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Solider Ride The Hamptons Hopes for Patriotic Turnout

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WHEN JOANN LYLES’ SON JORDAN was brought home to rest in Sag Harbor after perishing defending an entry control point in the Sophia region of Ramadi, Iraq in April of 2008, she was greeted by a solemn, but grateful, hometown decked out in red, white and blue – symbolic of the country Marine Lance Corporal Jordan C. Haerter signed up to defend.

This Saturday, Lyles hopes residents and business owners in the Sag Harbor area give as proud a welcome to the wounded warriors who will ride with community members from across the East End in Soldier Ride — an event that supports the Wounded Warrior Project, a not-for-profit organization that provides support and rehabilitation opportunities for servicemen and servicewomen and their families.

“It was overwhelming,” said Lyles on Tuesday. “What happened for Jordan and for [Army First Lieutenant] Joseph Theinert [a Shelter Island resident killed this June in Afghanistan] – seeing that you just know that people care and I think the wounded warriors will all feel that this weekend. So many servicemen, in particular from the Vietnam era, never got the welcome home they deserve and as a mother seeing people thank them for service, it means a lot.”

Lyles’ organization, In Jordan’s Honor, is sponsoring two contests Saturday for Sag Harbor residents, community groups and businesses, and plans to award prizes for “Most Patriotic Display” and “Shows the Most Spirit.” Lyles’ is encouraging people on the Soldier Ride cycling and walking routes in Sag Harbor, which includes Main Street, to decorate homes and businesses in red, white and blue, display flags, set up water stations for riders, make signs supporting their troops and line the Lance Corporal Jordan C. Haerter Veterans Memorial Bridge and Main Street to support participants in Soldier Ride, in particular, veterans riding in the event.

Lyles borrowed the idea from Tim and Janet Scherer, of East Northport, whose son Corporal Christopher Sherer died at age 21 from wounds sustained in combat in the Anbar province of Iraq in July of 2007. The couple hosts a walk and run, “I Did the Grid” Memorial Day weekend and hand out similar awards for patriotic displays. Inspired, Lyles said she hopes it will draw people to support the Soldier Ride event.

This is the third year Lyles son with Chris Haerter, another Sag Harbor resident, will be honored at the Soldier Ride The Hamptons event, with a tribute from 11:30 a.m. to noon at the base of the bridge named in his honor. Lyles, who will walk with Theinert’s mother and stepfather in the event, said becoming involved with Soldier Ride has given her the opportunity to celebrate her son, while being involved with an organization close to her heart.

Soldier Ride was founded in 2004, when East Hampton resident and Railroad Avenue Fitness owner Chris Carney teamed up with Stephen Talkhouse owner Peter Honerkamp and other locals to design an event to support Joe Melia’s Wounded Warrior Project.

Carney cycled cross-country, raising over a million dollars for the organization, setting off for a second cross-country cycling trip in 2005.

Since then Soldier Ride has evolved into a national program, hosting cycling and walking events aimed at not only raising money for the Wounded Warrior Project, but also at providing rehabilitative sporting equipment and training for troops wounded in overseas combat.

Last year, in honor of Haerter, the Amagansett-based event expanded into Sag Harbor. Last week, Lyles said she hopes eventually Soldier Ride will also include a leg through Shelter Island, the home of Theinert. Lyles said she plans to honor the fallen soldier in her address at the tribute to her son.

The event begins Saturday with registration at 8 a.m. at Long Wharf in Sag Harbor and at Oceanview Farm in Amagansett. Participants can choose from 30 or 60-mile bicycle routes beginning in Amagansett, or participate in one of two four-mile walk/run routes in Amagansett or Sag Harbor.

The 30 mile-route takes riders from Amagansett to Sag Harbor for the Haerter dedication and then back through Amagansett. Following the tribute to Haerter, at noon Carney will lead a group of wounded veterans down Main Street, Sag Harbor in an event dubbed “Honor Our Heroes.”

The 60-mile route extends the cycling tour from Amagansett to Montauk Point Lighthouse, and back to Amagansett for a celebratory barbeque at Oceanview Farm. Last year’s event raised $200,000 and Lyles admitted it may be hard to top. But she’s hopeful.

“And I hope we see a lot of red, white and blue out there,” she said.

To register for Solider Ride, visit soldierridethehamptons.com. The cost is $50 for cycling, $25 for the walk/run and $75 for cycling on the day of the event. For more information, call 903-1701.

JoAnn Lyles

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web convo Lyles

The mother of the late Marine Lance Corporal Jordan C. Haerter and member of the organizing committee for “Solider Ride The Hamptons” talks about next weekend’s Solider Ride event, staying in touch with her son’s battalion and how she remembers her son, who was killed in combat two-and-a-half-years ago at the age of 19 defending a checkpoint in Ramadi, Iraq.

The last three years “Solider Ride The Hamptons” has dedicated its summer cycling and walk/run event to your late son Lance Corporal Jordan C. Haerter. What drew you to become an active member of the organization?

The first invited me after Jordan was killed. That first year was very hard. Jordan’s birthday is July 30 so it was a lot to take in, but it has grown into a very good thing for me to celebrate. It is a great organization and when Jordan died it was one of those things I could do to keep busy, to stay involved. It is something that helps me get through and the organization does so very much for the veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, which is important to me.

For the second year, the Soldier Ride event will include a tribute to your son in your hometown of Sag Harbor. Will the event differ much this year from last year’s event?

This year, like last year, there will be a tribute to Jordan at the base of the bridge [named the Lance Corporal Jordan C. Haerter Veterans Memorial Bridge in honor of the fallen Marine], but we will also remember Army First Lieutenant Joseph Theinert [who was killed in Afghanistan on June 4 at the age of 24], whose family is from Sag Harbor and Shelter Island so it will be even more poignant. We did talk about having the ride through Shelter Island and over the ferry, but it didn’t work out for this year. One year, we may make that jump though.

Will you ride in next weekend’s event?

I will be a walker. Some day, I think I will jump on a bike. I think a lot of people are realizing the 30-mile bike route is very doable.

Chris Kestler [Theinert’s mother] and her husband will walk with me and I think that is nice. It is nice our families can come to this event and give support to each other.

Soldier Ride has evolved into an organization that not only provides financial support for the Wounded Warrior organization, but is also a rehabilitative event nationwide for wounded soldiers returning from combat overseas. Have you had a chance to meet some of the riders?

I have. We have a VIP breakfast for the Wounded Warrior organization and we get to sit down and talk with a lot of the servicemen and women then. I think though, it is the most beneficial for the people who actually ride in the event. They get to ride side-by-side and see all the nice things that people do, standing on the side of the road with signs supporting the troops. I think that experience really captures the event.

As an organizer, have you found a lot of support from village residents for the Solider Ride cause?

We are trying to involve Sag Harbor more. “In Jordan’s Honor,” the memorial fund I have established in his name will have an award this year for the “Most Patriotic Display” and a “Shows the Most Spirit” award in Sag Harbor and we really want to get the word out on that. What we are hoping is that people on the route will decorate their houses, wear red, white and blue, make sure their flags are up, make thank you signs for the wounded warriors and line Main Street, Sag Harbor and the bridge. The winners will be announced in The Sag Harbor Express. We really hope the business community gets involved, hands out flags, and gets people on the streets. We are also going to put notices on Long Beach so the beachgoers will come up the street and cheer on the riders at the right time.

What are some of the other things you are hoping In Jordan’s Honor will be able to accomplish in the near term?

We are trying to establish a Purple Heart Trail locally. It’s a national organization that marks certain highways and parklands to recognize veterans. We are working with Tom Ronayne, director of the Suffolk County Veterans Service Agency. Next week we are hoping to take a tour of different areas and will start out in the Sag Harbor area.

Last year, members of the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines – Jordan’s division – were able to attend Soldier Ride in honor of your son. Will any members of the battalion be at this year’s event?

Not many, I think first because they are still deployed and will not be back until early August. A few of them did not deploy and one of them who lost his hearing in the blast that killed Jordan will be here with his wife.

Do you keep in touch with members of Jordan’s battalion?

Yes. Facebook helps. We are able to chat. This deployment helps because they are on a ship and have more access to computers. I definitely keep in touch with all of them. It helps.

Will Solider Ride include the Honor Our Heroes ride down Main Street, Sag Harbor again?

Yes. After the tribute to Jordan, Chris [Carney, one of the founders of Soldier Ride] will lead a pack of wounded warrior riders down Main Street at noon. That is really when we want the business owners to try and win our contest and pass out flags, get people on the streets. Last year, the walk was in Sag Harbor at noon, but it was too hot, so we will start the walk at 9 a.m. and at noon walkers from Amagansett and Sag Harbor can come together on Long Wharf for the tribute to Jordan.

As a mother, I imagine Jordan is always with you. How do you celebrate him daily? Are there little moments you still keep for the two of you?

I go past his grave every day on the way to work and it feels good there. We have a bench and some chimes and it is a nice place to sit where I can tell him what is happening. It is really important to me to keep up with his friends, and his fellow Marines.

I was chatting with one of the Marines, and they can’t always tell you where they are for security purposes. And he said, ‘I’ll give you a hint.’ They all call him Haerter and he said, ‘it’s Haerter’s first name.’ I said, I think I know where that is.

Soldier Ride The Hamptons will host early registration Saturday and Sunday at Windmill Beach in Sag Harbor from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on The Green in Amagansett from noon to 6 p.m. Registration is also available at www.soldierridethehamptons.com. The event will be held on Saturday, July 24 starting at 8 a.m. with a light breakfast at Oceanview Farm in Amagansett and Long Wharf in Sag Harbor. Participants can choose between a 30 or 60 mile bike route or one of two four mile walk/runs. The tribute to Lance Corporal Jordan Haerter will begin at 11:30 a.m. at Long Wharf in Sag Harbor.

The cost is $50 for the bike ride; $25 for riders under 21; $75 the day of the event and $25 for the walk/run. For more information and for routes, visit www.soldierridethehamptons.com or call 903-1701.