MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — Scot King is a man on a 14,000-mile mission.
On May 7, 2011, the former Marine and president of The Wounded Ride, Inc., a nonprofit organization committed to financially assisting combat wounded veterans and their families, set off on a journey across the country to raise awareness and funds for his cause.
King is conducting the bicycle ride to 48 state capitals solo, without any escort or “shadow vehicle,” and will take approximately two years overall to complete the journey, culminating with his arrival in the Oregon state capital, Salem, around September 28, 2012.
“To my knowledge, no one has ever biked clear across the country with no escort,” said King. “It’s a challenge, but I’m doing this for a purpose, and that makes every obstacle worthwhile. Every penny that would be going into the escort vehicle is being saved to go to a service member who really needs it.”
King established The Wounded Ride, Inc. in 2009, after encountering a homeless Marine in his hometown of Portland, Ore., digging through the garbage.
“I had on a Marine Corps hat, and he looked at me and said ‘semper fi’, and a light bulb just went off in my head,” said King. “I just knew this wasn’t right-- that something more must be done to better serve those who have served.”
Two months later, King lost his job as a wholesale heating, ventilation, and air conditioning branch manager and used the opportunity to research a way to give back to the military community.
“I found several holes during my research into how I could give back,” said King. “There seemed to me to be a gap in the care provided to the families of wounded servicemembers. When their loved one is injured, life and the bills don’t stop, and it can get overwhelming. Even though there are programs out right now that provide some assistance, I saw that there is room for so much more.”
King, along with his vice-president and close friend Ralph Hartmann, started raising money to help remedy the situation, providing funds for bills to families of wounded veterans, assisting in counseling costs and seeking out other organizations who provide care to veterans and their families to collaborate with.
“We’re not concerned with who gets the most recognition or money, when it comes to working with and supporting other organizations,” said King. “That’s not what we’re here for. I think if we all work together, we could reach so many more who need our help, and that’s what really matters.”
In addition to raising funds for those in need, King is also authoring a series of books entitled “AMERICA'S HEROES: Untold Stories of Honor, Courage and Sacrifice”, chronicling the stories of average American veterans as told to him throughout his travels.
Once published, he hopes to get the books into every library in the country so Americans, especially children, can read about veterans from every conflict and feel a sense of pride and patriotism.
“World War II, Vietnam, Iraq, flag etiquette, pride in their nation and the understanding that freedom isn’t free – these are the things it is so important for children to know,” said King. “We can’t afford to have a generation that doesn’t acknowledge or respect the sacrifices that have been given for them.”
Riding across the country alone has given him plenty of thinking time when it comes to the purpose of his ride and the overall goal for his organization, said King.
“The longest I’ve ridden straight without stopping is 11 hours, and all the time I’m thinking about my fellow Marines and the airmen, sailors and soldiers who are serving this country,” said King. “I think about their families, their children, the sacrifices they are making for all of us, and I brainstorm ways to use my organization to ensure they are always cared for.”
The camaraderie between King and his fellow veterans has grown and flourished since his journey began. He often stays with veterans or members of local Elks Lodges, many of whom are veterans or supporters of the military.
“The response to my ride has been overwhelming,” said King. “Many people have told me they respect and appreciate what I’m doing, and they take it upon themselves to ensure I’m well-rested and fed so I can continue. There has been an outpouring of goodness around this entire project since the day I started.”
Jack Barnes counts himself as one who respects King’s drive.
As president of America Supports You Texas, a non-profit organization that promotes public awareness and support for U.S. military service members and veterans, Barnes handled all of King’s tour stops throughout Texas, including booking hotels and providing police escorts through several cities.
“King is an outstanding patriot, and committed wholly to the ideals of this country,” said Barnes, who is also a veteran. “It is our duty and privilege to support the men and women who serve our country and pay the cost for freedom.”
At each state capital, King procures that state’s flag. Upon his return to Oregon, slated for Sept. 28, 2012, each flag will be hung at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum during a ceremony to commemorate those who have served in the military.
Members from each state will be encouraged to attend and represent their state. After the flags have flown for one year, King plans to return them to Elk Lodges in each state.
“The Elks Lodges have been such an instrumental part of me getting through this journey as well as I have,” said King. “They’ve supported me, spread the word about my campaign, fed me and given me places to stay. Giving the flags to them is just my way of saying thank you and ensuring the flags fly high in an environment that supports those that sacrifice for their country."
Making a difference won’t stop once King’s bike wheels stop rolling.
From motivational speaking and executing bike rides across the country to providing bikes to veterans with disabilities and continuing to provide funds to those who need it most, The Wounded Ride, Inc. plans to do its part to ensure wounded service members and veterans across the nation have a place to turn.
“I want them to know that they will never be forgotten, “ said King. “As long as I have a voice, I will be advocating for those who serve.”