America Supports You: Servicemembers are Group’s Driving Force
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jul. 20, 2007 What began as a shared love of German cars has morphed through friendship into a passion to honor, educate and entertain servicemembers, Operation Wheels of Freedom’s program director said.
Military children receive large-scale Hot Wheels toy cars during an Operation Wheels of Freedom event to honor, entertain and educate servicemembers. Mattel, one of the group’s sponsors, has provided thousands of the toys. Operation Wheels of Freedom courtesy photo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
“We are a group of committed car guys who want to do our part to say thanks to the men and women of the armed services for their dedicated service to our country,” David Muyres said. “Being ‘car guys’ we chose to do it using cars.”
To complete its mission, Operation Wheels of Freedom brings high performance American-made vehicles to the troops for a hands-on look, he said. It also provides them the opportunity to develop safer driving habits.
“Our primary program is having exciting driving events right on military bases,” Muyres said. “Servicemen and women practice safe, competent driving skills … and simultaneously (experience) one of the most fun and satisfying experiences of their lives.”
A video on the group’s Web site shows Marines from different installations navigating a driving course in several vehicles sure to make even an environmentalist do a double take.
The “Grin Factor,” as Muyres called it, said it all: “I had the most fun of my life,” one Marine from Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., said with a huge smile. He had just driven one of the program’s vehicles. The group’s fleet includes Ford Mustangs, a Dodge Viper and a Pontiac GTO.
“That car was the best thing,” he said. “I want to get one now.”
The Marines interviewed for the video also said they learned a thing or two about how to improve their driving. That’s an important facet of Operation Wheels of Freedom’s program, Muyres said.
Considering the high rate of vehicle-related injury and death among active duty personnel returning from deployment it’s more important than the entertainment value, but that’s what makes the message stick, he added.
“Our program welcomes them back and helps them remember the seriousness of this issue,” Muyres said. “By being entertaining at the same time, the message is stronger and has a much higher retention rate.”
More than more than 3,000 servicemembers on four bases have heard Operation Wheels of Freedom’s message since its start in 2004. Program officials hope to deliver their message to 20,000 servicemembers the next time they take their car show to military installations, Muyres said.
Operation Wheels of Freedom also is available to family members.
“At each base we set aside one of the days as ‘Family Day’ and give rides to the spouses and kids that are on base,” Muyres said. “One of our sponsors, Mattel, has also made available many thousands of large Hot Wheels cars that we have given away to the kids.”
America Supports You connects citizens and corporations with military personnel and their families serving at home and abroad.
Operation Wheels of Freedom is a new member of the Defense Department’s America Supports You program Being a member of the program has afforded the group greater credibility and helped legitimize its efforts, Muyres said.