Wounded Warriors Project
U.S. Army veterans visited Israel to participate in a joint FIDF and WWP
event, bike riding through the country. “Back in the States, when we see
Israel on the news, for example, it seems like a terror stricken country
filled with war. But when we arrived here, we stood in front of a beautiful
Tammy Habteyes IDF 02 November 2010 , 21:57
U.S. Army veterans from the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) and members of
Friends of the IDF (FIDF) brought American and Israeli veterans together on
a bike ride through Israel. IDF Website reporter joined on select days, to
find out first-hand about the veterans’ experience in Israel.
On Thursday (Oct. 14), IDF veterans and US Army veterans began their bicycle
adventure in Caesarea (a city in central Israel). Over the course of the
next few days, the veterans cycled throughout northern Israel passing
through Tiberius, the Kineret and Nahariya and were hosted by the Bedouin
desert patrol battalion on an IDF base.
On Monday (Oct. 18), the group took a break from bike riding and went on a
guided tour of Jerusalem. "These alleys are narrower than in Iraq," said an
American veteran who was stationed in Iraq for five years. While standing
outside the gates of the Old City, Zack, the group's tour guide, spoke to
the veterans about the city and its history.
Our first stop there was the Christ Church. On our way, I met Bob Grant from
Florida who had served in the Peace Corp. Bob joined the group as a
volunteer and said, “I've been volunteering for a long time, it's so
important to help these guys who've done so much for us."
"We arrived here and we stood in front of a beautiful country"
After the visit at Christ Church, we stopped at the Armenian Quarter in the
Old City for another lecture by Zack, this time about the history of the
Quarter. The veterans answered his questions about their knowledge of the
area and joked around with him. As we walked around narrow alleys and
colorful markets filled with spices and Pashminas (a type of cashmere wool
that can be found in Asia), I began talking with Sgt. Juan Arredondo.
Sgt. Arredondo is 30 years old, married with two kids. He began his service
in 1998 and served in the U.S. Army for six years before getting injured. "I
joined the army because I wanted to give something to my country. At the
time, I lived in California. My first tour overseas was to Germany for two
years, then in the Californian desert for what they call ‘desert training’.”
On February 8th, 2005, on a routine patrol with his soldiers in Iraq, a road
side bomb exploded near Sgt. Arredondo’s military vehicle. "I was
unconscious for a few seconds. I look up and I see my hand detached from me
and on the steering wheel - so I grab it and put it under my arm. There was
so much blood everywhere, bullets and shreds of metal flying around. My
soldiers pulled me out of the Humvee and we had to evacuate the area. I
remember the medic checking my injuries and giving me something to get rid
of the pain. But I felt pain. It was the longest 45 minutes of my life."
Juan lost his left hand just under his elbow and injured his head. "My calf
muscles are completely gone as well and I thought I was going to lose my
other arm," he said, smiling. His right arm is still intact.
Moved almost to tears by his story, I was compelled to ask what he did next.
How did this affect his family? "My parents took it the hardest, especially
my mom. My family would visit me in the hospital and I could see the concern
on their faces though they tried their hardest not to show it. It was hard
on my wife and kids but my son thinks my injury is cool."
Standing on a rooftop overlooking the Golden Dome, the veterans tried to
soak up the beauty of the Holy Land. "Back in the States, when we see Israel
on the news, for example, it seems like a terror stricken country filled
with war. But when we arrived here, we stood in front of a beautiful
country. And it seems like IDF soldiers perform their duty with passion,
even though they are obligated to serve. And I think that's what turns them
into better citizens," said a veteran nicknamed Big Joe.
The birth of a good idea
The next day the veterans got back on their bikes and continued their trip
from Givat Yaarim to Latrun. The following day they biked to Masada. On
Saturday (Oct. 23) the group was invited to dine with the U.S. ambassador in
Israel. On Sunday (Oct. 24) the veterans went to the IDF Induction Center to
see how the IDF inducts its new soldiers. FIDF member Liron talked about the
"Peter, the founder of this project, began the bicycle tours in the States.
He had visited in Israel about two years ago and fell in love with the
soldiers. Even though he is not Jewish, he felt the need to bring Israeli
soldiers to the United States to ride with American soldiers." He’s done so
every July for the last four years when WWP holds a bike tour from New York
City to the Hamptons.
"The project developer found it very important to bring American vets to
Israel,” said Bob Grant, volunteer from Florida about the joint trip of U.S.
Army and IDF veterans.
“We are both fighting for each other,” said Sgt. Arredondo as he gazed upon
passing IDF soldiers. “The US army and the IDF have a lot of things in
common such as our similar fighting situations - urban warfare. However, we
go far from home to protect America, but here [in Israel] you are fighting
for your own right to live. Your fights take place in your own backyards.”