By Paula Fitzgerald/ParaglideOctober 16, 2009
FORT BRAGG, N.C. - For Ryan Kules, the early-morning convoy returning to his base in Iraq was supposed to be routine. It was 2005, and he was an armor platoon leader. His unit was finishing up a patrol outside of Baghdad when a roadside bomb hit his vehicle. The explosion severely injured the Scottsdale, Ariz., native, who lost his left leg and right arm.
However, Kules, who medically retired from the Army as a captain, is using his experiences as a wounded warrior to help his peers who are coming home from battle with similar injuries. He works with the Wounded Warrior Project, which raises awareness of the needs of severely injured troops.
On Oct. 8, more than 70 Soldiers, veterans and other military supporters kicked off the WWP Soldier Ride, Carolinas, which is a five-day event from Oct. 7 to Sunday. Riders began the 20-mile bike journey at Fort Bragg's Wilson Park and will make similar rides in Raleigh, Greensboro and Charlotte.
The Special Operations Recruiting Battalion provided support to ensure that the ride was successful. Fort Bragg is often referred to as "the center of the military universe," so it made sense to have the ride begin at the base, which is home to the Airborne and Special Operations Forces, said Woody Groton, national director for the Soldier Ride program and former member of the 82nd Airborne Division.
"An event like this gives volunteers a chance to show support for wounded Soldiers," Kules explained. "It also lets wounded warriors have the chance to get back into being active."
One year after being injured in Iraq, Kules participated in his first WWP Soldier Ride and has not allowed his disabilities to prevent him from maintaining an active lifestyle. In addition to bike riding, he enjoys golf and chasing after his two young children.
"When I was recovering at Walter Reed, I did a lot of events with the WWP, and when I got out, I wanted to keep working with them. I want to share my experiences with others and to make sure they get the best treatment possible," Kules said.
Eighteen-year-old Ken Read chose to participate in the WWP Soldier Ride because he wanted to honor troops like Kules. Read and his father, a former Marine, drove from Long Island, N.Y., to ride at Fort Bragg.
"I did one of these in New York with my dad," said Read, who hopes to become a Marine officer in the future. "I just feel like it's my way of giving back to the troops who have done so much for us back here."
Master Sgt. Dexter Durante, 27th Engineer Battalion, 20th Engineer Brigade, who lost his sight in a training accident on Fort Bragg several years ago, was all smiles as he prepared to kick off the ride.
"They are inspirational to me, and hopefully, I'm inspirational to others," Durante said. "If I'm out there doing it, hopefully other people can come out see. 'Hey, a blind guy doing it, hey' ... It's good therapy."
Also on hand for the bike ride was Maj. Gen. David N. Blackledge, commanding general of U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command. The general is an avid bike rider and Purple Heart recipient, so for him, the ride was personal.
"There was no hesitation when I was asked to be here today," Blackledge said. "I rearranged my schedule so I could be here riding with you. It's all about adapting and overcoming."
The Soldier Ride is a program of Wounded Warrior Project. It is a rehabilitative sports event designed to challenge wounded warriors to get back in the saddle, both literally and figuratively, and is a tool to help heal both the physical and mental wounds of war.
The rides help to raise awareness for the WWP mission and many important programs designed to serve wounded warriors and their Families.