U.S. Army veteran Wesley Leon-Barrientos stands in front of an AC-130W Stinger II on the flightline at Cannon Air force Base, N.M., March 22, 2012. Leon-Barrientos is a double-amputee and three-time Purple Heart recipient from his service during Operation Iraqi Freedom. U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Eboni Reece
| ||CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. (3/25/2012) - While on a coast-to-coast bicycle ride raising suicide awareness, two veterans visited Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., March 22, to share some inspiring words with western Air Commandos.|
Their cross-country trip, which began Feb. 19, in Bakersfield, Calif., will ultimately lead them to the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., in time for Memorial Day. They have allotted 100 days to bike 4,163 miles to the capitol to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the construction of the wall.
"This trip is to demonstrate our continued support of military members and veterans across all services," said Wesley Leon-Barrientos, U.S. Army veteran. "It is an added bonus getting the opportunity to meet so many amazing service members while raising awareness for a great cause along the way."
Leon-Barrientos is a former infantryman member with the Army's 101st Airborne Division. While serving on his second tour in December 2007, he suffered injuries due to explosives and lost both of his legs. He is a three-time Purple Heart recipient.
"People can easily see superficial wounds, the psychological issues are a lot more difficult to spot-out for treatment," said Leon-Barrientos. "We want to ignite a spirit of unity as well as raising awareness about how serious suicide prevention is, especially for wounded vets."
Recent military statistics from a Center for a New American Security Suicide report show the highest rate of suicides per conflict since Sept. 11. Averages of 18 veterans are reported to have committed suicide every day.
"Wes is an outstanding American providing the overall force with vital information," said Chief Master Sgt. Matthew Caruso, 27th Special Operations Wing command chief. "Veterans and airmen alike should witness and aspire to his courage and bravery."
While touring the Cannon flightline, Leon-Barrientos reflected on his life's journey through actively serving, to his injuries and back to his present line of work spreading inspiration, hope and strength.
"I remember waking up in my hospital bed without my legs," said Leon-Barrientos. "I lost so many amazing brothers on that tour, but I only remember feeling fortunate for having received another chance at life. I, unlike my brothers, would be able to see and hold my family again. It motivated me to experience more out of life, to take bigger chances and to make a difference in the lives of others."
Leon-Barrientos told medical providers that his goal was to walk in three months and run within six months after his injuries. They explained that the likelihood of that was very slim. He exceeded expectations however, walking within three and a half months and running two weeks before his self-imposed six-month goal.
"Everyone is able to hold their own by whatever unique capabilities they are afforded," said Leon-Barrientos. "I'd like to think that adapting to life's adversities and shortcomings is just something I've been blessed with."
By USAF Airman 1st Class Alexxis Pons Abascal
Air Force Special Operations Command
Provided through DVIDS
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