A group of individuals made the trip to Farmington from St. Louis on Monday to welcome Toran Gaal and Brian Riley.
The two are undertaking the “Ride Across America” with Marine veteran Gaal making the trip on his hand-propelled recumbent bicycle while fellow veteran Riley drives along in the support vehicle.
Gaal and Riley set out on the Ride Across American on June 1 from Gaal’s hometown of Julian, California and will arrive in Arlington, Virginia on Aug. 2.
Gaal, 28, was serving as a corporal infantry rifleman in Charlie Company with the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division based out of Camp Pendleton when he was severely injured on June 26, 2011. He would lose his right leg at the hip and his left leg above the knee in an IED blast, as well as a broken pelvis and fractured skull. Gaal was on his third tour of duty when the injury occurred.
Riley, 28, was also injured in 2011 after being shot during a foot patrol in Afghanistan. The two met during recovery from their injuries at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego.
Their 65-day journey will take the two through 52 cities and towns. The stop in Farmington was day 29 on the journey after a much-needed two-day rest period.
The goal for the ride is to raise $40,000 for the Semper Fi Fund, a program created in 2004 by a group of Marine Corps spouses to provide immediate financial assistance and lifetime support to post 9/11 wounded, critically ill and injured members of all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, and their families, according to the website, www.semperfifund.org.
“One-hundred percent of the proceeds go to the Semper Fi Fund. Any cash donations I receive…I won’t touch them until I am able to go on the website and make a donation out of my checking account,” Gaal said. “Any money intake on my part…if it’s a check, it goes to California and directly in my account. If it’s cash, it goes directly into the car and I make an immediate deposit to the Semper Fi Fund donation page.”
Representatives from the Marines, FOCUS Marines Foundation and the American Legion Auxiliary in St. Peters, Missouri met up with Gaal and Riley at Crown Pointe Lodge. The two would be staying at the lodge to rest up before departing for Carbondale, Illinois early Tuesday morning.
Sandy Findeiss is with Unit 313, 9th District of the American Legion Auxiliary.
She has been following Gaal’s progress on Facebook. She got in contact with Gaal’s fiancée Lisa Graves.
“I told Lisa I wanted to drive to Farmington and buy them lunch,” Findeiss said – which is exactly what they did when the group went to Pasta House. “That’s the least I can do.”
Tom Ilges, Nate Hall, Sheri Oberhelman and Greg Omer are with the FOCUS Marine Foundation.
According to the website, focusmarinesfoundation.org, “the FOCUS Marines Foundation, originally known as Midwest Marines Foundation, is a nationally recognized organization based in St. Louis, Missouri. It was conceived, designed, and built by Marines for Marines and Navy Corpsmen. The organization was founded in 2010 with the dedication and support of over 65 U.S. Marines in the St. Louis region, ranging in age from 30 to 80. Its supporters have pooled their time, talents and financial resources to help wounded, ill and injured Marines and Corpsmen returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to make successful and rewarding transitions from military to civilian lives.”
Ilges said the foundation helps to make the transition from military life to civilian life “which, in a lot of aspects, is their next battlefield.”
The foundation offers a program four times a year. The program, called FOCUS, is an eight-day course that, according to the website “starts by addressing the core issues of combat stress, interpersonal relationships and self-awareness. The next step helps the participants visualize their goals and objectives and gives them the tools to begin to achieve their dreams. The final step helps them build a resume and then with coaching and by conducting mock job interviews, gives them insight, confidence and a new, positive attitude.”
Each class is limited to 36 participants and is held on a farm in Augusta, Missouri.
“We fly them in from all over the United States where they spend eight days with us. In those eight days, we help our Marine brothers and sisters move forward,” Ilges said.
The program has helped more than 500 Marines and Navy corpsmen in the program since it began five years ago. The first camp was held in March of 2010 and 17 have been held since that time.
Gunnery Sgt. Johnathan Askins is the District Injured Support Coordinator (DISC) with Wounded Warrior Regiment.
According to Askins, the Wounded Warrior Regiment provides leadership and enables non-medical care to combat and non-combat wounded, ill and injured Marines, sailors attached to Marine units, and their family members in order to maximize their recovery as they return to duty or transition to civilian life.
Askins was contacted by Graves to help get the word out about the cross-country journey and said he was inspired by the dedication shown by the two.
“I would like say that Toran and Brian both embody the Marine Corps values of honor, courage and commitment,” Askins wrote in an email after meeting with the two that afternoon. “Their inspiring ride shows that no matter what circumstance they may have faced Marines are always in the fight and never leave another Marine behind.
“The courage that these gentleman have shown in both war and peace is truly remarkable and I wish them the best as they continue their journey across the country.”
To track the progress of Gaal and Riley, or donate to the Semper Fi Fund, visit www.torangaal.com.
FOCUS Marines Foundation
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Augusta, MO 63332
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“The courage that these gentleman have shown in both war and peace is truly remarkable and I wish them the best as they continue their journey across the country.” Gunnery Sgt. Johnathan Askins on the “Ride Across America” trip of Toran Gaal and Brian Riley
Shawnna Robinson is the managing editor for the Farmington Press and can be reached at 573-518-3628 or firstname.lastname@example.org