Iraq war veterans Jeremy Staat and Wesley Barrientos are compelled to draw attention to the rising number of suicides among U. S. veterans and those who served during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. To draw attention to the problem, the pair is planning a cross-country bike ride.
The number of suicides among military personnel and veterans averages about one every 80 minutes according to estimates from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. That means 6,500 hundred die by their own hand annually, a number that surpasses the combined death toll of U. S. military personnel from both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.
Staat wanted to do something but struggled to find the right means to draw attention to the problem. Barrientos, a double amputee whose legs were lost in a roadside bomb incident in 2007 in Iraq and Staat came up with the idea to ride bikes across country. They will be joined by Dale Porter.
The plan, called the “Wall to Wall Cross Country Bicycle Ride,” began on Sunday, February 19th, at the Wall of Valor in Bakersfield. The route, if travelled directly, covers 2,300 miles and finishes at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. It will pass through 71 cities with planned stops at 10 military bases. In keeping with the purpose of their effort, the pair plans to make numerous stops at churches, schools, Veteran posts and Memorials and other events and engagements where they can spread their message. The added stops will stretch the journey to 4,163 miles. The men expect to reach The Wall on Memorial Day in late May, making the trip last 100 days.
Barrientos, 27, will wear an 8-pound Kevlar helmet as a way of paying respect to the fallen soldiers from his unit. He will use a specially designed bicycle he can power by hand crank.
Porter, 65, a Viet Nam veteran, is making the trip with the others to encourage others. His own homecoming experiences after the war were painful and he hopes to help put a sparkle back in the eyes of his fellow veterans.
Staat, 35, is a retired NFL player, U. S. Marine veteran of the war in Iraq and founder of the Jeremy Staat Foundation which is sponsoring the bike ride. The Bakersfield resident feels that veterans deserve not only our gratitude but the respect and help they need when they return home.