By Terri Moon Cronk
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 21, 2012 – President Barack Obama cheered for 22 wounded warriors taking part in a Wounded Warrior Project Soldier Ride yesterday, calling it "one of the most inspiring events" to take place at the White House.
President Barack Obama cheers on participants in the Wounded Warrior Soldier Ride on the South Lawn of the White House, April 20, 2012. (White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Soldier Rides are four-day cycling events designed to "use cycling and the bonds of service to overcome physical, mental or emotional wounds," according the Wounded Warrior Project website. This was the fourth year the White House hosted a Soldier Ride, and it included members of each military service and the Coast Guard. The events have been occurring for six years. "I’m glad to see you’re all decked out in the stars and stripes, because I want anybody who sees this ride go by to know that they’re in the presence of heroes," Obama told the colorful group of riders on the South Lawn.
Obama pointed out a few of the riders and their physical challenges: Max Rohn, who lost a leg in Fallujah, Iraq, during a grenade attack; Leslie Smith, who lost a leg and her eyesight in Bosnia, who rode tandem yesterday; and brothers Erik and Deven Schei, who also rode together on a tandem bike.
"When Erik enlisted in the Army, Deven made a promise that if anything bad ever happened, he would finish what his brother started," the president said. "During his second tour in Iraq, Erik was shot in the head by a sniper. So Deven enlisted. Then two years ago, Deven was injured in Afghanistan. And now the two brothers ride a specially made tandem bike, with Deven leading the way. They’re taking on this latest challenge just like they did every other one — together."
Veterans Administration Secretary Eric Shinseki, also attended the event and cheered on the riders. The president promised to do everything he could to make sure wounded warriors and other veterans get the care and benefits they earned.
"All of you have served your country. That’s why now it’s time for the country to serve you. That’s what you deserve, and here in America we take care of our own," Obama said.
The president said the riders participated in the challenge for a variety of reasons.
"Some of you may be athletes looking to get the competitive juices flowing again," he said. "Maybe some of you are trying to see how far you can push yourselves. Some of you are doing it for the camaraderie and the bond that comes when you work hard alongside people who know what you’re going through.
"Maybe you’re doing it to honor a loved one or a buddy," the president added. "But all of you are here because you believe in living your lives to the fullest. You know that each of us has a responsibility to seize the opportunities we’ve been blessed with. You ride because you can, and you ride for those who can’t. That’s what this is all about."
The president also welcomed the 200 U.S. service members whom the White House invited to cheer on the riders as they circled the South Lawn.Fifty troops each represented the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps.
Obama paid tribute to the riders’ military family members who were in attendance.
"[They] don’t wear a uniform, but … work just as hard and sacrifice just as much alongside you," he told the riders.
The president said the soldier rides across the country remind U.S. citizens to support the men and women who serve for other Americans. He encouraged citizens to show their support for the riders and thank them for their service by cheering them along in communities around the country.
Wounded warrior riders have clocked miles this year on Soldier Rides through Chicago, New York, Seattle, Phoenix, San Antonio and Miami, Key West, Tampa and Jacksonville, Fla.; Nashville, Tenn., North Fork, Calif. and Landstuhl, Germany.
"We are proud of you. Your country is proud of you," the president told the riders. He then sounded the horn to start the ride of three laps around the South Lawn of the White House.