Story by Senior Airman Brett Clashman
From 99th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. – Veterans Jeremy Staat and Wesley Leon-Barrientos are on a mission to unite veterans and raise awareness of their sacrifices. To do it, they are cycling the 4,163 miles between Bakersfield’s Wall of Valor and the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington.
Their “Wall to Wall” cross-country ride began in Bakersfield, Calif., Feb. 19, and reached Nellis March 1.
“It’s about honoring those who paved the road before us. We owe them everything,” said Barrientos.
“Basically what we’re trying to do is bridge the generational gaps between our veterans, trying to bring all the veterans together by igniting the spirit of unity,” said Staat, former U.S. Marine and founder of the Jeremy Staat Foundation, an organization that brings military veteran speakers into the classroom. “Our ultimate goal is to raise enough awareness to be able to take care of our veterans in need and have them receive the honor they deserve.”
The ride is planned to last 100 days and cross 15 states. Staat and Barrientos will make 71 stops. 10 stops are military bases.
“I dedicate all of these welcoming stops to our Vietnam veterans who never got a warm welcome home,” said Staat.
Staat joined the Marines in 2005 just after retiring from a pro football career in the National Football League. He felt a personal obligation to serve after his best friend Pat Tilman, also a former NFL player, was killed during an Afghanistan combat mission in 2004. Staat was separated from the military in 2009 for a service connected injury.
Barrientos served in the 101st Airborne division as an infantryman. He is a three-time Purple Heart recipient who lost his legs to a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2007.
The two met while volunteering at the Wall of Valor project in Bakersfield. Staat had approached Barrientos with initial ideas for the trip.
“Jeremy, being the athlete that he is, came up with a great idea of wanting to run across the country to raise veteran awareness,” said Barrientos. “I’m like, Dude that’s not going to happen, I don’t have any legs!”
“He asked if I could bicycle and I mentioned I could hand crank with my arms, they make bicycles for arms,” he said. “If I’m going to kill my body, it had to be for a good reason.”
Beyond the main goal of honoring and uniting veterans, Staat had several additional reasons for the ride.
“We’re riding for four different reasons: to raise awareness about veteran suicide; a more efficient VA system; veteran information centers on college campuses; and childhood obesity,” said Staat.
The Wall to Wall ride will conclude in Washington on Memorial Day to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Rolling Thunder and 30th anniversary of the Vietnam Memorial Wall.