On Thursday, eight special operations forces veterans hopped on motorcycles in Seattle and began a 10-day, 3,900-mile road trip to Tampa Bay, Florida. They arrive in Aspen today, stopping at Sky Bar to share tales of the experience so far.
One of the riders is Anthony Radetic, a Fort Walton Beach, Florida, native who spends his winters skiing in Aspen with the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club. Radetic was paralyzed during warrant officer helicopter training when he was struck by a motor vehicle. Determined not to let the injury get the best of him, he competes in handcycling throughout the U.S. and also took first place in the 2013 U.S. Army marathon in Texas.
“We’re all pretty excited,” Radetic said regarding the trip organized by Project Road Warrior. “Smiling faces all around.”
Their vehicles are Can-Am Spyder roadsters, which are three-wheel motorcycles. Project Road Warrior co-director Craig Anders, a U.S. Air Force Academy graduate, said the original idea was to use scooters, but Can-Am stepped in to sponsor the trip.
Anders, a Tampa native, was commissioned in the Air Force in 2001. He has flown missions in support of the president, counter-drug activity, humanitarian operations and homeland defense. Suffering multiple head injuries, he has gone from flying a $300 million jet to having his wife drive him to work, he said.
“That took a big toll on my personal well-being, mental well-being,” he said. “So for me, it took getting out and doing things that are a little strange and different and kind of crazy to get me back my independence, to get my mind right. And I’m hoping to share that same kind of experience with these other folks who are riding with us.”
He heads Project Road Warrior with Steve Berger, a fellow U.S. Air Force Academy graduate from Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, who has been deployed three times, with tours in Uzbekistan, Djibouti and Afghanistan. He is credited with saving eight lives and assisting in numerous rescue missions.
Anders, Berger and Radetic will be riding with the following veterans:
• Master Sgt. Ray Castillo, who spent the majority of his service with the 75th U.S. Army Ranger Regiment. Castillo, of Columbus, Georgia, was wounded from a roadside bomb blast while leading a patrol on foot. He lost both legs and was in a coma for three weeks, only learning of the injury upon his return to the U.S. After rehabilitation, he volunteered for the Continuation on Active Duty program
• Tech. Sgt. Alex Eudy, who earned the Purple Heart Award and Air Force Combat Action Medal while providing weather support for a U.S. Marine Corps special operations team in Afghanistan. While heading back to his base after a mission, the up-armored Humvee he was driving was hit by two 155 mm mortars and a Soviet anti-tank mine detonated under the vehicle. Eudy suffered major injuries to his lower extremities.
“I was put in a wheelchair and told there was a great chance I would never walk normally again, but I didn’t want to accept that,” Eudy, of Germantown, Maryland, said. “Along with my legs being injured, I hyperextended both of my rotator cuffs. I couldn’t do anything by myself, and humility does not come easily to me.”
• Tech. Sgt. Marc Esposito, of San Antonio, who was wounded in Afghanistan in 2004, when his vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb blast, shattering his legs and breaking his lower back. After six months of recovery, he was told he would never walk again. He continues to recover and has taken a position as a combat control instructor.
• Kendell Madden, of Englewood, who suffered a severe head injury while serving in the Air Force. Losing the ability to fly, he has organized charity events all over the U.S. since. He also regularly competes with the U.S. Paralympic Military Programs on the Air Force and special operations teams for the U.S. Warrior Games.
• Staff Sgt. Erin McLoughlin, of Fort Walton Beach, who was injured in a training accident just before her sixth deployment in 2013. She continues to rehabilitate from the injury.
“I think everybody’s just very excited,” Anders said. “This is an opportunity of a lifetime for a lot of folks to get together with like-minded individuals and perform something incredible.”