Clemson Air Force ROTC holds event to honor start of nationwide bike ride for military charity

by KATHERINE SCHENCK

This article originally appeared in The Tiger on March 7, 2014  | Link to original article

Lieutenant Colonel Tom von Kaenel (retired) began a 120-day journey on Saturday, March 1. Lt. Colonel von Kaenel, who resides in Six Mile, S.C., is participating in the second bi-annual Sea2Sea Challenge. He will be biking from America’s southernmost point, Key West, Fla., to the northernmost state, Juneau, Alaska. During the 120-day ride, Lt. Colonel von Kaenel will cover approximately 7,000 miles.

The first Sea2Sea Challenge took place in Spring 2012. Lt. Colonel von Kaenel and friends began in Ocean Shore, Wash., and arrived at Arlington National Cemetery on July 4, 2012. The group travelled almost 4,200 miles during their 74-day journey.

The difference in Lt. Colonel von Kaenel’s first challenge and his second challenge is that this time, he will be alone. For 120 days he will bike by himself, relying on local communities to host him overnight throughout his journey.

The Sea2Sea Foundation is a United States Military charity headquartered in Suwanee, Ga. Their mission is to “give back to those who serve.” The Sea2Sea Foundation aims to remember those who are no longer with us and to continue to help those who were left behind.

“Clemson Air Force ROTC was so eager to support the Sea2Sea Foundation because of our shared values. Lt. Colonel von Kaenel’s dedication to challenge himself and do something for a cause much bigger than himself, goes hand in hand with what we learn in ROTC,” Nick Kuzjak, student coordinator for the event and senior civil engineering major, said.

Lt. Colonel von Kaenel and other participants are able to fulfill their goals of the challenge through the nightly memorial services. Every night after his bike ride, Lt. Colonel von Kaenel will lead a memorial service to remember those killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

During the memorial service, Lt. Colonel von Kaenel and the Clemson Air Force ROTC honored the South Carolinians who lost their lives while in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Several students also attended the memorial service. “It was amazing to see so many Clemson students as well as other people in the Clemson community join together to honor the fallen soldiers from our state,” Samantha Algary, a sophomore history major, said. “The memorial service really put the sacrifice all of our military personnel make into perspective for those of us who aren’t exposed to it very often.”

“During the memorial service, 16 current AFROTC cadets read off the 96 names of South Carolinians who have given the ultimate sacrifice to our country during Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom,” Kuzjak said.

“Tom then addressed the crowd and added a 97th name, a former soldier who took his own life after suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in November 2013. The event put into perspective the significance of Tom’s ride.”

“Hearing all of the names of the fallen soldiers and watching everyone’s reaction shows how committed to service the community is. Clemson began as a military academy, so we will always have strong ties to the United States Military,” Matt Olinger, a sophomore bioengineering major, said. “I have a lot of friends in Clemson’s ROTC program and I know the memorial service was very meaningful to them.”