Beginning at Navy SEALs birthplace, Frogmen ride cross-country to raise awareness

'Once you leave that environment, everything's different;' Retired SEAL shares message of support for veterans and their families

FORT PIERCE, Fla. – A team of retired U.S. Navy SEALs will set out on a mission this weekend, but instead of staying hidden in the darkness of night, they’ll be riding motorcycles cross-country with an important message for other Frogmen.

After four years of planning, the inaugural Twistin’ the Wrist for Frogmen ride starts Saturday, March 5, in Fort Pierce, Florida, the birthplace of the Navy SEALs.

Eight former SEALs will journey to California, making stops at Harley-Davidson locations across Florida, the Gulf Coast, New Mexico, Arizona and ending at the USS Midway Museum San Diego.

"This is where we began. This is our home. This is the mothership," retired Navy SEAL Jesse Clay said from the Navy SEAL Museum in Fort Pierce.

The museum’s goal is to preserve the history and the heritage of the SEALS and serve their families through the Trident House Charities Program. The motorcycle ride is designed to support the elite SEAL community and their families and raise awareness about the sacrifice SEALs endure for our freedom.

While a 3,000-mile motorcycle trek might be safer than some of their duties protecting their country, the group is spreading a critical message: how to support soldiers who return home.

"Our biggest thing is letting people know that when these guys come home, they need to show A. some respect, and B. need to show some understanding," Clay said. "It's kind of like training a dog to bite, and then all of a sudden, the dog has nobody to bite … Our goal is to help people reconnect with their families, let people know what we're doing and what we stand for. Let them know that they are protected."

Clay became a Navy SEAL in the 1980s and served for about 14 years deploying to South America, Europe and the Middle East.

When he returned, Clay described going through what many veterans experience. He missed the camaraderie, the team atmosphere and most of all, the understanding of a fellow team member.

"When you're part of the team, everything's great. You know, it's high speed, low drag, and you're operating, and you can depend on your brothers and your support, and everything is good," Clay said. "Then once you leave that environment, everything's different."

Clay said he was lucky to meet some Vietnam SEAL team members who became like family to him and supported him when he most needed it. He has continued that circle of brotherhood through the years.

"I started training some of the young guys to go into combat, and then as they were coming back, I noticed that they were experiencing a lot of the same things I experienced," he recalled. "So as somebody was there for me from the Vietnam era, I tried to be there for them, coming back from Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan."

Clay continued his involvement in the military as an instructor with the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, teaching courses to law enforcement and the military.

His love for motorcycles and sharing that knowledge led him to teach courses for Harley-Davidson and now teaming up with Harley and the Navy SEAL Museum for the first Twistin’ the Wrist for Frogmen ride that will benefit the museum’s Trident House Charities Program.

Each stop along the ride will be at a Harley-Davidson dealership, where the Frogmen will be welcomed with open arms. Clay said they had so many offers to host them they had to turn some down.

"The response was incredible, but we only have so many days," he said.

After a kick-off party in Daytona Beach at the Daytona International Speedway for Bike Week, the group will begin the trek west to Panama City Beach, then onto New Orleans. They will spend a night in Beaumont, Texas before continuing onto Albuquerque, New Mexico, where they will meet up with a special group of Marines.

Clay lights up when he talks about meeting with the Navajo Code Talkers in New Mexico, referring to the group of American Indians who used tribal language to send secret communications during both world wars. 

"That's how we beat World War I and World War II. We were successful at sending messages through their native language," Clay said.

The trip culminates at the USS Midway Museum in San Diego on March 17.

Once you become a SEAL, Clay said you never forget your fellow brothers, but that support extends to all military.

"If you know somebody in the military – either past or present -- is having a hard time, reach out to us, let us know," Clay said. 

The Navy SEAL Museum is a good resource for someone seeking help. Clay said just having a conversation with a fellow veteran is a good start.

"It's interesting to see how easily you can communicate with someone once they know you've been where they are, you've been in their shoes, or you understand what they're going through," Clay said. "It makes it pretty simple. Then a lot of the walls come down."