By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
April 30, 2009 - "On your mark. Get set. Go!" With those words and the wail of an air horn he held overhead, President Barack Obama today kicked off the third annual "White House to Light House" Wounded Warrior Soldier Ride. About 40 wounded warriors got a presidential send off at the White House today as they launched a three-day bicycle ride to show the world and themselves what they're still capable of accomplishing.
Flanked on the White House's South Lawn by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, Obama heralded the "heroes among us" as he recognized their service, sacrifice and inspiration.
Newly confirmed VA Assistant Secretary of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs Tammy Duckworth, who lost two legs and had her arm severely wounded while deployed to Iraq with the Illinois Army National Guard, also participated.
With a military band playing from the second-floor, Harry Truman Balcony, the wounded warriors – many with prosthetic legs or arms – emerged from the White House in red, white and blue racing jerseys to take their places on their bikes.
A crowd of several hundred fellow military members and family members erupted into cheers and applause.
Gates opened the event, praising the riders who along with their comrades "have paid a steep price on behalf of their country."
The president noted that the riders have served "with extraordinary bravery" and saved lives through their service.
Now recovering from their wounds, they're continuing to demonstrate courage and strength. "Now they choose to prove that life after injury isn't about what you can't do," Obama told the group. "It's about what you can do."
The president encouraged anyone who sees the riders as they travel from Washington to Annapolis over the next three day to render them the recognition they deserve. "Cheer. Salute. Say 'thank you,'" he said.
After Obama sounded the air horn to kick off the ride, the cyclists whizzed by him, waving as they made a loop around the asphalt trail that rings the South Lawn.
From there, the riders were slated to bike from the White House to Arlington National Cemetery before attending a reception tonight on Capitol Hill. After two more days of riding, they will conclude their ride in Annapolis.
The ride is the first of 14 scheduled across the country as part of the 2009-2010 Wounded Warrior Project Soldier Ride National Tour.
Obama noted today that Chris Carney, a young bartender on Long Island, N.Y., came up with the idea of the Soldier Ride to raise money and awareness for returning and wounded troops.
Carney conducted the first soldier ride in 2004, when he pedaled cross country in support of the Wounded Warrior Project. Other combat-wounded veterans joined him the following year, and the program continued growing. It switched format in 2007, with seven regional rides across the country that offered more opportunity for more participants to join.
The ride is sponsored by the Wounded Warrior Project as a rehabilitative cycling program that provides the first steps in combat-wounded veterans' healing.