LUMBERTON — Two war veterans stopped in Lumberton on Monday during a bicycle tour across the country to raise awareness of veteran’s medical affairs, the problem of former soldiers killing themselves, and childhood obesity.
Jeremy Staat and Wesley Barrientos, a double amputee, are making their way from Bakersfield, Calif., to Washington, D.C., as part of the “Wall to Wall Cross Country Bicycle Ride,” during which they will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Vietnam Memorial Wall and the 25th anniversary of the founding of Rolling Thunder, which raises awareness about prisoners of war and soldiers missing in action. The team plans to hold speaking engagements at veterans memorials, schools and churches along the way.
The 4,163-mile journey through 15 states is sponsored by the Jeremy Staat foundation, whose namesake feels that veterans need to unite in support of the causes that affect them.
“If we all stand strong together, D.C. will have to listen to us then,” Staat said.
The main purpose of the foundation is to fight the problem of veterans taking their own lives. Staat said that the number of veterans who have committed suicide has surpassed the number of field deaths in both the Iraq and Afganistan wars.
“That makes the U.S. the most dangerous place for veterans,” he said.
Staat said he hopes that the ride will inspire veterans to stay strong — and show people the value of hard work.
“The sense of entitlement of today’s youth is overwhelming,” Staat said. “We are trying to motivate youth to understand that if you want something, you have to go out and get it.”
Staat also hopes young people will get the message that staying physically fit is important not only for themselves, but also for their country.
“Seventy-five percent of today’s youth are are unfit for military service,” he said. “As we have a volunteer-only military, this is a threat to national security.”
Barrientos, a three-time Purple Heart recipient, says his motto of “life over legs” has helped him not only along the 100-day journey, but also during his 18-month path to recovery after his vehicle was hit by an IED on his third tour in Iraq in 2007.
“I was just happy to have my life, with or without my legs,” he said.
The visit to Lumberton, during which the team shared breakfast from Bojangles with Mayor Raymond Pennington and members of Veterans of Foreign Wars post 8969, was one of six stops the team has planned in North Carolina — Lumberton, Fort Bragg, Warsaw, Camp Lejeune, Greenville and Roanake Rapids. They are making their way northward on U.S. 301.