’Long Road Home’ Bikes from One Washington to the Other for Injured LGBT Servicemembers
Returning from Afghanistan after serving as a Logistics Adviser in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, Marie "Marty" B. Tracy wanted to spend time exploring the America that she helped protect. Now as a rider for The Long Road Home Project, she is biking cross-country to highlight the diversity of our service members, especially the LGBTQ community, to experience the little details that life has to offer and to learn more about herself.
The Long Road Home Project consists of five veterans who are currently biking across the United States to raise awareness of the needs and difficulties of service members returning home and to raise money to help veterans. Each veteran has his or her own reason for riding, but there are two things they share: the open road and the opportunity to learn more about themselves.
"After 10 years of being gay and in the military (and ROTC), I need to be more okay with being me," said Tracy in a video explaining her reasons for riding. "I found that the hardest part is just having someone tell you that that’s all you are. I want to spend my time on the road finding myself a little bit more and having people judge me for my content and my character and not so much for something that I am going to be defined as."
With more than 1,000 miles completed in the 4,200-mile trip, Tracy has had plenty of time to think and has experienced a lot since she began. During her ride, she spent some time considering the role of fellow LGBTQ service members who are uncomfortable coming out even after the repeal of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell," and reflecting on her own experience.
"Who am I to ask that a service member puts him or herself into an environment in which he or she feels less safe, especially if he or she is not ready to make that step? Coming out is about moving forward and feeling positive about how you are as a person. Feeling ready to take that step is an integral part of that process, whether you are in the military or not," Tracy told EDGE.
Tracy said that while coming out in the military is a very personal decision, her personal experience was that she ultimately became a better person and a better soldier for it.
"The more honest that I was with myself and those around me, the better I became at being me," said Tracy. "I became a more confident officer. I developed deeper working relationships with my troops, as their overall trust for me increased. I appreciated my experiences as an Air Force Reservist more than ever before. So, think about how acting as one person might make a difference in the lives of the people around you. More importantly, think about how taking one step forward might make all the difference in your own life."
The Long Road Home Project Brings Attention to Veterans
The Long Road Home Project was founded by Casey Miller, the former vice president of a Latin American waste-to-energy company who in 2011, took his own solo bike trip from San Francisco, CA to Cambridge, MA in an effort to discover how others found meaning in their lives. In doing so, he subsequently found meaning in his. Taking the lessons he learned from his experience, Casey wrote the book "6 and a half," and created The Long Road Home Project with the intent to bring attention to the unique needs of veterans.
"Regardless of one’s opinion on war, it doesn’t affect the fact that veterans come back and have trouble adjusting back home," Miller told EDGE.
Believing that since pain doesn’t discriminate, neither should we, Casey actively sought to make the riders participating in the project as diverse as possible. The result of his search is a group of veterans who, by riding in the project, highlight a multitude of issues, including PTSD, disabilities, sexual assault, single-parent veterans and honoring those service members who did not return home.
Their trip will take them off the beaten path on a 90-day ride from the state of Washington to the nation’s capital of Washington, D.C. All money raised toward The Long Road Home Project’s $75,000 goal will be donated to Operation First Response, a nonprofit which serves the financial and personal needs of the entire military community.
"OFR considers it an honor to be part of this journey with the Long Road Home Project," said Peggy Baker, president of Operation First Response. "The bike journey in itself is healing for those that are participating. We also realize that the Veterans themselves are the best at raising awareness, the American People listen to them."
"We hope that through this journey across the nation they will be able to reach the hearts of America and raise awareness of the issues they are dealing with and at the same time raise much needed funds for OFR to help to meet the financial needs of so many military families. We plan to be there at the finish of the ride to welcome them to the nation’s capital," Baker told EDGE.
After a Long Ride, a Welcoming Homecoming
While taking the ride on a day-by-day basis, Tracy already knows what she will do when she reaches Washington, D.C. in mid-September.
"I hope to spend time with my family and my girlfriend and show them my gratitude for supporting me during both this ride and my deployment to Afghanistan. They have made all of the difference during the last year of my life," said Tracy.
For now, she takes each day as it comes and appreciates how the project is providing her the chance to meet new people and gain a well-rounded perspective of what it means to live in America.
Her efforts will help the 50,000 veterans who have returned home physically wounded since 2001, and the 270,000 who have reported struggling with PTSD since the inception of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hopefully, it will help prevent some of the estimated 15,000 veteran suicides that happen in the amount of time it takes these riders to go from Tacoma, Washington, to Washington, D.C.