Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on November 11th, 2010 at 9:39 am
cycling in Iraq, 2006.
Remember Joseph Lontai? He's the BikePortland reader who, back in April 2006, emailed a photo of himself riding a Spinning bike in the desert while serving in the Iraq war. Since then, I've kept in touch with Major Lontai and I run into him at local bike events.
No longer on active duty, Major Lontai still serves his country, but he also serves his love of cycling and shares that love with the next generation of military leaders.
Major Lontai was on active duty for eight years after graduating from Indiana University (where he was on their Little 500 team). During those eight years, he deployed to Bosnia, Kosovo, and Iraq. Since returning home, he's served as an Oregon National Guard officer since 2007. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Military Science at the University of Portland and he's pursuing a Master's degree in teaching.
"When I got back from Iraq in 2007, I felt disoriented for a while. I had planned while in Iraq to ride my bike for days on end across the Trans-American Bike Route, just to appreciate what we have here in the U.S."
In 2007 he crossed the Rockies on a bicycle tour from Portland to St. Louis, Missouri, covering 2,400 miles in 32 days.
In observance of Veteran's Day, I asked Major Lontai to share some thoughts about how his passion for cycling is interwoven with his service to our country and in teaching tomorrow's military leaders. Even though he's busy with Veteran's Day festivities at the University today, he shared the following with me via email:
"Bicycles are central to many things that I'm passionate about: health, outdoors, and responsible (oil-reduced) living. As a veteran, I feel oil-dependency is a national security issue. Americans would be safer if the US energy policy only used US resources in a sustainable manner. I don't want to comment on the current wars we're involved in, but it makes sense that the US shouldn't be intractably dependent for energy, or anything, from other countries. Bicycling is a chance for individuals to take some responsibility towards a safer US energy policy.
Another reason bicycling is important to veterans is that it keeps people healthy. Being a soldier is very physically tough. Nowadays, only a small percentage of young men and women are physically fit enough for military service. A while back, a group of retired generals called this a threat to military readiness. Adult cyclists must fight this rising obesity rate in children. Also, bicycles can keep soldiers healthy. Bikes are a great tool to keep soldiers in shape, and also to rehab for injuries from war.
conquer the Rockies.
[In a follow-up phone interview this morning, Maj. Lontai said he's taken his ROTC cadets on rides from UP to Sauvie Island and he's also had them participate in triathlons with him. He said, "I feel like I've got to tell them about getting on a bike, that it's useful for transportation and a workout, and I also feel a little bit of that is about an important life-skill, which is budgeting both calories and dollars per gallon of gas saved. I've demonstrated that because I bike commute to work I save $4.75 a day in gas, so in the course of a year that's about $5,000."]
Of course, since you're outside when you're on a bicycle, you're appreciating our beautiful country. When I got back from Iraq in 2007, I felt disoriented for a while. I had planned while in Iraq to ride my bike for days on end across the Trans-American Bike Route, just to appreciate what we have here in the U.S. I always feel much more mentally healthy after bicycle trips... and as I made it from Portland to St Louis, the whole time I realized that we should be positive and appreciative as Americans. So... please thank a veteran on Veterans' Day!"
Thank you Joe. We need a lot more people like you serving our country, so it's good to know you are teaching and influencing a whole new generation of leaders.