Service members returning from the war in the Middle East might quietly return to routine, be greeted as heroes or face recoveries from injury. Whatever the situation, families, friends and organizations come together to help the soldiers in their transition.
This year, U-Haul International Inc. teamed with Soldier Ride, a volunteer group that organizes a cycling event to support severely injured members of the U.S. armed forces. The company donated the use of its trucks and trailers to transport race equipment for nearly 100 disabled soldiers and other cyclists. It also kicked off its support with a special promotion at more than 1,300 of its U.S. stores. Participating locations sell fundraising wristbands, donated by DefendingFreedom.net.
In 2004, Soldier Ride member Chris Carney biked across the United States raising $2 million for a fellow nonprofit organization, Wounded Warrior Project (WWP). The charity was founded by John Melia, a former U.S. Marine who was hurt in a helicopter crash in 1992, to help a new generation of wounded service members. Support includes benefits, counseling, backpacks full of supplies to aid in recovery, advocacy, family assistance, and the organization of adaptive sports. Soldier Ride and WWP have helped thousands of military personnel re-enter civilian life.
Outfitting for Special Needs
Soldier Riders are outfitted with a bike and any necessary prosthetic adaptations, and bikes are modified according to disability. Organizers work with experts at Walter Reed Army Medical Center to ensure participants receive the appropriate equipment, which cyclists may keep for personal use after the event.
Across the Nation
The event launched on May 21, at Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles. The group’s first stop was a Dodgers baseball game at which amputee and Soldier Ride participant Heath Calhoun threw the first pitch. Riders then traveled 4,200 miles cross country through 13 major cities and hundreds of smaller communities. A benefit concert at the Martha Clara Vineyards in Riverhead, N.Y., celebrated the ride’s conclusion on July 24 with artists such as the Funk Brothers, Joan Osborne and others.
Before a crowd of 2,500 supporters, U-Haul presented Soldier Ride organizers with a check for $25,000 in donations collected from the sale of more than 8,800 wristbands. “The Soldier Ride event recognizes and celebrates the incredible sacrifices these individuals have made, and we are honored to be part of this important effort,” says John Taylor, U-Haul executive vice president. “U-Haul is proud to continue its longstanding support of the courageous men and women in our armed services.”
“We at Wounded Warrior Project greatly appreciate U-Haul’s support of this important undertaking. They are outstanding partners,” says project founder and director Melia. “This is an incredibly life-affirming effort, great fun and a great experience for the participants and all its supporters. Soldiers recovering across the country and overseas see this support, and it helps them to know the job they do is appreciated.”
U-Haul continues to offer its wristband promotion at participating outlets. The bands sell for $3, with 100 percent of proceeds going to Soldier Ride and WWP. In July 2005 alone, the company raised more than $47,000 in bracelet sales.