Veterans are on a 400-mile motorcycle ride to raise awareness for mental health and suicide prevention — with a quick stop in Santa Clarita.
The Wounded Warrior Project brought together a group of local and out-of-state veterans for a ride, which started in Ventura, and traveled through Solvang, Santa Ynez and ending in the Santa Monica mountains.
As part of the program called Rolling Project Odyssey, these 10 motorcyclists visited the Harley-Davidson of Santa Clarita for an opportunity to connect with staff, tour the facilities and shop merchandise, too.
“Our mission is to honor and empower wounded warriors,” said Charlie de la Cruz, Project Odyssey specialist. “We provide a lot of different programs and services for warriors, and it’s all free to warriors because of donations from people who are supporting our mission.”
According to de la Cruz, Project Odyssey is an experiential learning, adventure-based mental health program. The ride helps warriors — post-9/11 wounded veterans, about 150,000 warriors across the nation — get out of their comfort zones.
Gracie Scribner, public relations specialist for the Wounded Warrior Project, said the Odyssey ride happens twice annually as part of the Wounded Warrior Project’s partnership with Harley-Davidson.
“We’ve been partners with Harley-Davidson for many years, and they have just been a tremendous support,” Scribner said. “This is part of our mental health program that helps with the invisible wounds of war for these warriors.”
Most people are familiar, or have heard, about post-traumatic stress disorder, de la Cruz said. PTSD can present itself as anxiety, depression or it could make someone feel angry, he added.
“We are a program that is trying to help warriors lean into those feelings a little bit without separating themselves from the things they want to do,” de la Cruz said.
The organization serves to create a sense of community of veterans, but it goes beyond that, he added.
“There’s a huge growth with warriors when they get to experience civilians, organizations, companies or corporations that are leaning in to help them,” de la Cruz said. “It gives them a greater sense of family, and it gives their service a greater sense of work because folks are recognizing that.”
Scribner said this ride in particular encourages veterans to talk, ask for help and not be afraid to discuss mental health.
Brent Phillips, who joined the Marines in 2001, said this was his first time participating in the ride. He was with the First Marine Company out of Camp Pendleton.
“I went over to Iraq and wounded in ‘03. My humvee [a high-mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicle] was struck with four rocket-propelled grenades,” Phillips said. “I came back and was medically retired and have been fairly active ever since.”
Phillips said he rides on his motorcycle with a group out of Arizona called the Combat Vet Motorcycle Association. Some of the group’s members also attended this ride, too.
“I love to ride anytime I can get out, especially with veterans,” Phillips said.
According to Phillips, both organizations are similar and the difference lies within their goals.
“I like this one specifically [the Odyssey] because it focuses on mental health,” Phillips said. “I’ve noticed with a lot of veterans, they try to compartmentalize. They try and keep everything built up inside.”
“At an event like this, it’s a neutral ground and you’re with other veterans. You’re able to bring it to the surface. It can be difficult to talk about but that’s part of the healing process.”