Retired Army Staff Sgt. Rosalind Roger high-fives Soldiers lined around the III Corps flagpole during the Project Hero rider's welcome ceremony at Fort Hood, Texas, April 15. (Photo Credit: Blair Dupre, Fort Hood Public Affairs) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT HOOD, Texas - Around 40 bikers, participating in the 2021 Project Hero: Ride 2 Recovery Texas Challenge, made their way to the III Corps flagpole here, April 15, where they were given a great big Fort Hood welcome on their pit stop from Austin to Arlington.

Soldiers lined the flag pole circle and greeted the bikers with cheers as they rode in. Before long, everyone was talking, laughing, taking photos and dancing to the lively music provided by the 1st Cavalry Band.

Project Hero, a non-profit organization, was founded in 2008 with the intent of helping veterans, service members and first responders suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder, physical injuries and traumatic brain injury to maintain a high quality of life.

“What we’ve found with what our chapters do, and the program does, we have an 80% reduction in PTSD triggers through our riders, and a 63% reduction or elimination of medication,” Todd Setter, chief operations officer for Project Hero, said.

Retired Sgt. Maj. Aubrey Gaines participated in the ride for the first time in 2019 and was excited to participate again because he has found biking to be very freeing.

“A lot of the afflictions that we carry home from Iraq, Afghanistan or any other austere environments when we get on that bike, especially with our comrades, it’s just freeing,” he said. “You get that space and a lot of times you start coping with things while you’re out there on the road and then when we stop, you’re not alone. We all understand what the other’s (are) going through.”

Retired Sgt. Maj. Felix Alica has participated in the Texas Challenge five times and sees all of his biking peers as family, which is what keeps him coming back.

“First of all, this is home, and second and most importantly, these people are my family. These are retired Soldiers, Navy, Airmen, whatever you call them, we all have something in common: we defended our country,” he said.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the ride was cancelled last year and Setter addressed it when he spoke to the crowd.

“Last time we were here, we actually lied to y’all. When we left, we said we’ll see you next year, but it’s actually been two years, so thank you for having us back,” he said. “As you know, it’s been an interesting year. This is the first time we all really have ridden as a group, outside. It’s been 18 months, so this is a big day.”

A coin and a smile
Retired Marine Patrick Kelly from Las Vegas, receives a coin and poses for a photo with Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael Grinston following a welcome ceremony for the riders taking part in the Project Hero: Ride 2 Recovery Texas Challenge at Fort Hood, Texas, April 15. (Photo Credit: Stephanie Salmon, Fort Hood Public Affairs) VIEW ORIGINAL

To make it an even bigger day, a surprise speaker, Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael Grinston, made his way down to the welcome party and thanked Project Hero for what they do and the riders for their service.

“Thank you for what you do. Anytime that you can come out and support our troops and support our veterans and make it better for our veterans, I mean we couldn’t be more proud of everything that you do for your country, everything that you’ve done for your country, and what you continue to do,” he said. “I really appreciate these things like Project Hero, just kind of warmed my heart, you know, because one day, I’m going to be one of those folks and I got a little free time on my hands …”

Grinston reflected on the challenges of the past year and what the U.S. military has done collectively to help the nation get through them.

“You look at what happened with COVID in March of last year and what was going on in New York. We sent the U.S. Army Reserves; we sent the Navy ship(s) up there to go and say, ‘Hey, we need to help out with COVID in the Javits Center,’ and then we sent teams over to Washington State,” he reflected. “Then when you get to the summer, you had floods on one side of the U.S. and then, no kidding, on the other side of the U.S. you had forest fires. So, half the country was flooded, and the other half was burning down. And our Army and our military were all (dealing with) that in a COVID environment to save the nation.”

He continued elaborating on how far the nation has come in the efforts of getting the vaccine out.

“One site is giving 6,000 shots a day and that’s all components of the military out in the U.S., I think 22 military teams, giving COVID shots to the nation. You don’t see that, and you don’t see what your military has done to save the nation. We (also) still have (Soldiers) in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and more deployed all over the globe. That’s just some of those things that we do as a military that never really gets talked about as much as we want it (to) because we’re just out there, those quiet professionals, and this program is indicative of that.”

“Thank you for what you do and on behalf of the Chief of Staff and myself, God bless you and everything that you do. People first and winning matters,” he concluded.

On the road again
Retired Army Sgt. Maj. Aubrey Gaines high-fives Soldiers as he and several dozen other riders continue on their 300-mile Texas Challenge event after a brief ceremony at Fort Hood, Texas, April 15. (Photo Credit: Brandy Cruz, Fort Hood Public Affairs) VIEW ORIGINAL

For more information on Project Hero and what they do, visit their website at https://weareprojecthero.org.