Together with a friend, entrepreneur and philanthropist Matt Sauri, Mincio began the ride on June 9 in Santa Rosa, Calif. The two will ride into Telluride on Monday, June 27, rest on Tuesday, and then continue on their cross-country journey, which will end in Manhattan at Ground Zero on September 11, 2011. During the ride, they hope to raise $500,000 for The Team Jesse Foundation, which benefits families of fallen soldiers.
“When a soldier dies for our country, we want to recognize those families and make them know their sacrifice is something we don’t take for granted,” Mincio says.
The start and finish points of the ride are both significant; Santa Rosa is where Mincio’s friend, fallen soldier Jesse Williams, grew up and is, sadly, buried. Ground Zero is where many innocent Americans lost their lives and the country lost its longstanding sense of its own security, according to Mincio.
For Mincio, it is a reminder of why soldiers like Jesse Williams are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for their country’s freedom.
Ground Zero is also across the street and on the same corner as 1 Liberty Street, where Mincio worked for Goldman Sachs when the 9/11 terrorist attacks took place. After the towers fell, Mincio found himself compelled to act by enlisting in the U.S. Army Infantry Division.
“Immediately after the attacks, a lot of things changed downtown,” Mincio says. “It was a chance to do personal reflection. The military was something I had considered after high school, then after college, and I decided it was time to do my part and serve my country.”
At age 31, Mincio enlisted, spending his first 15 weeks in basic training at infantry school in Fort Benning, Ga. The average age of his fellow soldiers was 18.
“I chose to be an enlisted soldier and went in with everyone else; I went into the infantry,” Mincio explains.
After basic training, he served for three years in the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division and in the brigade command group. In Iraq, he served with and befriended Staff Sergeant Jesse Williams of the 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division (Stryker Brigade Combat Team).
In the summer of 2006, before returning to Iraq for his second tour of duty, Williams asked Mincio to “look after” his five-week-old daughter, Amaya, if something were to happen to him. Mincio promised he would. Williams always had Amaya with him symbolically; he had her little handprints tattooed over his heart when she was three weeks old.
In December of 2006, Williams was able to spend two extra weeks with his family while on R&R leave before returning to war. On April 8, 2007, Williams died in Balad, Iraq, of wounds suffered from small-arms fire while conducting combat operations. He was 25; his daughter Amaya was 11 months old.
Williams’s military awards include two Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star and three Army Commendation Medals.
Keeping his promise to his friend, in 2007, Mincio, along with college friend Matt Corry (both former lacrosse players for University of Connecticut), started a lacrosse team, with the intent of traveling to tournaments to raise money for Amaya’s education and trust. They called the team Team Jesse.
Three years later, Team Jesse became The Team Jesse Foundation, a 501(c)(3) charitable organization with the mission of assisting as many families of fallen soldiers as possible. With the money it raises, Team Jesse Foundation funds and assesses organizations that have programs aligned with its mission.
In his work for The Team Jesse Foundation, Mincio is driven by the memory of his friend and of the many other fallen soldiers in Iraq, but even more so by the present lives of their families.
“After 12 months in Iraq, you realize how good we have it in this country,” Mincio says. “Soldiers die, like Jesse, to provide [us] security and when they die, it’s devastating. His daughter was 11 months; he had a young wife and his father was his best friend. In some ways, Jesse’s wife and dad are struggling more now than they were in 07.”
To raise awareness of their organization and ease the financial pain felt by veterans’ families, Mincio and Sauri came up with the Team Jesse ride. They began at Williams’ gravesite on his birthday, June 9, and will end at Ground Zero on September 11, 2011, exactly ten years after the attacks on the World Trade Center.
On Tuesday of this week, 12 days into their ride, the two riders found themselves in Cedar City, Utah. The entire trip is slated to take 95 days and they anticipate the five-day segment from Cedar City to Telluride to be the journey’s most challenging. Their approach is to take each day as it comes.
“We’re holding up well,” Sauri says. “Some days surprise you, with head winds or not enough rest in between. The days stack up on top of each other; some days it’s fun to feel strong and push each other. I get the idea we are going to feel all kinds of things.”
“We ride side by side and help each get through the days,” Mincio adds.
The two also remember the 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment’s motto to pull them through: “Tant Que Je Puis” – “To The Limit of Our Abilities.”
To follow Kevin Mincio and Matt Sauri on their Team Jesse Foundation journey, visit http://teamjesse.org/ride//.