FORT HOOD — About 50 veterans and supporters continued their cycling trek from Austin to Arlington Thursday, making a welcoming military stop at Fort Hood in the morning. It’s all part of the 12th annual Project Hero Texas Challenge Bike Ride, a 300-mile bicycle ride with a healing mission.

The ride is called Texas Challenge and it benefits Project Hero, a nonprofit that helps veterans and first responders recover from injury, post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. It is meant to be a non-competitive, therapeutic journey.

On Thursday, the group received a full military escort onto the lll Corps command group circle, with members from dozens of units across Fort Hood cheering cyclists on in front of lll Corps Headquarters.

“This is the best part of our ride coming here to Fort Hood and meeting all the soldiers. Going through Killeen and the community and everything, with Cleo Bay yesterday, it’s great. We are part of the community and we have been made to feel very welcome here in Texas,” said Peter Bylsma, director of marketing and communications with Project Hero.

For Aubrey Gains, a retired sergeant major, joining Project Hero for the Texas Challenge has helped him and his wife.

“Cycling is already being dubbed as a recovery tool, and the VA is looking into that, and what Project Hero has done is tap into it,” he said.

Project Hero has partnered with Texas A&M University to develop the first wearable post-traumatic stress disorder wearable wrist watch-style monitoring device, called the Forward Device. Currently, the device is being field tested with 20 veterans and first responders during the Texas Challenge. Once fielding is completed, the watch will be able to be paired with a smartphone app.

“This watch will help veterans and our first responders with PTSD understand and deal with PTSD whether they are asleep or awake,” said Bylsma. “Working with Texas A&M University, we have been able to measure that our rides reduce PTSD episodes by 90%.”

Remarks were given by Nicholas Johnsen, Fort Hood’s director of Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation, along with Lt. Col. Christopher Rice, the deputy lll Corps chaplain, followed by Brig. Gen. Scott L. Efflandt.

“I’m actually pretty humbled to be with this group because we are standing within the midst of the ranks of people who don’t just walk and talk but actually walk the walk,” Efflandt said.

The rides next stop is Waco, where they will meet with people at Lakewood Elementary. Single day Honor Rides are available for members of the community to ride with the veterans and first responders. The next ride for Project Hero will be the Memorial Challenge on May 1st in Virginia. For more information or questions visit their website at weareprojecthero.org.

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