Just received an email from Steve over at the Independence Fund with a follow-up on the Wallis III Ride and wanted to pass along the Palo Verde Valley Times article he sent with his email. Veterans Group Ironwood was a key contributor allowing this ride to come off without a hitch. Many, many thanks to VGI for their hard work and dedication. I know that I appreciate their efforts and am fairly certain that the other Veterans who participated in the Wallis III Ride feel the same way. This is an amazing story of a Brotherhood that transcends all boundaries, including prison walls. ESSAYONS!
"Freedom and responsibility we speak of easily, nearly always without recognition of the iron courage required to make them effective in our lives." j. glenn gray
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Ha! I was talking, well, texting my buddy Anthony yesterday about getting a new xbox just to play the new Modern Warfare 2. Word has it that it's "ultra-realistic" and a must play game. Now, I love first-person shooter games, such as America's Army, which was developed specifically for the U.S. Army, and played the heck out of our ps2 and old xbox but haven't played since moving to our new home and having the game consoles relocate upstairs for the kids. Just recently it was also brought to my attention that the old xbox bit the dust and the ps2 was carted off by my daughter to one of her friend's homes... my guess never to return... poor ps2. So, I'm getting really stoked about an xbox 360, a 40" lcd television (whoa! 1080p! hdmi! vyper game mode! oh, yeah!) and a few hours of shoot 'em up with my buddy on xbox 360 live. I get up this morning and, much to my elation, hear the Eagle screaming and figure "hmmm, I might run by Game Stop today & pick up a used system." I get online to check availability and price and check out some game trailers and I find this one on The Onion. Wow! This game really nails the "ultra-realistic" part for sure! Hey, Anthony... got a smoke? Oh, and I'd take the Shakira option... Wha ha!
Enjoy the Ride!
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
This past weekend TC & I hooked up with Steve Danyluk and Independence Fund for the third annual Wallis Independence Ride in Wallis, Texas. I began preparing for the ride on Tuesday by cleaning & checking the trikes. Friday morning I got up and put together all of the gear we would need and spent the rest of the day pacing around excited about taking my wife with me on a bike ride. TC arrived home from work at the usual 1500hrs and while she freshened up and changed clothes, Mick & I loaded the trikes and gear. We departed our residence at 1535hrs and headed for the Galleria in Houston.
I made a quick stop at Specs for a little something for my buddy, Benson. Friday, 13NOV2009 was Benson's "Alive Day" anniversary; it was four years ago that Benson was blown up by an IED outside of Mosul, Iraq. After a brief cruise down the whiskey isle I settled on a nice bottle of Knob Creek small batch Kentucky Bourbon. I then made a pass by the humidor and picked up a box-pressed Java Estate Robusto Maduro; a fine cigar to which Benson & I have taken a liking.
TC & I then joined in with the mass of people who all happened to be going north on IH45 at the same time as we headed for the Embassy Suites at the Galleria. After a couple of bottlenecks we made it to the hotel around 1645... 15 minutes prior to the designated meet-up time. We got checked in and dropped off our bags then headed right back downstairs to catch the van to dinner. We enjoyed the ride to dinner where we sat behind our new friends Kate & Fran from where else but New York City! We had a real gas talking & cutting-up with Fran & Kate.
Our dinner was courtesy of Boudreaux's and Schlumberger Cycling Club, who organized the ride, and took place at the Schlumberger facilities. We enjoyed visiting as well as slide shows and presentations by and for all the folks who made the ride possible, including Veterans Group Ironwood who provided us with $10k. The amazing thing about this donation is where the money came from and how it was raised. Veterans Group Ironwood is a collection of Veterans who are incarcerated in the Ironwood Prison, California Penal System. They raised the money by selling pizza in their chow hall and by recycling cans and bottles. Amazing! These guys raised that kind of money from inside prison... imagine how much could be raised outside of those walls. Thanks guys! Best of Luck to you all.
At dinner I also got to hook up with my friend Charlie again. I hadn't seen Charlie since Soldier Ride this past March. Charlie is still in the Army and serving at Ft. Benning, Georgia even though he has a major TBI and significant damage to his arm and hand after being blown up by an IED in Iraq. It was nice to visit with Charlie and I wish him all the best.
After our nice dinner we headed back to the hotel where we enjoyed a nightcap and some more visiting before we tottered off to bed around 2200hrs. The room was comfortable and it wasn't long before I was sawing logs.
My alarm deployed its irritating little beep at 0445hrs. We donned our bike clothes, packed & headed downstairs to grab some breakfast and check out. Because of the time our breakfast was a brown bag containing the bike riders ever-present banana, a muffin, a granola bar & a juice. Much like eating MRE's in the field, everybody sat around trading various pieces until they had the flavor they liked and then began eating. Unfortunately for coffee drinkers there was no fresh coffee out at 0530hrs on a Saturday morning. Typical of Military folks, a couple of trusted and industrious individuals set off to resolve this issue and quickly returned from the employee break room with steaming cups of fresh coffee.
We then loaded up and drove the 44 miles over to the Knights of Columbus hall in Wallis where we unloaded & fitted bikes. All of the Veterans then lined up with the Marine Corps Color Guard and some sponsors for a few pictures. We then lined up for the National Anthem and the ride start. There were about 800 riders total. The weather was perfect for a bike ride too. It was about 65 degrees with a light breeze and clear skies. Since we hadn't been riding very much lately, TC, Latseen, Jessica & I decided that we would ride the short route, 23 miles, and call it a day. TC & Jessica decided that they would at least ride to the first banana!
We found the first banana about 5.5 miles down the road where we made the first rest stop without a hitch. The Boy Scouts had the rest stop manned and were serving some really good gatorade as compared to the usually watered down stuff. We topped off our bottles & headed down the road. It was really fun riding along and talking with folks. There were folks of all abilities and skills enjoying the ride and showing their support for our Country's Veterans. It was a good feeling to see such an outpouring of support. I am glad that we have turned a page from the aberrant way in which our Country welcomed home Its Vietnam Veterans. I looked around at my fellow Veterans and could immediately see that they too were very much enjoying the ride and the day... made that much better by the many cheers, thumbs up, hand shakes and back pats. I am honored to share the company of such great men and women as those who serve(d) our Great Country.
Latseen had seemed a little disappointed that we were riding the 23-mile route when there were longer routes available for a challenge. Still, I had agreed with TC to ride the 23 and I wasn't going to ride on without her. At the point where the short route peeled off Benson was about a quarter of a mile ahead of me and, after a little half-hearted partial turn, he continued down the road of the 42-mile route. Jessica, TC & I took a right and headed on down the road content to be riding the 23 miler. Poor Jessica hadn't ridden since the BPms150 in April and she was riding a standard framed bike... she didn't complain a bit but when I asked her she said she was experiencing pain in her wrist, left foot and her butt. I'm really glad that she came out to ride though as it's always more fun with more people, especially those you like! I also have to tell you how proud I am of my beautiful wife. She is truly my everything. I don't know where I would be without her. She jumped on her new Catrike Expedition and peddled like a pro! She rode better than I have ever seen her previously ride. She visited with folks and her smile was infectious.
The short route simply turned back around the block so-to-say and ended up back at the same rest stop. We wheeled in and took another short break. After some more of that delicious gatorade we started to head back down the road. Thinking I was behind them, Jessica & TC took off for the finish line. I had stopped to talk to some folks who were asking about my trike when one of the fellas said, "you better get going. looks like your wife has done left without you." I looked up to see TC's little orange flag flapping along about a half of a mile down the road. Here's how I know TC was riding so well. After 20 miles she was cooking right along and I was having a hard time closing the gap... even on a bridge! Good job, Honey! It took me several miles to finally catch her. I think it was the chip-seal in the construction area that slowed her down enough for me.
We rolled across the finish line right behind Jessica to cheers and posters. It was really nice. Thank you for all of the support! TC & I loaded up the trikes and went to check on Jessica. Turns out that Latseen had the keys for their truck with him so she would have to wait for him to finish the 42-mile route before being able to load her bike and change clothes. Meanwhile, we went inside and ate a nice lunch courtesy of the Knights of Columbus, along with some live music. It was a nice way to wind down and visit for a while. We then headed outside and waited for Latseen. When he came in we joined the folks cheering! We got him loaded up and then went back inside so he could eat some lunch.
That wrapped up our day and, after well wishes, we all headed for home. TC & I took the scenic route home and after having gotten up at oh-dark-thirty we went straight for a nap!
On Sunday, "Love Your Spouse Day", we watched a really bad scifi show on t.v. then went for lunch at McAlister's. After lunch we went to the theater and saw "Fourth Kind." It was a really weird show. Then we went for a drive along the shoreline of Galveston Bay stopping at several parks to just sit and watch. After discovering that we would have no children to worry about for the evening we stopped by What A Burger and then went home. Ending the day by watching the Colts upset the Patriots in a last minute drive on Sunday Night Football.
In all, it was an awesome weekend!
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
First off... I hope you had a GREAT birthday weekend, Benson! Happy 30th! Here's to many more!
Benson invited me to join him for a weekend at Champion Ranch in Centerville, TX where we enjoyed fishing, shooting clays, eating some good cowboy cooking and visiting. The outing was courtesy of the Bay Area Builder's Association (BABA) and the good folks at the Champion Ranch. I had a really great time and got to meet some great folks and some more Heroes from the GWOT.
We left Houston around noon on Friday after stopping by Spec's to stock the cooler and grab a couple of cigars. Traffic was a little thicker than usual as folks headed north to Dallas for the Texas-Oklahoma football game. I would guess three of five cars that we passed had some burnt orange displayed with pride. Benson had no problem finding the gate to the ranch and, luckily, while we were contemplating which roadway to take to the bunkhouse a ranch hand pulled in behind us and we just followed him. The ranch is very beautiful at around 6000 acres with about 3500 head of brangus cattle, some horses and even a few bison.
We met the owners and dropped our gear in the bunkhouse. After visiting for a little bit we drove over to the 70-acre lake where we splashed the 5 boats, loaded up and headed out for a few hours of fishing. Benson & I loaded up with Captain Pat McLennan of Diamond Guide Services. It was a gorgeous evening and we were on the fish at our first stop. The Florida strain black bass were hitting like a middle line backer on a blindside quarterback! Just after sunset we landed the boat and headed back to the bunkhouse for a little brisket and some beans with jalapeños.
After dinner the folks from BABA had a little surprise for the Veterans and presented them with a new fishing rod and reel along with a tackle box stuffed plum full of tackle and gear. The rods were brand new and unavailable to the public. They were carbon blanks wrapped with mossy oak camouflage... I guess so you can sneak up on the fish ;0) Jokes aside, the rods were really trick or, tight as they say nowadays, and the reels were very nice shimano bait casters. As I was a guest of Benson's, they didn't know that I was also a Disabled Veteran, however, within a few minutes they had wrangled up a brand new abu garcia black max rod and shimano bait caster for me as well! It was a totally awesome show of courtesy and respect that I very much appreciated. Like I said, these are some really great guys!
I then sat down to visit with Jeff Horny and his cameraman, JD, who are making a documentary about the healthcare Veterans receive from the VA. The documentary is to garner firsthand experiences from Veterans and hopefully demonstrate the need for the VA to change the way it does business. I did an interview on camera where I told a short version of my previous blog. I hope I was able to get my thoughts and feelings across in a manner that will help bring some much needed change to VA Healthcare. During the interview the guys were shooting clays and target shooting with pistols so you can hear the reports in the background... pretty cool.
It was nearly 0100hrs when I ambled off to bed. I had a hard time getting to sleep partly because of the new environment and partly because my back and legs hurt. My legs were doing this weird cramp-then-jump thing that made it impossible to fall asleep; just about the time I would start to nod off my legs would either cramp or they would twitch violently causing me to wake. I lay there tossing and turning until 0215hrs when I finally got sick of it and got up, took a pain killer, went to the restroom, got some water and lay back down. It was thirty minutes or so until the pain killer kicked in and I was able to doze off. About 0430 the ranch folks started stirring and getting coffee and breakfast started. I felt like I had just been run over by a deuce & a half but managed to drag my sorry butt out of the rack, dress and head for the cooler to get a Mt. Dew.
We scarfed down some breakfast tacos and headed for the boat well before sun up. It was cool and clear in the morning with no wind. Out on the boat it was quiet and calm with "smoke" rising from the water. Once again we were on the fish in nothing flat. They were hitting on everything we through out there, including rattle traps, worms and topwaters. Then sun crept over the trees and began to warm our necks. Soon we were shedding our sweaters and enjoying another tremendous day. We hauled in fish pretty regular until about 0930hrs when it just turned off like somebody through a switch. We worked it until noon and then headed back to the bunkhouse for some lunch and to watch the UT-OU game. The late night and early morning combination led to some really tired guys about 1300hrs after we had gotten some open-fire-cooked sausage and beans in us (yeah, more beans). I was sitting in a chair with the sun on my back and my head started bobbing around like one of those little dolls. I looked across the table & Benson had his head resting in his hand with his eyes shut tight. They say great minds think alike and no sooner did I stand up to head for my rack than Benson sat up, wheeled around and announced he was going to take a nap. I laid in my rack and listened to the ball game and snoozed on and off.
About 1600hrs we all got a little more motivated and headed back to the boats. It was a slow start but soon enough we started catching fish again. Around 1800hrs we headed for the dock where we relieved the live well of its cargo of thirty-seven largemouth bass ranging from one and one-half to three and one-half pounds each. The other boats came in with their catches and Cpts Pat & Jesse shared cleaning detail while Benson & I puttered out to the cove and fished a while longer. We caught another seven or eight fish while we were waiting but released them all. We got back to the bunkhouse about 1900hrs where the fish were fried up just right along with some shrimp and served with hush puppies, jalapeños and fried potatoes.
It was an early night on Saturday and I headed for the rack about 2130hrs. I was able to get some good sleep in amongst the stiff competition for snoring champion of the ranch. It also sounded a bit like Mel Brooks "Blazing Saddles" after everybody had eaten all those beans!
Sunday morning came on a little slower as we visited and packed our gear. I even managed to get a shower and put on a clean shirt. After a healthy dose of my secret orange juice-mt dew mix for breakfast I felt like a brand new man and ready for some fishing. We headed out on the water around 0830hrs and fished until 1030hrs. Again the fishing was slow but we managed to all pull in a couple of fish. Benson even had some luck pitching a topwater and it was a blast watching those bass come up and hit that thing.
After good-byes and well-wishes we all went our separate directions. Benson and I stopped by Woody's for some fuel and I picked up some of their famous beef jerky. The ride home took about a third less time and, actually, seemed to go too fast as I enjoyed visiting with Benson. It was a great weekend. I really enjoyed myself and feel glad that I was able to go. Thanks a bunch to BABA and the folks from Champion Ranch. Enjoy the pics below.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
I remember, with somewhat sporadic clarity, my first visit to a VA Medical Center. I guess it's nearly twenty years ago now. I've never told this story to anyone; not my wife, not a friend... nobody. I'm telling it here because I have very mixed feelings about the above article and the program that it describes. Not being a Combat Veteran, I've always harbored a bit of uneasiness about my VA benefits. Deep down inside I've always felt like I didn't deserve them... even though I was injured "in line of duty" it just didn't sit right with me. Maybe with the passage of time I have less of an issue with this but, sometimes I catch myself thinking about it.
I first heard about some sort of new "wing" at the VA here in Houston from a friend's wife. She said it had been the first time in nearly four years that her husband had been to the VA without coming home pissed off. Apparently, the VA opened a new "wing" for OIF/OEF Veterans. It was newly remodeled with carpet, paint and furnishings, the works. From sign in, my friend never waited more than five minutes before the next appointment and everybody was friendly and courteous... down right professional even. My first reaction was one of surprise and near disbelief. This feeling was followed by one of relief that maybe, finally, some change was coming to the VA Healthcare system, but, this feeling was quickly subdued by one not unlike that of being punched in the guts. You see, it dawned on me that the change didn't include ALL Veterans, just the ones from our most recent conflicts thus leaving the rest of us sitting on the sideline yet again.
I thought about it for a few days and the more I thought about it the more upset I got. I mean I was up most of the night kickin this around in my head trying to make it right but, I just seem to be having a really hard time with it. I went to the trusty old internet and "googled" new VA programs and sure enough found the above article on several different websites, which I figured was two-fold in that it let OIF/OEF Veterans know about the program and also allowed the VA to "toot its own horn" since that is where the story originated. The one difference I saw was that the VA is saying that it is strictly a "welcome" program while I was under the impression that it was a complete healthcare program separate from what is available to all other Veterans. Either way I found some very telling statements in the VA's cover story and am still chewing on this one. That's why I thought I would share my story with you and, maybe, you can help me work through this one.
So... I remember that it was a very cold but very clear day in North Central Illinois. The roads were clear and dry with rings of salt surrounding all the imperfections in the pavement. The snow covered lawns and cars and was piled up along the streets. It was hard and crunchy, not good snowball-making-snow but, it was clean and white and not dirty gray-brown from having been around a while. I'm not certain of the reason why I was going to the VA but I was going to the VA Medical Center in Chicago, which is located roughly 100 miles East of the City of Aurora where we were living and I remember leaving fairly early to make the long drive.
Aurora is actually a fairly good sized city with, at the time, two public high schools and a number of industrial businesses such as Barber Greene, where my brother started working as a machinist after he graduated high school, Caterpillar, All-Steel and the foundry where my dad received slag burns on his arms while working his way through college. Of course, Barber Greene closed down and my brother went to work for Aurora Pump making pumps for the Navy and other industrial applications. Caterpillar closed up its doors and moved to Mexico. The foundry closed up because it simply couldn't produce steel products as cheaply as they were in China (and I mean cheaply in both senses of the word). Still, I digress only to give you an idea that Aurora was a plenty big enough city for its own Va Medical Center if not at least an outpatient clinic.
Some things never change. I found a parking spot way out in the "back forty" and hopped on a little golf cart limo that deposited me by the main entrance. I remember going through a maze of corridors to find the office/waiting area where I was to report. The room was relatively small with three windows high upon an outside wall. The blue indoor-outdoor carpet looks fairly new as do the chairs lined up around the room. There was a large fake plant smashed into the corner under the wall-mounted television. It looked out of place and I figure it was there to keep people from banging their heads on the television that somebody mounted too low for such a room. There was a piece of paper taped to the t.v. screen informing everybody that the television did not work so it must have been there strictly to provide a good surface for banging one's head. The counter reminded me of a drive-thru bank as it had a glass window with the little stainless steel louvers that you are to speak through and a push-me-pull-me drawer in which I deposited my I.D. as directed by the sign posted on the glass. The initial conversation went something like:
Me: Good Morning!
Drawer closes then reopens and I find a packet of papers stuck to a clip board that has a pen chained to it. My I.D. is not in the drawer.
Me: Excuse me? Can I get my I.D. please?
Me: EXCUSE ME!?! CAN I PLEASE GET MY I.D. CARD BACK!?!
Lady: ...garble garble garble I.D. garble garble garble garble clip board garble garble...
I quickly translate this into "you'll get your I.D. back when you return my clip board." I turned around and everybody, and I mean everybody, in the room quickly looked down at whatever archaic publication they happen to have found laying on their seat when they got there. I guess I was the entertainment for the morning.
I found a chair near the corner opposite the t.v. and began looking over the papers I was to fill out. Remember, this was in a day and time when cellular telephones weren't around and all I had with me was my I.D. card. I couldn't call up my wife or my parents and ask for answers. There were blanks requesting information I had know idea how to complete but I did know that I did NOT want to stand in front of the garbling lady shouting out all of my business for the entire room's occupants like some kind of soap opera. I did the best I could and figured I would just wing it. On one form I stated I had no children because I couldn't remember their Social Security Numbers and the Government is really funny about having every single blank filled in. I guess I was figuring that it would be easier to add them later than to fight with somebody about it that day. I remember the packet being exceptionally lengthy at nearly one quarter inch thick. It took me well over an hour to complete and I remember feeling like I was taking the SAT rather than simply requesting healthcare that I had earned. I couldn't figure out why I had to explain all of this if the U.S. Army already had all of this on file... didn't they pass along the information with the person they were transferring? On top of all this, as I stated earlier, I had a very loud voice somewhere in my head telling me that I didn't deserve to be getting any of this any way. I wasn't shot or blown up. It wasn't an enemy that caused this but rather the poor driving skills of my very own Squad Leader. And it was frickin hot in that room. Being winter I had dressed accordingly. Unfortunately, there was no need for a jacket or sweater in the waiting area. In fact, I think it was too warm for anything above bermuda shorts and flip flops.
So, I'm sitting by myself in a room one hundred miles from my home fidgeting around in my chair because my back hurts and my legs feel like they have an electric current running through them; I'm sweating up a storm, both figuratively because of the paperwork and my disbelief that I should even be there, and, literally because of the temperature in the room; and I have absolutely zero ideas about being anywhere else because being a Soldier was everything I had ever wanted to be. I was around twenty years old and had a whole life ahead of me that I really didn't want. I was hurt. I was scared. I was lonely. But I'll be damned if I was going to show it or request some kind of special treatment above what everybody else in the room was getting.
Sometime during my task of complete the requisite VA forms along with other forms that, apparently, somebody felt gathered information also necessary to the process that was not contained in any of the VA forms, or at least kept applicants busy for a little while longer so they didn't have to be dealt with in any expedient manner, a large black lady wheeled in a Trooper in a wheelchair and parked him in the corner to my right. She said nothing to him or anybody behind the glass. She simply wheeled him in, put him in the corner out of the passageway and applied the wheel brakes. She then turned and strolled out of the room like it was nobodies business. And here is where completing the paperwork seemed to take a backseat to more pressing thoughts about my place in life now and in the future. Perhaps it is also why it took me so long to complete the wretched exercise in futility.
I tried my best not to stare. I even questioned myself if it was OK to simply look and look away. I honestly felt like crap because I was going to be able to get up and walk out of that place and he wouldn't. You see, he was missing his right arm and right ear. The right side of his head was terribly scarred from burns and his right eye barely peeped through a slit in the scar tissue. His legs were nothing but little sticks of flesh-wrapped bones. But most of all I could not break away from the fact that he was also missing his bottom jaw. They had put a surgical mask over his gaping hole that used to be a mouth. It wrapped around his head, over his left ear and across where his right ear once was and under his nose. The bottom strings dangled from the mask and it just hung there like a curtain but you could see around the sides of it. He just sat there expressionless. Emotionless. He just sat there in that wheelchair and made gurgling sounds and stared across the room at something that wasn't there. I wanted to cry for this guy. I wanted to stand up and scream for him. I couldn't tell his age. He had only a little tuft of hair on the back left of his head that was mostly gray. His eyes were a piercing blue. I never got his name.
I sat there trying my best to complete that frickin paperwork all the while thinking about this pour soul, my Brother, who just sat there in that wheelchair. Nobody came to check on him. Nobody asked if he needed anything. He just sat there. When I went to return the lady's clip board along with the paperwork I mentioned that he was there and that nobody had checked on him and that it had been roughly two hours. The lady garbled something in return though I don't know if it pertained to me or him or whether or not the Bears would go to the playoffs. She had zero expression on her face and simply pushed the drawer back revealing my I.D. card laying there face up atop a form for the doctor to fill out. Geeze! Even their own doctors had to fill out forms!
I returned to my seat but I couldn't stop worrying about this guy. After fifteen or twenty minutes, when nobody returned to check on him, even after my request, I went over and sat next to him. I had no frickin idea what the hell I was doing I just knew that I would want somebody to check on me. I introduced myself. I asked if he needed anything... if he was comfortable. I got no response. He rolled his eyes looking in my direction but made no apparent move to signal anything. I asked him if it was OK if I sat next to him for a while and took the chair to his left. I didn't say anything for a while as I had no idea what to say. Finally I just started talking about the Bears, about the playoffs, about the weather and so on. This went on for nearly four hours until they finally called my name. I told him to take care and that I would send someone to check on him. When I went to the door to meet the nurse who had called my name I informed her of his status having been sitting there for four hours with nobody checking on him. The nurse acknowledged me, looked around the corner in the direction of the guy in the wheelchair then turned back to me and simply replied that somebody was taking care of him and to follow her... that was either a complete and utter lie or the care they were providing him was completely and utterly horrible... or, both. Who the fuck would park somebody like this in a corner somewhere for four fuckin' hours without checking on them? I still feel like standing up and screaming for this guy and he's probably long dead.
I went back to meet the doctor. He was a younger fellow, thin and tall with glasses. All I can remember of our conversation is him telling me that my injury was debilitative and that eventually I would be confined to a wheelchair and to enjoy doing what I can now... Wow! That'll really cheer you up, eh? All I kept thinking was when would I be wheeled into a corner and forgotten. He ordered an x-ray and told me to simply drop the paper he had to fill out at the desk where I came in and then go to x-ray. After x-ray released me I was free to go. Four hours of waiting for a fifteen minute face-to-face just to be told I'm gonna end up in a wheelchair. Woo Hoo! What a day!
After a few wrong turns I managed to re-locate the waiting area and, much to my relief, found the guy in the wheelchair was no longer their. I dropped the paper in the drawer and asked where the x-ray lab was located. Ah, you guessed it! I was met with an expressionless response of garble garble garble... Out of shear politeness I stood there thinking about the guy in the wheelchair and somewhat listening to the garbling of the lady behind the glass. I doubt she was giving me the winning lottery numbers and perhaps there would be somebody in the hall I could ask or, better yet, a facilities layout map hanging somewhere. When she finished garbling I nodded, turned on my heel and headed out the door.
In the main hall I asked somebody where x-ray was located and they pointed and simply stated, "other end." It turns out that the VA Medical Facility in Chicago was built upon an old horse racing track. The main hallways serving the facility are nearly a mile long. The facility itself reminded me of a ship's magazine with large track rails hanging from the ceiling and huge steel doors with large wheeled door mechanisms. It had that lovely hospital aroma but that aroma didn't quite seem to cover up something else... some other smell that was much worse. I tried not to think about it and just kept walking. The hallways were packed with people, patients, personnel and other. There were golf cart limos cruising up and down the halls. My back and legs were hurting tremendously so I figured I would hop on one and catch a lift to the opposite end of the facility where x-ray was supposed to be located. When I tried to load up the guy driving said I wasn't allowed and that the carts were for invalids only but before I could protest he had already taken off. So, once again I commenced walking. Near halfway down the hall I saw two big male nurses wrestling with a skinny black patient. They took him to the ground and then lifted him back up again. At that point I saw some smoke and smelled a cigarette. As I got a little closer I could hear them arguing with the patient that he could not smoke inside the hospital and he kept replying that it was too cold outside and that they wouldn't give him a jacket.
Somehow I made it to x-ray where I found that the line was nearly equal to the one in the waiting room where I had arrived early in the morning. Of course, everybody was currently out to lunch and we all had to either lose our place in line to go have lunch or simply go without. I went without lunch. The x-ray line went a little faster as it simply involved a process and there was no need for human interaction... in other words, they simply called your name, handed you a printed paper with the doctor's order on it, had you strip down and put on a gown and then you went and stood back in another line along a wall with all your stuff hanging out. You shuffled up until it was your turn, all the while standing. We were being treated like we were still in the Army. My back was getting ready to strangle me; it hurt really, really bad. When it was my turn the x-ray tech simply grabbed the order from my hand told me to follow him into the room and get up on the table. Now it was freezing cold and the metal table stuck to my ass. At this point comfort wasn't even in the frickin picture. I figured we'd just get this over real quick like and I would haul ass. We took only two x-rays, one from the front and one from the side. Afterward I got re-dressed and headed for the nearest door where I could go out to smoke a cigarette.
While I was having a smoke and contemplating the location of my car one of those gulf cart limmo guys came by and asked if he could bum a smoke from me. I told him I'd give him the whole damned pack if he'd just give me a lift to my car, which happened to be on the opposite side of the facility. He smiled, I jumped on the cart and away we went. When we got to my car I even gave him the frickin lighter! A few blocks away from the facility I happened past a pub that had a very attractive Budweiser sign hanging over the sidewalk. I found a parking place not far away and found my way to the bar. I bought a pack of smokes, a Bud and a shot of Jim Beam. I don't remember driving home or what time I got there.
To this day I think about the guy in the wheelchair and I hope that the brief company we shared somehow made his day a little better. Like I said, some things never change. Up to last week I still went to the VA for my healthcare and I still had to wait in incredibly long lines for some incompetent fool calling himself a doctor who I barely understood to tell me absolutely nothing. I regularly witness Veterans sitting along hallways or in corners of waiting areas with that same thousand-meter stare. You may think I'm full of shit. You may think that that happened twenty years ago and things are different now. Well, I can assure you that it's business as usual at the VA and here's and example:
I went to my VA doctor named Patel for four months complaining about my ankle. I told him over and over the symptoms and he told me repeatedly that it was an "acute high sprain" and to apply R.I.C.E. (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation). Finally, with the ms150 looming around the corner, I called Fondren Orthopedic Clinic in Webster and made an appointment with Doctor Barry Boone, who also happened to treat my son's and daughter's ankle fractures. I was in the waiting room perhaps ten minutes and then brought back to see the doctor. I explained the symptoms and he said it sounded like a torn peroneal tendon. I took off my shoe & sock and he put his thumb right smack on the spot first try and moved my foot up & down stating sure enough there was a tear in the tendon. He said we should also take an MRI to rule out any other soft tissue damage and then it would require surgery to fix. The MRI actually showed two tears and I scheduled the surgery for two weeks later. In less time than it took me to simply complain to the VA doctor the problem had been identified, double-checked, resolved and rehabilitated.
Ah, how about this one:
I had been seen at VA Medical Centers in Chicago, IL, El Paso, TX, Austin, TX and Temple, TX over a period of nearly15 years before relocating to the Houston area. I went to the Houston facility to make an appointment. They told me that I had to APPLY for benefits! I explained to them the situation being that I had only relocated and was already in the VA system. After over a year of arguing with them on this point I finally had to write a letter to my Congressman advising him of the situation and requesting his assistance. I took the letter to the XO at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers where I was working and, in turn, he took it to the Colonel who personally hand delivered the letter to the Congressman for me. Within two weeks I received notice from VA Medical Center Houston of an appointment for me. WOW! Some kind of Welcoming Program that was!
I said, "up to last week" because, henceforth, and much like many, many other Veterans who have received similar receptions from the VA, I will never set foot in another VA Medical Center as a patient again. I'm still upset about this new program they have developed. On one hand I don't want to make a fuss because I think our Troops should be given the best frickin healthcare possible because they've earned it. I also think that change has to start somewhere. On the other hand, we all served and we all deserve better healthcare. If you read the article closely you can understand that the VA is acknowledging that they are providing sub-par healthcare for Veterans. There may be a bunch of reasons for segregating the OIF/OEF Troops but modern warfare still results in the same type injuries. In WWI it was "Shell Shock" while in WWII, Korea and Vietnam it was "Combat Fatigue." After Desert Storm our Veterans had no problem verbalizing their symptoms, which eventually were labeled "Gulf War Syndrome." It took the VA over five years to acknowledge these symptoms and label it "in line of duty." Now we have "Post Traumatic Stress Disorder", or, PTSD. We, as a Country, have been treating War Wounded for over 233 years... you think that maybe we would have gotten it right by now! Think about it.
One other point I want to make is this, what's going to happen when we pull out of Iraq and beat the crap out of the Taliban in Afghanistan? Do you think the VA will continue with the "Welcome Center" and its new way of doing business or do you think they'll go back to the "business as usual program" for all Veterans? How do you think the Troops will feel once they get through that welcome door and all of the sudden find themselves waiting in a corner for hours on end? Yeah, some Welcome Home, Johnny that'll be, huh?
Sunday, October 11, 2009
Monday, October 5, 2009
Here it has been nearly eight weeks since I came home from New York and yet it seems like just yesterday. I have spent the past weeks thinking about the ride and where it took me... and not just in the sense of physically moving along a line in space but moving me along on a personal level through a web of beliefs, virtues, goals and guesses. Just like there are no straight roads in Virginia, there are no straight lines in life except on a blueprint. We may have an overall goal of, say, where we want to be in five years or ten or even thirty-five when we retire but those goals are just as dynamic as the process of achieving them.
My ultimate goal has always been to be a good and contributing member of my community and, ultimately, our society regardless of what career, family or personal path I chose to follow. Our society is built from strong communities, which are built with strong people. If we have weak and shoddy materials we end up with a mobile home of grief and greed instead of a stone house of pride and Patriotism. To me, the Army's Core Values have always been personal. These are values that I had instilled in me before I ever raised my right hand on 10JUN1986; loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage are not just buzz words for me. Perhaps it is because my father was a Marine and my dear friend, whom I consider to be a father to me, Roque Manrique, was an Army Green Beret. Perhaps they simply instilled in me what was instilled in them, which amounts to many, many lifetimes of military history.
Let's face it, our Country would not be what it is today if not for the gathering of strong, like-minded individuals who wanted their lives and the lives of their descendants to be better. A gathering of rabble rousers we call Patriots who organized themselves and their communities into a force to be reckoned with and we are still that same group today. That is what makes us Americans. It wasn't just a coup, but the beginnings of a greater society. And it worked! And here we are! And if not for the bravery and valor of those who voluntarily place themselves in harm's way to defend it, we would not be able to continue to enjoy being Americans.
I can no longer serve our Country in the manner in which I would like, as a Soldier, but, I can still serve our Country by providing for those who are serving in that capacity; Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, Airmen and Coast Guardsmen.
Twenty years ago, when I was injured, there was nothing out there as far as services for Veterans, either through the Government or as a third party organization, to turn to for assistance. I was discharged and received a DD214 and a letter from the then Veterans Administration welcoming me to their side of the house. It was over two years before I learned that I had educational benefits. I won't kid you either, it was like dealing with a multi-headed snake! I couldn't get one straight answer from any one individual or office. It was so frustrating that I often gave up for months before trying again to get benefits from the VA. In 2006 the Army began a program called Army Wounded Warrior Program or AW2 (not to be confused with the organization Wounded Warrior Project). Let's see, 1775 to 2006... that would be 231 years to finally develop a program for taking care of the seriously wounded. I would like to laugh about that but it isn't funny. That said, I applaud the Army for instituting this program and the men and women who worked tirelessly to see it through (standing ovation). They did a good job and I hope it is working as it should.
So, considering such a track record, I was really moved when I started seeing the emergence of organizations such as Wounded Warrior Project and Soldiers' Angels and Independence Fund. These third-party organizations are set up specifically to help our War Wounded and also those Military Service Personnel currently on deployment. These organizations are relatively small (compared to the size of the VA) and are prepared to help the Veteran at every step of the way. From the battlefield to the hospital and back home these organizations are always within reach; they are prepared to assist with whatever need be and if they don't have it, they go out and get it, period. I guess we finally decided that it was time to stop with the big bureaucracy and actually take care of the Troops as they should be cared for... as they deserve.
Two years ago I was able to join Wounded Warrior Project for their Soldier Ride in Texas. At first I had a hard time because of the callouses I had built up in dealing with the VA. It turned out fine though and, in the end, I had completed the ride and made a bunch of new friends. I also had a good appreciation for Wounded Warrior Project, what they are about and what they are accomplishing. That appreciation carried over to Soldiers' Angels this year when I had the chance to meet Toby Nunn (of Soldiers' Angels) on the 2009 WWP Soldier Ride. Toby and I talked about the Soldiers' Angels program and what they were doing for our Troops throughout the ride and I really liked what I heard.
Another contributing factor that set in the back of my mind while I planned this ride was a Navy Veteran I met on Soldier Ride 2008 by the name of Kevin Baker who was a paraplegic and suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). Kevin was a nice guy; he told a good story; he would have made a good politician or, perhaps, a preacher. Anyway, Kevin came up with the idea of riding his handcycle from his residence in Oklahoma to Washington, D.C. carrying the American Flag, which he would have had flown over the White House and then turned over to Wounded Warrior Project for them to use as their official Colors. Kevin set out from his home on his handcycle towing his wheelchair with one small suitcase on it. He reached somewhere in Louisiana where a lady found him sitting on the side of the road in a cold rain. She called her husband who brought a truck and loaded everything up returning to their residence. They put Kevin in some dry clothes and put him in bed for a rest. Kevin died there in bed and never completed his mission. Regardless of Kevin's story, he was a Veteran and he was attempting to do something larger than himself. It cost him his life but, perhaps, he died knowing that he was doing something good. I only knew Kevin briefly but his story challenged me to do something bigger than myself and, so, I set about trying to bring America's attention back to the Troops who, for the past eight years, have been placing themselves in harm's way to protect our way of life; to bring recognition and assistance to the 31,000+ War Wounded Veterans from Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). OORAH, Kevin... R.I.P. Brother.
This ride would take me away from home for at least thirty days and would require some contributions from my wife and children as well. I sat down and drafted up a really rough plan which I then discussed at length with my family. After working through some scheduling issues, we all agreed that it wouldn't be a problem for me to be away from the family for a month and they supported me one hundred percent in my undertaking. I worked nearly every day for over eight months planning, organizing and training for this ride. For a while I had been kicking around the idea of a cross-country bicycle ride but that's all I had, an idea. After going on Soldier Ride and talking with Toby I began to get a better picture of how to go about putting together a ride. After those several months of planning and organizing I finally felt secure enough about my mission and, on 12AUG2009, I pedaled out of my garage and turned the nose towards Ground Zero and New York City. I chose Ground Zero as my destination because of its significance in our Global War On Terror (GWOT) and I chose Wounded Warrior Project and Soldiers' Angels as the organizations I would represent because I felt, and still feel, that they are doing such a great job taking care of our Military Service Personnel, wounded and otherwise.
Honestly, I had no idea what to expect once I reached New York. Outside of going to Basic Training at Ft. Dix, New Jersey and what I have seen on the television and in movies, I had never been up in that part of the Country let alone to New York City. The best-case scenario I could come up with was getting a room, pedaling around Ground Zero on 9-11 without getting run over, grabbing some food and maybe one of those double-decker bus tours without getting mugged and heading back to Texas on a bus. The city itself is so big and contains so much history that there was no way I could have hoped to see too much in just a couple of days. As it turns out, though, I was in for a grand tour that I would never forget.
I'll work on putting that all together for you and, for me. For now I wish everybody a Happy Thanksgiving... especially all of our Troops who are currently deployed. Without their dedication we would not be enjoying this time with our families. Thank you all for your service to our great Country. ESSAYONS!
Here is a picture of Kevin Baker on his handcycle in front of the Alamo. This picture was taken during WWP Soldier Ride, Texas 2008. Calm seas and fair winds, Sailor...
Sunday, October 4, 2009
It started more than two years now, I figure. One day I was looking at Theresa and I thought, "you know, I don't want to wait until the kids are gone and then find out I don't even know who my wife is." We spend so much time and energy on the kids and work and everything else to keep our household running that we often forget to take the time for each other. We rush through our harried day, grab some dinner, clean up, go to a meeting or watch a little t.v. to relax and then it's off to bed where we fall quickly to sleep from exhaustion. You tell yourself that you'll "get around to it" or my favorite "next weekend we're gonna...blah, blah, blah" and it never fails that next weekend comes & goes in much the same manner as the previous fifty-two.
One day I opened my PDA and added a date to my calender; it was "Love Your Wife Day" and I set it to recur every Sunday to give me a little kick in the right direction. The first few months I simply made sure that I told Theresa I loved her and how much she meant to me. Then I started clearing away other items scheduled for Sunday morning so I could take her for breakfast. Every Sunday I would pick a different restaurant so that we didn't just get into another scheduled event that we had to attend. Picking a different restaurant involved talking about what we liked and didn't like and where we might like to go next. That led to us planning where we could go eat that would put us in close proximity to something we wanted to do for the day such as the beach, a park or the movie theatre.
Now, I think, everyday is "Love Your Wife Day." We spend more time together. We know each other so much better. It is easier to make decisions and there is much less time spent discussing issues, which leaves us that much more time to enjoy the things that we love to do... like discussing issues that are bigger than us. We both look forward now to a time when every day will be Sunday.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Here it has been nearly two weeks and I am still mulling over bits from my journey to Ground Zero. There is just so much that happened, from individual acts of kindness to expanses of beautiful American countryside to listening to the rain fall on my tent, that I think I'll need a lifetime to actually appreciate all of it. I spent the first day simply unloading, cleaning and stowing away my gear then, I slept for the better part of three days. The next four days I spent simply sitting and thinking about my journey in such a melancholy as to not even want to visit with friends or family. I cannot define a beginning or end to my sadness nor can I begin to explain why I felt that way...I just did.
I have been guilty of not completing my journal for this mission. Truthfully, I do not want to make the last entry in the blog because that would mean that it has officially ended and, I'm just not ready for that right now. I'm working up to it though. I met with my psychiatrist last Friday and we, including Theresa, spoke for quite some time about this journey and the near future. It was a positive meeting and I think the outlook is good. I've loaded a new photo journal on my laptop and have begun organizing the pics from the ride. I have a few left from my days in New York along with some final thoughts that I will be posting in the next day or two. While it all must come to an end sooner or later, we can at least savor it a little longer. I will always remember and think fondly of this journey.
On the other hand, my good friend Anthony and I are discussing our own venture that would provide for immediate assistance needs for Military Service Members and those who care for them (i.e. firefighters, law enforcement, etc.) in our communities; a sort of EMS Rapid Response for Troops who need immediate relief with healthcare, budgets, family support, housing, transportation, etc. It is still in its infancy but, we both want to be able to help our Troops at a personal level giving back to those who gave so much for us. We are both motivated and passionate about making this a successful undertaking, so, I think you may see something in the works very soon. I'll keep you posted as this develops and, please, feel free to comment on what you think about our project.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
I awoke this morning to a torrential downpour slamming against the window and roof (I'm on the 3rd of 3 floors), the same reason I wheeled into this Comfort Inn last night around 2130hrs with the time gain. I made a clean 800 miles yesterday from Dahlgren, VA to Greenville, AL. Initially I was going to stop outside of Montgomery but after topping off with fuel I found I wasn't tired and figured on taking as big of a chunk as I could out of the distance between me and my wife and children. About 30 miles north of Greenville it began raining hard enough to pond on the road and render visibility to about 50 feet so I decided it best and safest to get a hotel for a shower, some sleep and a good breakfast.
When I pulled into the Comfort Inn at exit 130 in Greenville I pulled in behind a pickup displaying a 101st Airborne patch in the back window. Upon entry I met Gary Starr of Five Starr Steel proudly wearing his 101st Screaming Eagle ball cap. We talked for a while and exchanged some stories enjoying having met each other. It turns out that Gary was on his return to Texas from his Unit's Reunion in Hampton, VA. He departed and I then met Dottie, who was attending the evening desk. Dottie was super nice and had just gotten me checked in when Gary returned and offered to pay for my room for the night. Thank you very much Gary! I appreciate your kindness and generosity.
It did not take me long to get settled in and off to sleep in the super comfortable bed. I'm serious. Of all the hotels I've stayed in over the last few weeks the beds at Comfort Inn are the best, hands down. I awoke several times during the night anxious to be getting back under way. The Weather Channel radar is showing nothing but green along the entirety of my remaining route. I was hoping to make the last 400 miles in short order but I guess that is not to be. So I will take my time and continue to absorb all that has happened over the last few weeks.
Thanks again to all of our Wounded Warriors who courageously placed themselves in harm's way to protect the Freedoms we enjoy in our great Country. I will always remember.
Also, good luck to my good friend, Latseen Benson, who is attending the U.S. Paralympic Team event this week. Enjoy yourself and know that I am very proud of you, Brother! I'll be routing for you!
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Up this morning with plenty of rest and I believe it is time to head for the barn. I had a good day yesterday hanging out with Scott. We went over to Fredericksburg and had some awesome bbq at Allman's then after a tour of the town we stopped in at Capital Ale House for some Brooklyn Brown Ale and hamburgers. It was an early evening as I wanted to get rested up for the drive home. Via the Interstate Highway system it is roughly 1200 miles from door to door. I'm hoping to make 600 miles per day and with the freeway it should be possible.
Again I would like to thank everybody who helped out along the way. In particular I want to thank Woody Groton and the folks at Wounded Warrior Project. This being my first go at such a mission the Wounded Warrior Project was integral in carrying out the plan and I appreciate them helping me out with advice, lodging and logistics. I want to thank Toby Nunn and Soldiers' Angels who provided the TerraTrike and hp netbook thus allowing me to actually make the ride and also to keep in touch with my family and all of you. Thanks to Anthony Mulheron for the B.O.B. Trailer, which allowed me to ride totally self contained. Thanks go to the New Jersey State Police for the escort and the Fire Department New York City for taking such great care of me while I was in New York. Thanks also to all of you who provided gear, discounts on merchandise, assistance, meals, lodging and encouragement to successfully complete the mission.
Lastly, but certainly not in the least, I want to thank all of our Military Service Personnel without whom none of this would be possible. Thanks to their voluntary service to our Country we are able to travel freely without fear of taking small arms fire or being blown up by an IED. Every Freedom we enjoy is directly credited to those valiant Men and Women who choose to place themselves in harm's way. I will always remember this and will keep Them in the forefront of my heart and thoughts.
Monday, September 14, 2009
I just can't say enough what a great journey it was all together. I saw some beautiful countryside and met some really great people. It is my honest wish that our mission was more successful than just a 1,642-mile bicycle ride from Houston, Texas to New York, New York. I hope that our efforts raised awareness of the fact that we, as a Nation, are at war right now; that we, as a nation, have Service Men and Women in harm's way right now protecting the Freedoms which many take for granted everyday. I hope that we raised awareness to the fact that we have over 31,000 War Wounded who need, and rightfully deserve, our continued support to make the transition from the battlefield back to civilian life. Their lives are forever changed but their quality of life need not suffer as a result of their sacrifice.
Yesterday was a strange day all the way around. I got packed up in short order as has been the norm for the last month. It is amazing how little we need to actually survive... our marketing engineers are doing a fantastic job, eh? At 1230hrs Cpt. Flaugherty gave me a ride from Ft. Hamilton over to Manhattan and, after a little difficulty at the UHaul office, I managed to get a truck secured. Cpt. Flaugherty & I wished each other well and he returned to his duties as a New York Firefighter, the best Fire Department in the World if you ask me.
I then pulled up Google Maps on my PDA, took a deep breath, pulled out into New York traffic and promptly got totally lost! Google Maps is great if you have a navigator! It was way too difficult to try and read the little screen, watch street signs, watch traffic and safely operate a vehicle without running over the multitude of pedestrians, cyclists and scooters. I felt like a real goombah trying to figure out where the heck I was. With all the tall buildings there is no horizon from which to get a bearing and I felt like rat in a little maze, which returned my thoughts to Douglass Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and I did a fairly good job of not panicking... :0) Somehow I ended up going through a tunnel and ended up in New Jersey. Trying to return the kind and friendly gentleman (bit of sarcasm there) in the little booth simply stated, "you can't go through here... you gotta use the Lincoln." When I tried to ask directions he promptly told me to shut up and pull over to the right. Then he radioed some other kind and friendly soul and simply said, "UHaul." Then a little gate opened and I pulled around to the right finding myself behind a shopping center with absolutely no idea where the hell I was. So, I pulled up Google Maps again and after a little guess work I headed south along the Jersey shoreline back to the Varazzano Bridge... luckily the Jersey side has few tall buildings and the Varazzano was gleaming on the horizon. Adding only about 5 miles to my trip back to Ft. Hamilton to recover my TerraTrike, B.O.B. and gear, I made it back at about 1400hrs.
I loaded my gear and wished the staff at the Hamilton Inn all the best. They treated us really great during our stay and are super friendly and professional. Then I rolled over to the c-store to top off with fuel and get some Mt. Dew and sunflower seeds for the ride to Dahlgren. I managed to find my way back over the Varazzano and, after getting robbed of $22 by another kind and friendly gentleman in a little booth, found my way to HWY 1 South and began my long ride home at about 1530hrs. I made Dahlgren at around 2100hrs and enjoyed an evening telling Scott about my adventures in New York City.
Today I'm going to hang out here and visit with Scott as we don't get to see each other too often these days. Tomorrow I will top off the tank and make way for Houston via our Interstate Freeway System. I'm sure the ride won't be quite as nice as cruising along the old State Highway system through small towns and picturesque countryside but, this rider wants to get on home to his family.
After 30 days on the road I am excited to return home to my loving Wife and children. I thank all of the Troops and their families for the sacrifice they make in chunks of 13 to 15 month durations. It was difficult enough on my family to navigate this single month and I understand how truly difficult it is on Military families to be apart for so long. Again, thank you all for your sacrifices... you know who you are.
Saturday, September 12, 2009
The last couple of days have carried with them a whole range of emotions. My thoughts wandered from seeing the events of the morning of 11September2001 unfold on the television, to the 343 FDNY Firefighters who paid the ultimate price doing their job, to the brave men and women of our U.S. Military Forces who voluntarily put themselves in harm's way to stop the cowardly and terroristic threats on our Country, to the 4,000+ deaths and 31,000+ wounded in Operation Enduring Freedom, to the some 2,800 deaths in the attack on the World Trade Center, Pentagon and the Shanksville, PA crash site, to the families of all of those who died. I thought of the American outcry on 9-11 and in the weeks following... and I thought of the short memories of Americans as people drove and strolled passed Fire Houses and Ground Zero hardly paying attention except to whatever was driving them for that day... even one New York paper had the exceptional lack of a moral compass as to put the opening of the NFL season on the front page and the 9-11 information and stories beginning on like page 20... Very sad in my eyes, but, that's America, right? I also witnessed a great number of New Yorkers and Americans from around the Country come to Ground Zero to pay their respects and to ponder the events of that fateful day.
I have been in the very capable hands of the FDNY Pipe and Drum Band all weekend. I have met some of the greatest guys I have ever met... true Heroes on the Home front. These guys volunteer for Band detail along with their jobs as Firefighters. And not only did they show me around and teach me some FDNY history and show me the sites, but they took me in and took care of me like one of their own... without hesitation. I am truly honored to have spent the events leading up to as well as those of 9-11 in their company and care.
Today I am fortunate enough to spend one last evening in NYC as I have been invited to the USS Intrepid for the last Band ceremony of the weekend. Tomorrow I will be loading up the U-Haul, thanks to U-Haul and the Wounded Warrior Project, and driving back to Texas with a few days to myself to think about my newly acquired friends, the War on Terror and where I fit in to all of this as an American. I would like to continue this ride annually in the years to come for the ultimate benefit of our Troops. With the continued support of great Americans like those who helped me complete this mission, I'm sure we can make a go of it. ESSAYONS!
Thursday, September 10, 2009
Here are a couple of very good clips that I want to share with y'all. The first is a compilation of pics to the song "I'm Proud To Be An American" by Lee Greenwood as a dedication to our Troops. It is a very moving song and coupled with the pics it is a very powerful motivator. I hope that it will bring to the forefront of your thoughts the fine men and women who serve our Country with Courage and Tenacity... our American Service Members.
The second is a return to Patton. It is a modern rendition based upon his famous speech upon entering into battle in WWII. Patton was a great leader and motivator of men. He is also very polarizing... you either love him or you hate him. I hope you enjoy this clip and find in it the motivation and fire to stand tall and back our brave and selfless Troopers who are voluntarily putting themselves in harm's way at this very moment to protect the Freedoms that we all enjoy in this Great Country.
And now that you are motivated, take the time to help Wounded Warrior Project support those Troops injured in battle return home to a great welcome and a good life. Please click HERE to donate to Wounded Warrior Project.
Enjoy the Ride!
First off I want to thank all of you who helped get me started by providing equipment and encouragement. I'd also like to thank all the folks who supported me along the way providing lodging, money, food, encouragement and other support. Lastly, but certainly not in the least, I want to thank the New Jersey State Police and the New York Fire Department for getting me safely across those final few miles. Without any one of you at any key moment this entire mission may have not been completed successfully. Thank you all for all of the support!
Yesterday went by so fast and so much happened that it is difficult to put it all straight in my head this morning. I left out of Bensalem, PA and headed for New Brunswick, NJ for a short 43 mile ride and the last day before reaching New York, my final destination. I stopped down the block from the hotel to get some gatorade and ice and spent 40 minutes talking with folks about the mission and the area. After getting rolling again I found that I was entirely within urban environment now and to my pleasure I found that I was still following PA Bike Route E. Folks waved and cheered as I pedaled past and it made me feel pretty good about what I had accomplished.
About and hour up the road I stopped in Fairless Hills at a 7-11 for a snack and a Mt Dew. There the owner provided me with a multitude of snacks, a sandwich and water for my efforts. Thank you very much for the support. I also met Craig, a local vendor with a colorful and long history in the area. His dad was a UDT SEAL and he had a number of really awesome stories of his growing up in the area. Craig provided me with an entire box full of snack bags of nuts, 4 bags of beef jerky and a really cool grill lighter that is a miniature M-16! Thank you very much for the support and kind words of encouragement. I wish you the best Craig! I then met an Army Veteran from Iraq who's brother is now serving in Afghanistan. He is attending the local community college under the GI Bill and plans on going on to a university when he finishes.
While at the rest stop I checked my messages and found an urgent message from Woody Groton at Wounded Warrior Project to call Lynda Thomson with the NY Fire Department, which I did. I found out quickly that Lynda is a ball of fire and very, very good at her job. She coordinated with the NJ State Police to have me ferried across NJ to Staten Island, NY because of the insane traffic and concern for my safety and well being. After having pedaled 1,642 miles I was not going to baulk at having a little help from some friends in completing the mission... and what friends to have! In coordinating with Lynda and Sgt Michie of the NJSP we decided that I would meet the State Troopers at the Calhoun Street Bridge on the PA-NJ State Line so I jumped on the TerraTrike for one last run about 14 miles up the road.
At the bridge I was met by Trooper DeJesus and his partner, whose name escapes me and I sincerely apologize (please leave a comment below with your name so I can thank you properly). We loaded the TerraTrike, B.O.B., gear and me into the van and off we went down the NJ Turnpike with lights rolling! What a ride! I found out that Trooper Dejesus had been Army National Guard and ETS'd only because he had been accepted into the NJ State Police Academy, another very important job in the State of New Jersey and the United States. He was very good at his job and I found out later that he and his partner had volunteered to stay after their shift in order to escort me safely across the city. Thanks a bunch, guys! I appreciate the help and support. Keep up the great work and I hope y'all nail the dude in the old truck with all the dope!
The State Troopers handed me off to Lt Rodriguez and Fireman Capecci at the base of the bridge at Staten Island and again I found myself in the capable hands of brave and courageous men. We crossed the bridge and Capecci pointed towards Manhattan and I could see Battery Park and the big hole where the World Trade Center Towers used to stand. We talked of 9-11 and of my mission. They dropped me at the hotel on Ft. Hamilton safe and sound. Thank you very much guys! I feel honored to have met you both. Keep up the great work and be safe out there.
I got checked in and enjoyed a very nice, very long hot shower. Later Lynda and Capecci returned and we went to dinner at a little place down the road in Brooklyn and had blue cheese hamburgers and pecan pie. Lynda hooked me up with Cpt Flaugherty who I will be hanging out with over the next couple of days along with Lynda whom I will accompany to a dinner this evening. It was an awesome day all the way around!
This weekend I will be accompanying NYFD to many events and ceremonies honoring those who gave all on 11 September 2001. It is truly an honor to be in such great company. I will be quite busy I'm sure so keep up with me on Twitter and I will update here as I can. Please keep in your heart and thoughts our Troops who are placing themselves in harm's way for our sake at this very moment. Also, please remember the brave and courageous Firemen who gave everything on 9-11. ESSAYONS!
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Today's ride will take us within a stones throw from our final destination, Ground Zero, New York City... the place where this conflict took fire 8 years ago. As I pedal today I will be thinking of the courage and resolve of our Troops who place themselves voluntarily in harm's way on a daily basis to ensure that a similar event does not happen again. I will also be thinking of the thousands of those Troops who have come home with grievous injuries due to that service. We can make a difference in their lives by contributing to Wounded Warrior Project; an organization that has the tools and the experience to assisst these Troops with the transition from the battlefield back to civilian life.
Here is today's route map. It will be a short day at a little over 40 miles. It remains overcast today and I am hoping that I can avoid any rain for at least two more days.
Enjoy the Ride!
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
Today's ride was really great! Delaware and Pennsylvania are both great States for providing safe and effective bicycle traffic routes. The day started off with a bleak outlook from the Weather Channel, which turned out to be wrong as we didn't get any rain today. The first intersection I came to in Newark was occupied by several motorists who met by accident ;o) The Police Officer on scene came up to me and asked which Engineer unit I was with and said he was an Engineer as well! ESSAYONS, Brother!
I pedaled up HWY2 to Wilmington and arrived in what seemed to be short order. After a stop for snacks I figured on pedaling on through but the locals had other thoughts on that. I ended up stopping I don't know how many times to talk with folks and show off the TerraTrike to kids and adults alike. It was a lot of fun. I also came across a new project being started in Wilmington called the Urban Bicycle Project at 1908 N. Market St. They happened to be out at the time I stopped by but I did get to meet Ian and some of the guys from deco multimedia group, who share the building. These guys were really cool and I really dig what they are trying to accomplish in their community. Check out urbanbikeproject.org and delawarecollective.com for more information. I wish both of you the best in your endeavor... keep up the great work!
From there I pedaled on to Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love. When I crossed the DE/PA States Line I was pleased that PA picked right up with the lane and I found it to be designated PA Bike Route E, which so far has crossed the entire city of Philly and all the way to Bensalem. The lanes are clearly marked and motorists seem to respect and appreciate them. So, pay close attention to this program Virginia and Texas...
Once into Philly proper I found Philip's sandwich shop just a starin' at me! I made a bee line for the place and told Ray to fix me up a genuine Philly Cheese Steak just the way the locals eat them. Let me tell you... that was the best Philly Cheese Steak I have ever eaten! Philip insisted that the secret is fresh, real beef and slices it himself everyday after finishing up his job in construction. The crew at Philip's was awesome and super friendly. The sandwich hit the spot and down the road I went. Riding down Passyunk Ave to South and around Old Town was one of the greatest experiences of my life. It was really, really cool! There were bike everywhere! There were all kinds of people on bikes, messengers on bikes, cops on bikes... I even saw a mailwoman on a bike! And the bikes moved at the same pace as the traffic! It was a beautifully orchestrated mass transit concerto! The streets were narrow and the businesses were colorful and bright and there were people everywhere. It was so cool! People waved and shouted and honked and it was just really, really cool! I wish I had had a helmet camera so that I could watch that again and again. Unfortunately, there was so much going on I didn't dare try to pull out my camera for fear of getting splatted. I was so caught up in the ride and my surroundings that I hooked a right on South Street and came out on Front Street without even seeing Old Town. I did, however, make a stop at Veterans Memorial Park on Spruce and paid my respects. This is an awesome park and the City of Philly did a great job putting it together.
I could have spent many days cruising around downtown Philly. It is such an eclectic city. I love it! But, I had to make some forward progress and so I pedaled on down the road on my nice bike lane. The row housing in Philly is cool... it's like one giant apartment... like a bee hive. Oh, and they should call it the "Philly Stop" not the "California Stop." I had the crap scared out of me a few times before I figured out that that is just the way they drive here. I also got passed by bicyclists while I was waiting at red lights... yup! apparently bikes don't have the same set of traffic rules...
Let's see, bike lane, Philly Cheese Steak, Passyunk Ave., Veterans Memorial Park, housing, Philly Stops... bikes don't... Oh! The people are so cool! They're just like me... loud and obnoxious! To visitors they are nice as can be but, to each other... woo hoo! Horns a honkin', gestures a flyin'... explicatives shouted... and you can tell that they're OK with each other anyway. Nobody's gonna get offended or fly into road rage... it's just the way they are... totally cool! Saul Raisin was right when he said Philly was a cool city...
Well, I'm almost at the end of this great ride. I hope the rain holds off for just a couple more days. For now I'm thankful that I've come safely this far. I'm sure that I've left out something from today that was really cool but, it's late and I'm tired. Enjoy the pics below and, please keep our Troops in your hearts and thoughts as I have done. It is because of Them that this is even possible...
Enjoy the Ride!