking with Donegan, Martinez invited the realtor to "look him up" if he was ever in San Antonio, where he receives treatment for his injuries at Brooke Army Medical Center. It was an offer the broker and owner of a Fairfax, Va.-based real estate agency couldn't refuse.
"I got to talking to some of my friends, & and I said, 'I've never been to San Antonio and we've been talking about doing a long bike ride somewhere,'" Donegan, a former Army major, said. But just making the trip wasn't enough; he wanted it to do some real good.
So far, the group's efforts have raised more than $22,000 for injured servicemembers. The goal is $25,000, which Donegan thinks they'll reach by the time they reach their destination May 19. All the money will be donated to the nonprofit coalition, but the ride is about more than money.
"The first and most important (aspect) is to let those servicemembers who are severely wounded know that we appreciate the efforts they're doing for us," Bob Loy, a former Army lieutenant colonel and now a government contractor, said. "The second thing we want to do is raise public awareness to the sacrifices these men and women are going through."
Donegan, Loy and Joe Kurnos will accomplish both of these objectives through talking with the media at several stops along the route between Fairfax and San Antonio.
The ride, originally scheduled for late 2005, was put on hold because of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Donegan said. That delay was a blessing in disguise for Kurnos. The self-proclaimed "fair-weather" motorcycle rider had originally pledged a donation, but declined to make the trek because of the weather and personal reasons.
In October he saw something that changed his mind - a television interview with a soldier who lost both arms and had severe legs injuries. He wasn't upset that he had no arms, Kurnos said, only that he couldn't tie a tourniquet around his leg to stop the bleeding.
"These guys make such a sacrifice. They're gone for months and years," Kurnos, also a realtor, said. "I couldn't use a whining excuse like, 'It's going to rain,' or 'I'm going to be away for a couple of weeks.' This is the thing I had to do."
The group will stop first in Bristol, Va., and tomorrow will continue on to Nashville, Tenn., where former Army Sgt. Josh Forbess will join the ride.
Forbess was one of five survivors of a Black Hawk crash over Mosul, Iraq, in November 2003. Currently a Coalition to Salute America's Heroes spokesman, he will ride as far as Memphis, Tenn.
The groups' third stop, Little Rock, Ark., will be a resting point before heading off to Dallas, where they plan to pick up several more riders. Just north of Austin, Texas, an escort of San Antonio American Legion Riders will join the group for the last leg of the trip, which ends at American Legion Post 593.
The group has events planned throughout the weekend that will let them show servicemembers and their families their appreciation. The riders also will make a presentation at a coalition benefit concert in Austin on May 19 at the Redrum Club.
"Tom also has decided that this is so important that we're going to make this an annual event," Loy said, explaining that future rides would take them to other Veterans Administration facilities and military bases.
Those interested in the ride can keep up with daily "blog" entries at the Ride for America's Patriots Web site, www.rideforamericaspatriots.org. The site also offers a live "bikecam" Webcast and the opportunity to donate to the coalition through the Ride for America's Patriots.