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American Homefront

A Freedom Ride for Wounded Warriors

There’s nothing quite like the freedom of the road and the adventure of discovering what’s around the next turn. That independence is what inspired two Air Force Academy buddies to plan a cross-country motorcycle ride next month.

But the Project Road Warrior Ride is unique because most of the riders are military members from the Care Coalition, an organization that cares for wounded, ill and injured members of the U.S. Special Operations Command.

Air Force Academy graduate Craig Anders now serves with the Care Coalition.  He’s a former pilot who as he put it “suffered one too many concussions” which led to a seizure and epilepsy.

“That immediately disqualified me from ever again flying for the Air Force,” Anders said. “That was tough, that was really tough and being that it was a seizure it also disqualified me from driving a car for a while. My wife had to drive me to work and my friends had to drive me to work and for a long time you kind of feel you’re more of a burden than of use.  That’s a hard thing to get past for a lot of folks.”

Anders said one day he’d had enough. To recapture a measure of independence, he bought a bicycle and began riding 15 miles each way to work.

“Then, I went and found a friend to take me flying again and we went skiing again,” Anders said. “I’m lucky. I had my seizure. I got stabilized on medicine and eventually I was able to do many of the things, except for flying, that I used to be able to. For some folks, they’re not that lucky.”

Now, his mission is to help other injured military members regain their sense of control. So, Anders teamed up with his Air Force Academy buddy Steve Berger.

Their first idea was to ride in the Scooter Cannonball Run from Alaska to New Orleans.

That idea morphed into a fund-raiser. Then, they decided to invite members of the Care Coalition to ride along. They finally decided on establishing their own ride that would start in Seattle and finish in the Tampa Bay area, home to the Care Coalition and two of their major sponsors, Barney’s Motorcycle and Marine and Quaker Steak & Lube in Clearwater.

Anders and Berger co-founded the non-profit organization, Project Road Warrior. For their first event, they will take along eight riders from Care Coalition, travel across 12 states, over two mountain ranges, touch two oceans and the Gulf and all  in 10 days.

“People don’t really realize how rehabilitation can be in the form of adventure,” Berger said. “We’ve got some of these type-A personalities. They’re thrill seekers, they want to do something that’s extreme. They want to do something that is over the top. And riding 10 days across the United States, yeah it’s on Can-Am Spyders, but that’s still going to be a challenge.”

Barney’s Motorcycle helped bring aboard the national company Can-Am that is providing the Spyders, three-wheel motorcycles.

Berger is a civilian now who organizes auto shows for Motor Trend. But he’s looking forward to getting to know the eight coalition members on the ride.

“I was a rescue pilot in the Air Force. So anytime I was doing work in combat it was because someone was having a really bad day. They got shot or they got hit by an IED and we’re flying them to get the care that they need,” Berger said. “So for me personally, I think I’ve seen a lot of these people on the worse part of their day. I want to leave that behind me and find them on some of the better parts of their day the better parts of their lives.”

Beyond helping his fellow troops, Anders also hopes to dispel the impression held by some that injured members of the military are somehow broken.

“These kinds of events help people see that they’re resilient. They’re capable,” Anders said pointing to the Project Road Warrior poster that features the eight riders. One is a soldier who lost both his legs to an IED but continues in active duty with the Army, another is partially paralyzed, still others have balance issues because of head injuries.

“You have guys like Anthony (Radetic). He was hurt, he was injured. He’s in a wheelchair, but he’s also the first guy to land a back flip on a sit-ski,” Anders said.

Project Road Warrior plans to leave Seattle June 5 and arrive in Tampa June 14, 2014. You can follow their route and adventures on their website.

In between, the group plans to ride the back roads through Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Louisiana and then make three stops in Florida.

They’ll conclude with a big fund-raiser and party at Quaker Steak and Lube. The trip is funded minus things like a communications system which Berger would like to get for safety reasons. But they’re also looking to build funds for next year’s ride and other adventures like maybe a Jet Ski trip around Florida.