A team of about 12 cyclists will set out next weekend on a 100-mile bike ride from Oil City to Pittsburgh in honor of an Oil City native who was killed in Iraq in 2007.
The Foster 100: Oil to Iron event, which starts at 7 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 28, will raise money for and bring awareness to Team Foster, an organization that supplies military veterans with service dogs.
Team Foster was founded in 2014 in honor of U.S Army Capt. Erick Foster, who died in Balad, Iraq, in August 2007 of injuries sustained when his unit was attacked by insurgent small arms fire.
“We are losing more than 20 veterans and service members every day to suicide,” said Nick Liermann, founder and executive director of Team Foster and a friend of Foster’s. “The government services that are in place are just inadequate.”
Post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury are the leading injuries for veterans since 9/11, said Liermann.
These injuries can cause a wide variety of symptoms, from vertigo and balance issues to depression.
“There is no one-size-fits-all solution,” said Liermann.
One option for veterans is the support of a service dog. The dogs can provide comfort, companionship and purpose, said Liermann.
Dogs can also be trained to wake veterans when they experience nightmares, warn them of oncoming panic attacks, and notify them when their blood sugar levels are off.
The support of a service dog is “such an elegant solution to such a complicated problem,” said Liermann. “I don’t know of a symptom that a veteran has that you can’t train a dog to address.”
But a service dog can cost $25,000 and take two years to train, said Liermann. That’s where Team Foster steps in.
Since 2014, Team Foster has supplied between 25 and 30 veterans with service dogs. It raises this money through the Oil to Iron 100-mile ride and similar events.
The Aug. 28 trek will start at Central Avenue in Oil City and end about nine hours later at the Soldiers and Sailors Museum in Pittsburgh.
“It is almost exactly 100 miles from where Erick (Foster) is buried in Oil City to The University of Pittsburgh to the very spot where we were commissioned to the Army,” said Liermann, who was commissioned at the same time as Foster. The two met while at the same ROTC (Reserve Officers Training Corps) in Pittsburgh.
Foster was born in 1978 and was the son of Bob and Barb Foster. The family lived on West First Street in Oil City and Erick Foster attended local schools before moving as a teenager to the Pittsburgh area with his family.
He was the grandson of Robert and Wilma Kellner, Mr. and Mrs. Taylor W. Foster, and the late Betty Foster.
While a student at Duquesne University, he joined the Three Rivers ROTC. After graduation in 2000, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant.
Four years later he became his troop’s commander in the 82nd Airborne Division.
He first deployed to Iraq in 2004, and his platoon conducted more than 200 missions there.
He is buried at Grove Hill Cemetery in Oil City.
“He was a big influence on me,” said Liermann. “Especially in terms of pushing myself mentally and physically, as well as taking care of our community.”
Team Foster and the 100-mile Oil to Iron ride is a way for Liermann and others to do just that.
The ride is by invitation only, but anyone can be part of the event during the week leading up to the ride. Participants in the virtual component of the ride can put in as many miles as they can.
While the team of cyclists set out to tackle 100 miles of steep terrain, those who logged miles the week before can join together for a 25-mile loop between Oil City and Franklin.
Oil to Iron is “about the awareness and the bringing things home,” said Liermann. “It’s really powerful and very sentimental to come home, so to speak, to Oil City.”
“We have been blown away and super grateful for the support from the community,” Liermann added. “Everyone in the community has really gone out of their way to show support. It means a lot to the organization and the family.”
The end of the ride will also be a homecoming visit for Liermann and others as they join Foster’s former Three Rivers ROTC battalion in Pittsburgh for food and fellowship. One of the cadets from Foster’s alumni battalion will join the group for the 100-mile ride.
More information about Team Foster can be found at www.teamfoster.com.