I wanted to posted this the week it happened, but I've been a little busy: working for a paycheck and working on job hunt stuff (it is the season where schools start the search for any new staff they'll need for next school year...). I'm forcing myself to get it done before another day goes by!
Monday, March 30th, began the Road 2 Recovery Don't Mess With Texas Challenge, starting at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, and ending at The Ballpark in Arlington. Unlike the Wounded Warrior Project's Soldier Ride that took place about two-and-a-half weeks earlier, the cyclists ride the entire route, instead of riding a course one place, then traveling to a new city for the next route.
The Don't Mess With Texas Challenge was nearly 350 miles, and was chronicled over at Big Hollywood:
Day 1: BAMC to San Marcos
Day 2: San Marcos to Austin
Day 3: Austin to Fort Hood
Day 4: Fort Hood to Waco
Day 5: Waco to Cleburne
Day 6: Cleburne to Arlington
My part of the story starts with my acquaintance with Jason Denny. I came to "know" Jason via email after I posted about attending the Vets for Freedom National Heroes Tour event here in Austin in March 2008, but I did not meet him until he invited me to attend last month's dinner held at American Legion Post 76, where he currently serves as Historian. Jason also invited me to come to the dinner the post was hosting for the R2R riders on March 31st. I was very glad I was able to take him up on the invitation.
I got there a little early, both to miss rush hour traffic, and to help out with anything that still needed doing. A lot of the setup had already been done, so there wasn't too much they needed me to do at that point. I did meet some of the ladies from the American Legion Auxiliary, and also Jason's aunt, who I learned is a Gold Star Mother. In talking to the ladies from the Auxiliary, I learned that one of the riders was an actor with the last name Baldwin: Adam Baldwin. I didn't recognize the name, and I never saw a face I "recognized" with all the people who showed up with the riders. I saw Nathan Hunt, who I had chatted with briefly after the Soldier Ride event earlier that month.
Nathan was one of several riders in wheelchairs. While the Post building itself can't completely accommodate wheelchairs (the building dates to 1858 and is a state historic landmark), the event, thanks to the lovely weather, was taking place on the front lawn. Tables and chairs had been set up in front of a stage area, and there was also a buffet table set up with all the food that had been provided by several of the local American Legion posts. I'm pretty comfortable around people in wheelchairs: I grew up with a grandmother who has been in a wheelchair since long before I was born as the result of contracting polio in the 1950s. But, I also know that, depending on where you are, getting around in a wheelchair isn't always easy, and trying to carry things (such as plates of food or open cups full of a drink) and also propel a non-motorized chair around can be kinda difficult. So, I directed the guys in the wheelchairs down to a spot where they could more easily transition from the walkway in front of the Post building onto the lawn, moved some of the folding chairs out of the way at the table they selected, and then I offered to do a beverage run.
A cover band, APD Under Cover, entertained everyone. I thought they were pretty good! There was also some "ceremony": local dignitaries, and the fire department presenting one of the riders with the flag they had flown over the ride route earlier in the day. All the American Legion posts put on a pretty good spread. There was barbecue sausage and brisket, burgers, plenty of sides, water, soft drinks, tea, and even some beer, and a cake. General Cheek, the commander over all the Army's Warrior Transition Units, was in attendance, and he would be joining them for the ride to Fort Hood the next morning.
I also meet the family of LCPL Nicholas S. Perez. His mother arrived first. When I learned who she was, I informed her that I had substituted at the school named in honor of her son. LCPL Perez's father and sister (who had also served in the Marine Corps) also attended the dinner, as well as his nephew, who is named after his uncle. I told Nicholas' mother I really liked the display case with the uniform and photos. LCPL Perez's parents seem to be active at the school, but I'm not quite sure in what capacity. Part of the time I was speaking with LCPL Perez's mother, Jason's aunt was there. Listening to how they have a school named for their son, and also how another Gold Star family in the area has a post office named for their Fallen Warrior, and how 1LT Kile West now has the field house at his high school alma mater named for him, Jason's aunt would like to see about having something named in honor of her son.
I did chat a little bit with some of the riders. One of the guys at the table I'd served earlier was wearing a Red Sox ballcap. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to ask if he was looking forward to opening day. We talked about baseball a little bit, me sharing about going to the minor league games up in Round Rock. I met the president of Save A Vet, an organization whose goal is to help vets who are dealing with PTSD, but with an alternative approach from what is typical of current treatments that rely heavily on medication. I also met a woman who is also a veteran, but is now with the VA Vet Center here in Austin. As the event was winding down, I was chatting with her on the front porch of the post , and a man in a t-shirt and ballcap walked up, thanked us, and gave us both a big hug before departing. Only later, after I saw one of Jason's photo's on facebook, did I realize that man was Adam Baldwin. I got a big hug from a celebrity! I was watching Independence Day last night after getting home from the Express game, and I recognized Adam as Major Mitchell ;-)
Overall, it was a lovely evening. Everyone involved in organizing the event can be proud of themselves, and it was an honor to be able to be there and help out, even just a little.