CHESTERFIELD, Va. (WRIC-TV) – Retired Army Ranger James Howard suffered numerous injuries while serving with the 82nd Airborne in Iraq. He was eventually left paralyzed in a diving accident.
“I call my injury a blessing by luck,” he said.
Howard regained mobility by using an adaptable bike given to him shortly after his accident. This freedom – to move again – inspired him to launch REACHcycles. Today, the organization has provided more than 600 adaptable three-wheeled bicycles to paralyzed and disabled children and veterans.
âI wanted to give back somehow,â Howard said.
When he’s having a hard time or having a bad day, Howard says he thinks of the kids on those bikes.
âEvery time I have a bad day I remember one of those kids getting a bike and their smile on their face and it really puts life in perspective,â said.
REACHcycles tries to find a way for the people they work with to find a way to get around by bike, regardless of their disability. They provided a bicycle for a triple amputee and a blind child, as well as countless others who would otherwise not have the opportunity to cycle.
âThere are special gloves on it,â Howard said, pointing out one of the characteristics of an adaptable bike in his driveway.
However, bikes aren’t the veteran’s only job.
Howard and his group, Veterans and athletes united, created the Fallen Heroes Memorial to honor troops lost in the global war on terrorism. The memorial was created using identity plaques and measures 28 feet wide by 6 feet high. It has been on display in more than 50 locations, including the 9/11 Memorial in New York City on the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks.
âEach of these tags has a hero story behind it,â Howard said.
Abi Baker, while still in high school, volunteered to help put up the memorial. âPersonally, I would sit with a computer going through it while it was sorted alphabetically just to make sure it was in the right order,â she explained.
The nameplates are red, blue and silver 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 identity plates.
âIn every chaos there are also opportunities,â Howard said.
Next year, he plans to add the names of the 13 servicemen killed this year in Afghanistan in an attack outside Kabul airport.
âIt’s sad to see him growing up,â Baker said of the memorial.
Howard says he’s getting so many requests for the traveling memorial from across the country that he’d like to make a duplicate that could be parked in the west, and he hopes to get in touch with volunteers who could help make it happen.
âWe get inquiries from Phoenix, San Diego, San Francisco, all over the west. And it would be just great to bring that kind of thinking into this area, âhe explained.
While the memorial is on the road, a paper version is displayed at Howard’s home in Virginia so school groups and others can pay their respects as well.
âPeople can really heal and learn from it,â he said.