CHESTERFIELD, Va. (WRIC-TV)- Retired Army Ranger James Howard sustained numerous injuries serving in the 82nd Airborne in Iraq. He was ultimately left paralyzed in a diving accident.
“I call my injury a blessing by misfortune,” he said.
Howard found mobility again through using an adaptable bicycle that was given to him shortly after his accident. That freedom – to move again – inspired him to launch REACHcycles. Now the organization has provided over 600 adaptable, three-wheel bikes to paralyzed and other disabled children and veterans.
“I wanted to give back in one way or another,” Howard said.
When he’s struggling or having a bad day, Howard says he thinks about the kids on those bikes.
“Anytime I am having a bad day I can remember any one of these children that receive a bike and their smiles on their face and it really kind of puts life in perspective,” said.
REACHcycles tries to find a way for the people who they work with to find a way to get moving on a bike, regardless of their disability. They’ve provided a bike to a triple amputee and a blind child, and countless others who otherwise would not have the opportunity to ride a bike.
“It’s got special gloves on it,” said Howard pointing out one of the features of an adaptable bike in his driveway.
However, bikes aren’t the veteran’s only mission.
Howard and his group, Veterans and Athletes United, created the Fallen Heroes Memorial to honor the troops lost in the Global War on Terror. The memorial was created using dog tags and is 28-feet wide by 6-feet tall. It’s been displayed at more than 50 locations including the 9/11 Memorial in New York on the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks.
“Every single one of these tags has a story of heroes behind it,” Howard said.
Abi Baker, while she was still in high school, volunteered to help put the memorial together. “I personally would sit with a computer looking through it as it was being alphabetized just to make sure it was in the right order,” she explained.
The dog tags are red, blue, and silver and are displayed in the shape of the American flag. Each tag has the name of a service member who was killed in the war on terror. There are now over 7,000 dog tags.
“In every chaos, there’s also opportunity,” Howard said.
Next year, he plans to add the names of the 13 service members killed this year in Afghanistan in an attack outside the airport in Kabul.
“It is sad to see that it is growing,” said Baker of the memorial.
Howard says he gets so many requests for the traveling memorial from across the country that he would like to have a duplicate made that could be stationed in the west, and he hopes to connect with volunteers who could help make that happen.
“We get requests from Phoenix, San Diego, San Francisco, all over out west. And it would just be great to bring that kind of reflection out in that area,” he explained.
While the memorial is on the road, a paper version is showcased at Howard’s Virginia home so school groups and others can also pay tribute.
“People can really heal and learn from it,” he said.