Servicemembers Send Wounded Cyclists Off at White House
By Ian Graham
Emerging Media, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, April 28, 2010 Men and women in uniform from across the services gathered on the White House’s south lawn today to give wounded servicemembers a send-off as they began a bike trip from the nation’s capital to Annapolis, Md.
The White House to the Lighthouse Challenge, the fourth such trek hosted by the Wounded Warrior Project, is a four-day ride taken by servicemembers who have been injured in combat. Vice President Joe Biden, Dr. Jill Biden, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki met with the troops before they mounted their bikes and took a ceremonial lap around the south lawn.
The vice president spoke to the riders before they began their ride, reminding them that while everyone is grateful for their sacrifice, nobody can know the extent of what they’ve given.
“What’s even more unfathomable is your courage,” Biden said. “You define -- I mean this literally -- who we are as a country. You’re the heart, the soul and the spine of this country. You aren’t just showing us what we should be; you show us that we can be anything we want to be.”
The audience for the send-off was composed primarily of fellow servicemembers from around the Washington area who came to support their brothers and sisters in uniform.
Maj. Greg Johnson, a Marine who works in the office of the secretary of the Navy, is an avid bicyclist. He jumped at the opportunity to cheer on wounded warriors as they showed how well they’ve adapted to their injuries, he said, adding that he stood in awe of the riders, some of whom were double amputees on special bikes with hand pedals.
“It’d be hard enough to ride to Annapolis with my full capacity,” he said, pointing to his legs. “For them, it’s quite a task.”
Johnson said it was good to see the vice president and other government officials in attendance showing their appreciation to troops.
“I always appreciate opportunities politicians and officials we’ve elected into office take to show their support for servicemembers, especially the wounded warriors in this case,” he said.
Army Sgt. 1st Class Robert Mellott, a soldier from the 12th Aviation Battalion, said it is vitally important for servicemembers to meet and get to know their wounded peers. That way, he said, they can learn what it means to wear a military uniform.
“It reminds everyone in the service what we’re here for -- the sacrifices we make for our country,” he said. “It’s what we do, it’s our job. People get to live their lives how they want because of the sacrifices made by the people riding those bikes.”
Air Force Sgt. Erin Everhardt said she came to the send-off because she wants to support her fellow servicemembers as much as she can. Her unit, the 11th Logistics Readiness Squadron at Bolling Air Force Base, here, volunteered their morning to visit the bikers as they prepared to leave.
“I thought it was a great opportunity to show our support for them,” Everhardt said. “It was really nice to come see them off.”
The riders’ trip will take them through Washington to Baltimore and then to Joint Base Andrews Naval Air Station Washington in Maryland, before they head to Annapolis.