They start each day with 22 pushups before mounting their bikes for the journey ahead. Pushups are a daily reminder of the 22 veteran suicides that take place every 24 hours in America.
These men represent the United States Naval Academy’s graduation class of 1983.
They’ve all had careers in the Navy, and some have gone on to private industry, but all share the benefits of an education designed to create leaders. Leaders who protect the nation in wartime, but who see the benefits of giving back to those fellow veterans who weren’t as successful as they were. Their efforts as volunteers, following the mission statement they worked under as Midshipmen still rings true as they try to make a difference in the lives of those less fortunate who took up the defense of the nation.
Some were pilots, others commanded surface ships and submarines, and three of them rose to the rank of vice-admiral, wearing three stars on their shoulders.
Each of them has followed the mission of the Naval Academy and continues to do so in their joint “Ride Across America.”
Mission of the United States Naval Academy:
“To develop Midshipmen morally, mentally and physically and to imbue them with the highest ideals of duty, honor, and loyalty in order to graduate leaders who are dedicated to a career of naval service and have potential for future development in mind and character to assume the highest responsibilities of command, citizenship, and government.”
The Ride Across America is a fundraising effort with the set goal of raising $2,000,000 for a variety of non-profit organizations that aid veterans and their families.
“Four years ago, we started with six guys” Chip Ressel, one of the riders said.
At one of their reunions, another member of the Class of ’83 came up with the idea of a fundraising bike ride.
“John Hultz stood up and said, I’ve got an idea, let’s ride across America,” Ressel said.
The idea of retired Naval officers riding bicycles from coast to coast became a reality in Fremont County, Wyoming last week.
The current riding team of 16 men, with a few of their wives, entered Fremont County from the west, riding over Togwotee Pass into Dubois, with a stop at the National Military Vehicles Museum east of town near the East Fork.
“That’s an impressive museum,” Peter Stitt and Ressel said. “You wouldn’t expect a museum of that quality in a little mountain town in Wyoming.”
After a tour of the museum, the group set off for the approximately 75-mile run to the Holiday Inn Riverton.
“It was an easy ride,” Ressel said. “It’s almost all downhill.”
The group relaxed at the Holiday Inn before going to dinner later Friday evening.
The trip to Casper the following day was one of the seven “centuries” the riders have scheduled for their trek across America.
Century means 100 miles or more, and the trek from Riverton to Casper fits the idea. In the first 45 minutes, they had covered the approximately 20 miles from the parking lot of the Holiday Inn to the Boysen Causeway and they arrived in Casper later Saturday afternoon.
The purpose of this trip is to bring attention to a wide variety of non-profit organizations that help veterans.
Each of the riders has their favorite veterans aid organization with many of them faith-based. Some offer help to veterans suffering from service-related injuries, others concentrate on supporting families of veterans, and still others provide aid to the children of veterans with educational costs. All of the organizations these men support can be found on this website.
Donations are appreciated. Currently, the present ride, which began on the Washington coast and culminates later this fall at Annapolis has raised $350,000.
The concept of “Sea to Shining Sea” rings true with riders willing to take the physical effort and toil on aging bodies in riding from the Pacific to the Atlantic Oceans.
Their mission reflects the attitudes and beliefs of each man.
Far from automatons, each of these retired officers has a different outlook on life, on their shared ride, and on the state of the nation, but each of them agrees with the purpose of the ride as outlined in their mission statement below.
Our mission together has three key elements that align with the Naval Academy’s goals around developing midshipmen morally, mentally, and physically:
Supporting worthy Veterans that need our help. Our ten year goal is to raise $1.983M to support organizations that serve these veterans. We’ve all been very fortunate in our lives since graduating from USNA in 1983 and – in addition to the privilege of leadership we’ve experienced for the past 40 years – we feel an offsetting weight of responsibility to those who have paid a great personal price to serve their country.
Enhancing Class of ‘83 camaraderie. Class spirit is a big part of attending any service academy and we believe it is no surprise that robust relationships are proving to be an important part of mental health as we age. We’re hoping that this group continues to grow in breadth and depth of relationships at least through our 50th reunion in 2033 – when we will do this all again!
Having a helluva lot of fun together while keeping physically fit! Many people think we might be slightly wonky from too many days at sea, but we couldn’t disagree more. We hope you’ll see how much fun we are having together and that you may even be inspired to try something that pushes your personal limits – physically or otherwise – for a good reason. Even if your reason is just to have fun!
Leading young men into combat, with the heavy burden of the decisions they must make prepared them for life outside the military, and provided a moral compass that they follow collectively. Their humor remains despite the pressures they faced in command as evidenced by the friendly banter between surface duty and submariners.
The former submarine officers offered this gem, “There are two groups in the Navy, targets and subs. We don’t use guns; we destroy ships and cities. “
Ressel summed up the efforts these men have made in riding thousands of miles with just a few support vehicles, a Penske service truck, and all the expenses of the journey paid by themselves.
“We found a shared sense of values and a shared sense of purpose,” Ressel said. “The Academy is designed to build leaders. The purpose of this ride is to help those that didn’t get out so well.”
Along the way they’ve tried to contact local American Legion and VFW Posts but that has proved to be a challenge.
“We’ve stopped at a lot of Legion and VFW Posts, but there aren’t that many, they’re dying,” Ken Fitzpatrick said.
Between 72 and 74 graduates of the class of 1983 have participated in the rides over the last few years.
On the present ride, they dipped the rear wheel in the Pacific and will dip the front wheel in the Atlantic when the ride is completed.