Vicenza Soldiers Liberty Ride-Normandy-France 06-2010

Vicenza Soldiers Liberty Ride-Normandy-France 06-2010
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Image by US Army Africa
Photos by Sgt. 1st Class Marco Ortizshaemaker

D-Day Ride: Normandy bike trek motivates Vicenza’s WTU troops

By Rick Scavetta, U.S. Army Africa

VICENZA, Italy – Two Soldiers from Caserma Ederle’s Warrior Transition Unit pedaled through a 400-kilometer bike ride recently in Normandy – a feat they said has marked progress toward personal recovery.

Spc. Joshua Grant and Spc. Joshua Doyle were among the hundreds of bicyclists on the “Liberty Trail” ride – a three-day tour across the Cotentin Peninsula where U.S. troops fought in June 1944, during World War II.

Cyclists from several U.S. military communities in Europe participated in the ride, that coincided with June 6 memorial observances of D-Day – the Allied landings along the Norman coast. Although the ride was recreational – meaning non-competitive – it was nonetheless challenging for participants.

“I found something out about myself along the way,” said Doyle, 27 of Syracuse, NY. “There were times when I wanted to quit, but I didn’t. I either dug deep or found encouragement from other riders.”

Following church services in Périers, the ride began. Along the way, riders paid homage to Soldiers who fought and died among the hamlets and hedgerows. Cheering crowds lined roads near Sainte-Mère-Église and other towns along the route. The group stopped for ceremonies at war memorials.

At Utah Beach, where the 4th Infantry made its landing, cyclists carried flags of allied forces during a memorial service. Grant was asked to carry a European Union flag.

“It was humbling, standing there on the beach, thinking those guys had to cross more than 200 meters of sand to the enemy gun positions,” Grant said.

Grant, 27 of Raleigh, NC, served with the 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry in Afghanistan in 2007. Grant has cycled for years. In fact, he is often pumping his way around Vicenza’s hills, logging up to 100 kilometers a ride, up to four times a week.

Still, since Afghanistan, Grant often felt he was unable to do things like this before, he said. Long rides through the same countryside where U.S. Soldiers battled German troops, gave Grant something to focus upon and in turn, motivated him to continue toward his goal of racing in triathlons. The challenge was both mental and physical, Grant said.

“It was a perfect opportunity to increase my time on the bike,” Grant said. “I proved to myself that I’m not just a guy who can’t do anything. I definitely know now that I can pursue whatever I want and finish it.”

Maj. Dan. Kolva, a U.S. Army Africa officer who also went on the ride, found himself inspired by the WTU Soldiers.

“Both Grant and Doyle did really well,” said Kolva, who has been cycling for several years. “It was inspiring to see these guys take this on.”

The Army began creating WTUs in 2007, to support Soldiers requiring focused care to heal from wounds – both physical and mental – sustained while serving in uniform. While assigned to the WTU, Soldiers have one mission – to heal.

Sgt. 1st Class Marco Ortizshaemaker, 44, never rode such a long way. But the WTU squad leader went to support his Soldiers, he said.

“I had no riding experience. It seemed like a challenging thing to do,” Ortizshaemaker said. “It was!”

More than 30 people from U.S. military communities in Europe took part. Each day’s route was roughly 130 kilometers, broken up into four legs. They would stop for a snack or lunch along the way.

At times, the route pushed Doyle to his limit, he said. Doyle served with the 25th Infantry Division in Afghanistan and Iraq. He was assigned to the WTU eight months ago. One day at Caserma Ederle’s post office, Doyle saw the ride advertised in the Outlook, the weekly garrison newspaper. What first seemed like a good reason to visit France, turned into a personal challenge.

By the time he sent in his ride application, reality hit Doyle. He had no riding experience. He borrowed a WTU loaner bike and hit the pavement. At Caserma Ederle’s fitness center, Doyle would log from 30 to 90 kilometers on the stationary bike daily.

After serving downrange, Doyle said he felt he’d lost some self esteem. Being part of the WTU has helped, especially the support from the staff, he said. The ride in Normandy has solidified his resolve.

“This ride gave me back some confidence in myself, that I can do this sort of thing again,” Doyle said.