Hundreds rode bikes Saturday in honor of injured war veterans who served the country during tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Former military personnel were celebrated as more than 300 riders took part in the annual Wounded Warrior Project Soldier Ride in Greenport, a charity event honoring Army 1st Lt. Joseph J. Theinert, a Shelter Island native killed in Afghanistan on June 4, 2010.
The soldier ride is important because it gets veterans out of their hospital beds and into fresh air, organizer Nick Kraus said. "We want to show them that the community is behind them," he said. "It can be an isolating experience coming back from being at war and being seriously injured and spending a lot of time in the hospital."
"It gets lonely," said Ty Campbell, 33, of Queens, one of about 40 wounded warriors at the event. "Sometimes, your only contact is with your doctor or physical therapist."
Campbell still has difficulty discussing the antiterrorism helicopter mission in which he fell as he boarded a ship in waters near Iraq while with the U.S. Coast Guard. He sustained severe nerve damage, blew out a knee and said he'll never be able to run or jump again. "It's hard. You have to rely on friends for support, but they have lives," he said.
The soldier ride brought together wounded veterans from around the country, aiming to build on their quality of life by helping with physical, emotional and mental needs, officials said.
"It's the least we can do," said Mike Casper, 45, a rider from Setauket. "Look at the sacrifices they made."
Knowing that the community cares is appreciated, said Stephen Siwulec, 28, of Nesconset, who served in the Army for five years. He was nearly killed in 2004 when he was thrown from a Humvee that drove over a roadside bomb in Afghanistan.
He sustained traumatic brain, back, hip and shoulder injuries, and receives treatment from a veterans hospital three times a week. "It's great that the community helps and supports us," he said.