Wounded Warriors Get White House Send Off Before Soldier Ride
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Apr. 24, 2008 A group of wounded warriors got a presidential send off at the White House today as they launched a three-day bicycle ride to show the world and themselves what they’re still capable of accomplishing.
President Bush joined Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon R. England, and the secretaries of State and Veterans Affairs on the South Lawn, heralding the wounded warriors for their service, sacrifice and inspiration.
The riders set out on the “White House to Light House Challenge” that will take them from the White House to Walter Reed Army Medical Center here and Baltimore before they arrive in Annapolis, Md., April 27.
Bush praised the participant’s bravery and said he admires their courage and determination. “The three-day bike ride you're starting today at the White House says a lot. It says that you're showing that even when you're wounded, you're not done fighting,” he said.
Bush said the riders represent the spirit of the strongest military in the world and the greatest country on earth. “I'm thankful that we have brave men and women like you who step forward to protect America,” he said. “I'm proud to be your commander in chief.”
The United States owes those wounded serving the country “all the support they can possibly have,” he said.
“We owe them the best prosthesis, and if there's a new advance, it will be made available for our folks,” he said. “We owe them a Veterans Health Administration that's seamless and works well. We'll give them the best medical care, and for the docs and nurses here, there's no doubt in my mind our troops get the best medical care possible.”
Most of all, Bush said, “We owe them our thanks.”
Mullen kicked off today’s ceremony thanking the riders for their service and for protecting and defending America’s way of life. “For all that your service has demanded of you -- indeed still demands of you -- we owe you a great debt,” he said.
The troops’ courage and the way they’ve taken charge of their lives is a source of inspiration to others, Mullen said. “Today, you are choosing the direction your lives take. You are turning what some may call disabilities into what are in fact abilities. You are in control,” he said. “And we are proud of and for the example that you set.”
England called the soldier ride “a metaphor for a lifelong journey toward healing and wellness” that will reveal once again the wounded warriors’ “unconquerable spirit.”
He told the troops that Americans recognize and honor their service, and wake up as free people each day thanks to the sacrifices of the military.
By placing themselves in harm’s way for their fellow citizens, the wounded warriors have given the most admiral gift possible, England said. “I'm humbled by the devoted service of these American heroes,” he said. “Our nation salutes each and every one of you and all those who wear the cloth of our nation. So God bless you all, and have a great ride to Baltimore today.”
Veterans Affairs Secretary James B. Peake told the riders they’re sending “a great message” to the American people about their “sense of resiliency and commitment and caring and moving forward with life and with the mission.”
They’re also making a strong statement about the medical system in place to support them, from the battlefield to major military medical centers to VA health-care facilities, he said. This continuity of care is committed to “getting our young men and women back to as full a life as they can possibly lead, with the best prostheses, if that's necessary, the best care, the best support across the entire spectrum of rehabilitation,” he said.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the riders demonstrate a sense of hope, optimism and pride inspired not just to their fellow Americans, but the world. “Thank you from a grateful nation for your service and for your sacrifice and for the honor that you do this great country,” she said.
Bush and Mullen praised the families and caregivers who have stood by their loved ones as they recovered. “None of us in the military can make it alone. We all need help. We all need support,” Mullen said. “And so to those loved ones here today, thank you again for that unfailing love and support. We couldn’t do it without you.”
The Soldier Ride participants will arrive in Baltimore tonight and be treated to a “support the troops” rally tomorrow morning at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. From there, they will proceed to Annapolis. They will pedal through historic Annapolis, including the U.S. Naval Academy grounds and along the Chesapeake Bay, and wrap up the ride at Jonas Green Park.
The ride is sponsored by the Wounded Warrior Project as a rehabilitative cycling program that provides the first steps in combat-wounded veterans’ healing.
Chris Carney, from Long Island, N.Y., conducted the first soldier ride in 2004, when he pedaled cross country in support of the Wounded Warrior Project. Other combat-wounded veterans joined him the following year, and the program continued growing. Last year, it switched format, with seven regional rides across the country that offered more opportunity for more participants to join.
England called the Wounded Warrior Project one of the original home front groups in the Defense Department’s America Supports You program, an example of the vast support Americans share for their military men and women. America Supports You is a Defense Department program connecting citizens and companies with servicemembers and their families serving at home and abroad.
“I just want to commend the founders of that Wounded Warrior Project for your help fulfilling our nations’ eternal commitment to those injured in the line of duty,” England said.