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On the road to recovery

Raytheon employees support wounded and returning service members

A positive force in veterans lives: Raytheon  employee Kelly McDonald (front) organizes weekly Project HERO cycling events  to help wounded and returning service members transition to civilian life.

Kelly McDonald remembers exactly when retired Lt. Col. Kathy Champion, a U.S. Army veteran who lost her sight while serving in Iraq, found joy on two wheels.

They were riding a tandem bicycle along the coast of Florida to train for a 400-mile event organized by Ride 2 Recovery, a nonprofit that helps injured service members restore hope and purpose through cycling. “We pedaled over a bridge and I told Kathy I saw dolphins out in the water,” says McDonald, a principal Planning and Production Control specialist at Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems in Largo, Florida. “She screamed with joy and came to life right in front of me.”

That moment ideally sums up why McDonald and many employees across Raytheon are so passionate about helping wounded and returning military personnel transition back to civilian life. Along with sponsoring programs like Ride 2 Recovery that aid emotional healing, we provide an array of job-skills training, educational opportunities and employment resources for veterans and their families. Every week on Raytheon campuses across the U.S., we join a national grass-roots movement as we pay tribute to military personnel through “RED Shirt Fridays” to remember everyone deployed.

We pedaled over a bridge and I told Kathy I saw dolphins out in the water. She screamed with joy and came to life right in front of me. – Kelly McDonald, Raytheon employee and Ride 2 Recovery volunteer

Cycling had helped McDonald kick her smoking habit, and she saw it could be a positive force in veterans’ lives. “As soon as Kathy and I finished our challenge ride, I wanted to get more people involved in Florida,” she says. So McDonald attended Project HERO — Healing Exercise Rehabilitation Opportunity — camp, a Ride 2 Recovery training that teaches cyclists how to adapt bikes, stay safe, eat healthy and mentor injured veterans.

“You can adapt a bicycle to any physical challenge,” she says. “And that puts everyone on a level playing field.” Her first weekly Project HERO ride attracted six people; now, she consistently brings 15 to 20 cyclists along. Raytheon co-workers and other community members have also volunteered to organize and support these rides.

“That speaks volumes about the generosity of Raytheon and our employees. My entire plant is involved,” says McDonald. Raytheon has provided funding for rest stops, company-branded cycling jerseys and sponsorships that allow veterans to participate in Challenge Rides for free. We’ve also donated customized bikes that enable injured veterans to continue riding.

McDonald’s work with Ride 2 Recovery includes opening a new regional cycling center near Largo to better the lives and experiences of veterans. A grant from Raytheon helped purchase bikes, tools and equipment for the center. “We’d been operating out of the trunks of our cars,” McDonald says. “Now we have a space where veterans who don’t own a bike will be able to talk about issues, ride with the group or just spin and think.”

Riding with the veterans is an opportunity for her not only to answer their questions about what it’s like to work at Raytheon, but also to express what their service means to her and other employees.

“That’s very important to me,” she says. “They need to hear, ‘What you men and women have done is of great value. And you matter to us.’ ”

Last Updated: 05/26/2016

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