Wounded veterans ride to commemorate 9/11 attacks
BOSTALSEE, Germany — This was no ride in the park.
On Sunday, more than 60 wounded veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars pedaled their way along a 25-kilometer route in the steep hills of Germany’s Saarland.
Some had injuries or disabilities that were immediately apparent. Leg amputees rode modified tricycles that were cranked by hand. Others, such as Staff Sgt. Tyson Zook, rode with invisible wounds — in Zook’s case a traumatic brain injury.
But regardless of the extent or type of their injuries, the goal was the same: to get back in the saddle.
Joining the veterans Sunday were about 250 civilians. The snaking line of riders halted traffic at several stops along the way — their teal and blue shirts standing out among the green hills. The bike ride was sponsored by the Wounded Warrior Project, a non-profit organization, whose mission is to honor and empower injured servicemembers.
While Sunday’s ride was billed as an opportunity to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, it was more about supporting the wounded troops.
Zook, of the Warrior Transition Unit at U.S. Army Garrison Schweinfurt, said that cycling has been therapeutic for him, allowing him to progress at his own pace.
He encountered several explosions on a 2006 tour to Iraq. “My head was pretty messed up,” he said. “But when I’m out riding, I can just clear my mind and forget about my injuries.”
Lt. Col. David Oeschger was in Afghanistan just a few months ago, commanding the 4th Battalion, 70th Armor Regiment. In July, a wall crashed down on top of him after a suicide bomber detonated explosives. Now, just over a month later, he rode a hand-cranked tricycle, the only kind of bike he can ride while his leg injuries heal.
“I’m torn,” he said. “It’s nice that I can be out here with these soldiers, but I left a battalion of great soldiers in Afghanistan.”
Oeschger was cheered on by a group of friends and family in matching lime-green shirts. His wife, Jen, said that she was “overwhelmed” by the site of him sitting in the tricycle.
“I’m just so glad he is alive,” she said. “He has been so positive and an inspiration for all of us.”
Spc. Michael Robinson, of the Warrior Transition Unit at Schweinfurt, said that he never even thought about cycling after he was injured in October of 2010 in Logar Province, Afghanistan. A bomb blast had riddled his body with shrapnel, including a piece that shattered his skull.
Robinson said he still has pain when he sits up, but that wasn’t going to stop him from riding with his fellow soldiers.
“It’s the same thing as when you are in combat,” he said. “It’s about the people who are the left and right of you.”