Riding to Remember: Lt. Col. Marisa Pace Bikes 343 Miles

By Sarah WindmuellerSeptember 9, 2021

2015 FDNY 343 Ride
Kenny Carroll, Lt. Col. Marisa Pace, Michael Alexander and Fred Greis participate in the 2015 FDNY 343 Ride. (courtesy photo provided by Lt. Col. Marisa Pace) (Photo Credit: courtesy photo provided by Lt. Col. Marisa Pace) VIEW ORIGINAL

In the cool light of a northeastern morning, a group of bikers has gathered together. They are a blended bunch—motorcyclists and bicyclists—made up of firefighters, soldiers, and friends. Silence falls over the group as a list is brought forward. A name is read aloud from the list, followed by another and another, the names breaking the silence with a memory. Over the next five days, 343 names will be read aloud. One name for each of the firefighters who were killed in the World Trade Center attacks on September 11, 2001.

This is just a glimpse of the FDNY 343 Ride. Now in its 10th year, this annual event continues to grow and add more riders to its roster. Spinning among this diverse group, you will find Lt. Col Marisa Pace. A native of Queens, NY and currently a Professor of Military Science (PMS) at the University of Maryland, Pace was a 2nd Lieutenant in 2001 attending her Basic Officer Leaders Course. She can recall specific details and feelings from that Tuesday morning when the world stood still.

“I was at Transportation Basic Course when word came over the news and we stopped and stared at the TV,” Pace said. She called home immediately and was relieved to hear her family was okay, but as time went on news started to trickle in of friends and neighbors who hadn’t been so lucky.

Pace said that at first she struggled to process the information and felt a wide-range of emotions, an experience she shared with her fellow classmates as they watched the news unfold that day.

“There was lots of shock, we could not believe this had actually happened,” she said. “Sadness and shock would be the biggest emotions everyone felt.”

With each year that passed after the attacks, Pace looked for ways to stay connected with her home and honor the memory of those who had died and the families and friends affected. In 2011, the 10th Anniversary of September 11th found Pace in a place where she struggled to find those connections.

“I was stationed in the Pentagon at the time down in D.C. and September 11th was always such a big deal to me because I’m from New York, “she said. “ There was nothing going on in D.C. and I wanted to do something. I saw through a friend on Facebook that they were doing this bike ride. So, I reached out to them and have been a part of [FDNY 343] ever since.”

The commemorative bike ride was brainstormed by a group of Bronx-based firefighters. “We started the ride on the 10th Anniversary of 9/11 to do something special to honor the memory of the firefighters that didn’t make it home that day,” said Mike Alexander, a founder of FDNY 343 and a retired Fire Captain with Engine 50/Ladder 19. “It’s a way for us to make something positive out of a negative event.”

Thanks to a social media post, Pace was able to connect with the group as they embarked on their maiden voyage, and she’s been riding with them ever since. This year, Pace will be riding again for the 20th Anniversary.

This year’s 5-day, 343 mile ride begins on Tuesday, September 14th in Montauk, NY and concludes on Saturday, September 18th in Washington, D.C. at Arlington National Cemetery. Each morning before the riders depart for that day’s journey, they gather together to read aloud the names of firefighters—one name for every mile that they plan to ride that day.

For Pace, the ride serves as a way to connect and share emotions while being able to give back to her military community through organizations like Wounded Warrior and America’s VetDogs.

“What I love about it is that we raise money and that the money that we raise goes to help others,” she said, adding that participating in the ride with the fireman is a wonderful experience. “They’re really relaxed and they love their job. It’s not a race, we all ride together, share stories, and talk to each other and catch up as we’re riding.”

Today’s Cadets might not have many, if any, memories from September 11th outside of what they’ve been taught in school or through the stories shared by their families. Both Pace and Alexander believe it is imperative for events like the FDNY 343 Ride to continue, and for people to keep sharing their experiences.

“We all know the saying, ‘Never Forget,’ and I think it’s a great outlook for the firemen who lost so many friends and teammates on that day to kind of process their emotions in a tangible way and feel like they’re helping some other people through the tragedy.” Pace said. “So, I think making sure that they’re not forgotten and their service and sacrifice is remembered and honored is extremely important.”

Alexander agrees with Pace, and adds that as the distance in years continues to grow with events like September 11th, it’s our job to honor the memory of all those firefighters, policemen, soldiers and people who died that day and in the years that followed as America fought wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “When you talk about our military and first responders, they are who make our country what it is. It’s important to honor their memory and let them know that we didn’t forget them,” Alexander said. “It shows the younger generations what being an American is all about. These people are willing to sacrifice their lives so that you can have a better life. That’s what this country is all about.”

Remembering 9/11

Department of Defense Spotlight: Remembering September 11, 2001

U.S. Army Patriot Day: Remembering September 11, 2001

About Army ROTC

Army ROTC is one of the best leadership courses in the country and is part of your college curriculum. Through classes and field training, Army ROTC provides you with the tools to become an Army Officer without interfering with your other classes. ROTC also provides you with discipline and money for tuition while enhancing your college experience.

Army ROTC offers pathways to becoming an Army Officer for high school students, current active duty Soldiers, and for current National Guard and Army Reserve Soldiers through the Simultaneous Membership Program.

Back to Army ROTC

Follow us on: FacebookTwitterInstagramYouTubeLinkedIn & Pinterest