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Austin Ashlock, Forum News Service, Published June 13 2013

New wheels for a warrior

GRAND FORKS – With a grin on his face, Mark Jones, 52, of Moorhead, perused the rows of bikes at the Ski & Bike Shop in Grand Forks, looking for the perfect “Wizard of Oz” bike, as he said.

“I need something with a big, comfortable seat and big handlebars,” Jones said. “That way it’ll go easy on my body.”

Jones, an Air Force veteran who served in Operation Desert Storm, was at the bike shop to pick up new bikes for him and his family, courtesy of the Wounded Warrior Guide Service.

As father of four, Jones said the gift is a blessing.

“It’s the little things like this that help the most, especially with the kids,” Jones said. “It takes a lot of time to get back into the swing of things.”

Through donations gathered by WWGS, Jones and his twin sons, Jacoby and Jalen, 4, traveled to Grand Forks on Thursday to pick out bikes for himself and his two other children Abigail, 9, and Tyreece, 10.

Jacoby and Jalen had received new bikes from another charity service in 2012.

Volunteer David Morse helped coordinate the donations and met with Jones and his family at the shop Thursday.

“It’s great that we are able to do something for the families as well as veterans,” Morse said. “The more we can do the better.”

WWGS is a service created by veterans that typically organizes hunting trips for recovering veterans each year. Morse said the donation to Jones is the first of its kind for the North Dakota chapter.

“Our main goal is stress relief and maintaining health within families,” Morse said. “This is just another branch of service we can reach out with for veterans, and Mark is more than deserving.”

Jones said biking is more than just an activity for him and his family, but a way to spend time together.

“Biking is it for us, this is our thing, so this is exciting,” Jones said. “Plus it keeps me in shape and helps with my bad knee.”

Terry Knudson, owner of The Ski & Bike Shop, said he was more than happy to work alongside WWGS.

“Veterans have given so much to us, so giving back in any way wasn’t even a question,”

Knudson said. “We will definitely be doing this in the future.”

Jones said he is happy to see an increase in the support that communities provide to veterans.

“Getting back into regular life doesn’t take as long anymore thanks to programs like this,” Jones said. “And it makes me want to give back too, and I try, through things at church and helping out friends. For a recovering veteran, anything helps.”

Jones eventually found a bike like the one Dorothy’s Kansas neighbor rides in a tornado in “The Wizard of Oz”: a silver seven-speed Simple beach cruiser he was eager to take for test spin.

“That’s a nice bike right there,” said Jones. “Just like the Wicked Witch’s.”