March 1, 1014 marked the day of the First Annual Phoenix Wounded Vets run. This run was adopted and inspired by the Boston Wounded Vets run, led by Andrew Biggio. Boston started this run in 2011 with 1 wounded Vet as the Honoree, and this year there will be 3 different veterans being honored and over 4000 motorcycles taking part in this event.
With the hopes of getting this ride started in other states, Andy got together with his friend Joe Stazione, from Arizona. After discussions of shared hopes and dreams of bringing recognition to all wounded vets, the Phoenix Wounded Vet ride was born. Joe teamed up with MAM (Military Assistance Mission), Mad4Vets, and the Pat Tillman American Legion Post to put this event together. A lot of help and support was given by local dealership, Scottsdale Harley Davidson as well, to be the starting point for this ride.
The honoree chosen for our landmark 1st annual run was Army Specialist Mason “Doc” Steill. Mason was a medic, deployed to Afghanistan in April of 2012. On June 1st, Mason’s life changed forever. Finding himself in an IED kill zone, Mason stepped on an IED and suffered severe injuries to his facial bones, with most of them being shattered, and several teeth being shoved into his sinus cavities. He had a large fragment of hot metal enter his left cheek, pushing through the middle of his skull, through the right eye socket, around the optic nerve, stopping a few millimeters from his brain. From that point, Mason’s time out in the field had been served. His mission complete. He was transported for medical attention, went through extensive medical treatment and rehabilitation, and today has titanium in his face, holding his bones together. Amazingly enough, you really can’t tell that he was even injured, as there is only a small scar on his face.
Since this ride was inspired by the Boston run, Joe and Andy worked tirelessly together to make Arizona’s debut ride a success. With that hard work and dedication came forth a large number of people from the New England part of our country who wanted to be a part of this run as well. Therefore, many of these people booked their flights, made their motorcycle rental and hotel reservations, and started planning their trips to come out to Arizona to show support and ride with us.
The run was scheduled for Saturday, March 1st. As that date drew close, people were really getting excited to be a part of this. Mother Nature, on the other hand, made some of her own decisions to change the weather up a little bit. Not having had any rain in the Phoenix Valley for 70 days, it started to appear that this would change. Drastically!! On Saturday, March 1st, of all days!!! It was asked on the event page in Facebook if this would be a rain or shine ride. (Seems that us Phoenicians are a little spoiled to pure riding conditions)… The immediate response was “We have riders flying in from Boston for this event” … “They fought in the rain, we’ll ride in the rain” etc etc. Right ON!! Knowing the cause was strong, and the ambition behind the people even stronger, I shifted mental gears and started preparing for a wet day.
The morning of the ride came, and it was very much a grey, overcast morning. My camera gear and all my riding gear were tightly sealed up in freezer ziplock bags, then those sealed up in camping dry bags. My rain gear and full face helmet were very close at hand. During pre-registration, I wasn’t quite sure if, or when, the rain would actually show up, but it stayed dry as all the riders started rolling into the parking lot for registration and breakfast. Finally, it was time to ride. After a small pre-ride briefing, everyone saddled up, and almost as if on perfect queue, the sky belted out a loud crack, the black clouds came rolling in, and as soon as the bikes started pulling out of the dealership parking lot, the flood gates opened up. We got the joy of riding in an almost monsoon type of a severe rainstorm. Not the most comfortable of riding conditions, it didn’t stop the procession. The ride ensued to the end stop where we were greeted by two fire ladders, hanging our National Colors, and SSgt Tim Chambers standing in full salute, as every rider passed by into the parking lot. That was a very emotional moment of American pride!
Once inside, it was noticed there was quite a military presence. A couple of officers in full dress uniform, and many young ROTC members in battle dress. Come to find out, there was going to be an official Purple Heart Award ceremony for Mason, as he was originally given his purple heart in a plastic bag, with no ceremony or reverence. This was completely unacceptable, and it was time to make this right. Most of the people there didn’t know this ceremony had been planned and it was a surprise to Mason and his family as well. As the award was given, many of the people fought back tears, and some lost that fight, as tears rolled down their cheeks. It made every moment of the day more than worthwhile! It made me proud to be a veteran, an American, and a part of this inaugural run.
For more information on Mason’s Story, and on the inception of this run, please visit www.theyfoughtweridenational.com .. If you will be in the Boston area, or would like to be a part of the Boston Wounded Vets Run, please visit http://theyfoughtweride.com/