Army retirees hit the road to promote awareness of nation's military
October 14, 2010
FORT DRUM, N.Y. - Retired Lt. Col. Doug Adams had just finished a run and was staring at a snow-capped Mount Rainier one sunny day last year at Fort Lewis, Wash., when the ambitious vision came to him: Launch a national campaign to draw people's attention to service members and veterans by cycling cross country for a year.
"The media's focus is on individual stories that do not necessarily lend themselves to an understanding of what our military folks and their Families are going through," said Adams, who kicked off his Duty, Honor, America Tour in Watertown on Thursday. "The stories are (typically) about the tragedy of a particular situation.
"We think there's a need for helping our country understand what it is that our Soldiers and our veterans have gone through and continue to go through," he added.
He shared the idea with his wife, retired Col. Deb Lewis, who retired in May after 30 years of active duty. The couple decided to refinance their home to help fund the trip, and Adams purchased a Cannondale touring bike.
For the 52-year-old - who did not even own a bike, and last rode one in his teens - the more than 16,000-mile, cross-country voyage was something he figured he could do with some hard work. He began training immediately, and just last month successfully completed an Ironman competition in Wisconsin, where he swam 2.4 miles, ran 26 miles and biked 112 miles.
During the next 12 months, Adams plans to pedal his way through every U.S. state, averaging 60 miles a day. Lewis will follow closely behind in their recreational vehicle, along with a third traveling companion, their dog, Daisy.
In addition to thousands of towns and villages, they plan to visit at least 50 military installations nationwide.
"Our mission is to educate and inspire Americans so that they will in large and small ways do things that will really make a difference for our veterans, military and Families," Lewis said. "We know that with just a tiny bit of awareness, the American people's creativity can take off and unleash a lot more potential for doing great things."
Adams said the idea of cycling around the country for veterans and the military came to him out of the clear blue sky that summer day.
"In about three seconds, I had this idea of what it would look like and how (we might) be able to reach and touch communities throughout this country," he said.
At the time, he thought of two concepts to fuel the vision of his yearlong, cycling expedition: "If you need help, get it; if you can help, offer it" and "Pay attention to ... what really helps."
One Fort Drum community leader who helped coordinate the couple's North Country sendoff last week said Americans who support the military not only fulfill a patriotic duty of honoring veterans, service members and their Families, but also contribute to its continued status as the world's premier, all-volunteer fighting force.
"It's all about reciprocity," said Michael Plummer, president of the National Association of the 10th Mountain Division. "Young men and women today sign up to defend their country based on the fact that the government will provide them with good leadership, good training, the best equipment we can find, a sense of mission when they have to deploy and a quality of life at least equal to the people they serve."
"As long as those things are present," Plummer continued, "(those volunteers) will continue to volunteer, will deploy and will place themselves in harm's way."
If "reciprocity" gets out of balance, he added, the tendency of troops to re-enlist goes down, as does the tendency of parents willing to give up their sons and daughters.
"We then lose our capability to raise and maintain an all-volunteer force," Plummer said. "And when that happens, you're not, overnight, going to draft in a (skilled) force and be able to defend this country.
"It is absolutely critical that America continues to honor the service and sacrifice that our young men and women are making on a daily basis - (we) must let them know that."
To kick off the tour, the couple noted the perfect northern location seemed to be Fort Drum, which, next to San Antonio, has the largest population of military retirees in the U.S.
"And it is people like Mike Plummer," Lewis said, "along with many others he has worked with, who have made this place so special. The people make it so special."
"Fort Drum is a community and a post that 'gets it,'" Adams added. "It's a great military example for us to carry forward with us."
The Duty, Honor, America Tour will act as a sort of conversation-starter in communities nationwide, Adams said, hopefully compelling people to consider how they may better care for veterans and service members.
He will blog about their experiences, and maintain contact with friends they make along the way, through their recently created web site, www.dutyhonoramerica.com.
"We know that America seems to have 'got it' in terms of honoring our troops and thanking them for their service," Adams said. "But we also know there is more opportunity for folks who don't necessarily have daily contact with veterans and the military.
"I think there's less of an understanding of what our troops and their Families are going through today than there was during World War II, for sure, and even probably during Vietnam," he added.
As they learn how communities honor veterans and the military in the coming months, they also hope to share their own stories to help Americans understand the sacrifices and contributions of today's armed forces.
"As a result of that greater understanding," Adams said, "it should then help our nation's citizens - more than 99 percent of (whom) are not involved in today's armed forces - to feel the responsibility we have to care for those who come back."
The couple left the Fort Drum area last week, traveling east on Rt. 3. They are now touring New England. In November, they will head down the Atlantic Coast and spend December and January traveling west along a route through the Deep South.
Later this winter, and through springtime, they will reach southern California and then trek east on I-40, north through the Midwest, into the high plains by summer and end up in Washington state by autumn.
After a brief trip to Alaska by air, they will journey down the Pacific Coast and hit San Diego around 9/11. Their tour officially ends in Hawaii, where Adams will compete in the Kona Ironman competition Oct. 8.
"Many of the troops are coming back with issues, as a result of their service, and broken in some way," Adams said.
"It is a part of our responsibility to help them come back, help them become unbroken, and to help them build themselves back up. Because the fact is that the potential, the experience, the talents and the skills that they have learned throughout their service is something that our nation's communities (need)."