For Chris Carney, the personal trainer who made the inaugural Soldier Ride trek cross country in 2004, dedicating this year’s Empire State Challenge to Sag Harbor resident Lance Corporal Jordan Haerter is the least the organization can do to honor his memory.
“Jordan and many of his fellow Marines have paid the ultimate price, and at the very least I feel the greatest thing we can do to honor him is take care of the soldiers we take care of every year through this organization,” said Carney on Tuesday. “We are in Jordan’s backyard — it’s the natural thing to do, but still, I do feel we just can’t do enough.”
On Saturday, July 26 the Wounded Warrior Project’s Solider Ride Empire State Challenge, Manhattan to Montauk will culminate with a local cycling and walking event from Amagansett to Montauk in memory of Lance Cpl. Haerter. Haerter, a 2006 Pierson High School graduate, was killed outside the city of Ramadhi in Iraq in April. The 19-year-old U.S. Marine had just reached the one-month mark of his first tour when a suicide bomber drove into the checkpoint he was guarding and detonated. His actions and sacrifice, said military officials, saved over 30 lives that day.
The trek will begin at the American Legion in Amagansett and end at the Montauk Point Lighthouse, where Carney began and ended his cross-country journeys, which raised millions for the Wounded Warrior organization.
Wounded Warrior is a non-profit organization founded by Joe Melia to provide support for U.S. servicemen and women — whether it be their signature backpacks filled with toiletries, amenities and clothing for wounded soldiers returning to United States, outreach, career counseling, advocacy, family and coping services.
In 2004 Carney completed his first cross-country cycle to support the organization under the newly created banner of Soldier Ride. Stephen Talkhouse owner Peter Honerkamp helped coordinate the event and continues to do so through The Talkhouse offices.
In 2005, Soldier Ride evolved, and Staff Sergeants Heath Calhoun, and Ryan Kelley and other combat wounded veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan joined Carney for the grueling trek, beginning Soldier Ride’s commitment to providing rehabilitative sporting events for wounded men and women returning from combat overseas.
“One of the great things is, first of all, it takes soldiers out of the hospital who’ve just suffered traumatic injuries,” said Honerkamp. “It empowers them and also sets an example for the incoming wounded.”
Soldier Ride has continued to evolve to focus on smaller regional rides in an effort to allow more participants.Â The Empire State Challenge is the first event the general public will be able to join in, whether they opt to take on the 62-mile trek, a 35-mile challenge or a four-mile walk.
“The studs will go the 65, other people the 35 and then there’s a walk as well,” said Honerkamp.
In addition to a number of servicemen and women, as well as regional race participants, five Israeli soldiers from the second Lebanon war will be riding. It is the second year Israeli soldiers have joined in a Soldier Ride event after the organization was contacted through Friends of the Israeli Defense Fund.
Haerter’s parents, JoAnn Lyles and Chris Haerter will both walk in the event under a Team Jordan banner, which as of press time had raised over $7,500, almost a fifth of the $50,000 the event hopes to generate. Total donations had topped $27,000 by Wednesday afternoon.
Lyles expects some of Jordan’s Pierson High School classmate to join her at the event, as well as Corporal Christopher Scherer’s family. Corporal Scherer was an East Northport resident who was killed by a sniper bullet in 2007. The Scherer family came to Lance Corporal Haerter’s wake, remembered Lyles.
“It’s a sad club to belong to, but we’re Gold Star parents,” she said. “You get in touch that way … They know what we’re going through.”
Event registration for the Soldier Ride Empire State Challenge will be held from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. at the American Legion Post on Route 27 in Amagansett, with opening ceremonies and the race beginning at 10 a.m. The cost is $50 for adults, $25 for children 15 and under. For more information, call 267-3142.
Written by Kathryn G. Menu with additional reporting by John Bayles.Â