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Cyclists ride from Fla. to Gwinnett to honor special forces

Major General Mark Clark, left, and Gwinnett County Reserve Deputy Bill Stevens, center, take time to remember fallen soldiers at Gwinnett’s Fallen Heroes memorial Friday afternoon. Under the leadership of Stevens and Operation One Voice, 19 cyclists rode 460 miles to honor special operations families. (Staff Photo: Tyler Estep)

Major General Mark Clark, left, and Gwinnett County Reserve Deputy Bill Stevens, center, take time to remember fallen soldiers at Gwinnett’s Fallen Heroes memorial Friday afternoon. Under the leadership of Stevens and Operation One Voice, 19 cyclists rode 460 miles to honor special operations families. (Staff Photo: Tyler Estep)

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Major General Mark Clark, commander of the Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command, surveys Gwinnett’s Fallen Heroes Memorial Friday. He was one of 19 cyclists riding from Florida to raise awareness for special operations families.

LAWRENCEVILLE — Four-hundred-and-sixty miles is a long way on a bike, but if you’re a member of Team One Voice you grin and bear it. And you remember who you’re doing it for.

Led by Bill Stevens — a Gwinnett County reserve sheriff’s deputy and former firefighter and Duluth police officer — and Maj. Gen. Mark Clark, 23 cyclists rode up to Gwinnett’s Fallen Heroes Memorial Friday afternoon to be recognized by county officials. Remembering fallen and wounded special operations forces, they’ll complete the ride from Hulburt Field, Fla., with 19 more miles to Lake Lanier Saturday morning.

Greeting them lakeside will be their inspiration: 35 special operations families from across the country. Clark, commander of the United States Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command, reminded the group of that Friday.

“The one thing we have in common is what we believe in,” he said. “We believe in this country, we believe in defending it, we believe in honoring those that are in harm’s way. We believe in honoring those who have given everything they ever had or ever will, and their families that are left behind.”

The seventh honor ride for Operation One Voice, a nonprofit organization founded by Stevens, featured representatives from the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office, Georgia State Patrol and Tallahassee, Fla., police, as well as the Air Force, Marine Corps, Navy Seals and Army Rangers. This year’s event is inspired by M.Sgt. Joe Deslauriers, an Air Force special operator who is a triple amputee after being injured by an improvised explosive device while on active duty.

Deslauriers and his family will be among the 35 military families — including 28 children — treated to a day of relaxation and camaraderie on Lake Lanier Saturday.

“To me, this is my battery charger,” Stevens said. “We do all the fundraising throughout the year, and then to come back here, this is kind of the payoff for it … It gets pretty emotional at times. You’re holding somebody’s 3-year-old that never saw their father.”

Gwinnett County Chairwoman Charlotte Nash addressed the riders before they completed their trek.

“I stand in awe of what y’all are doing,” she said. “… There may be places where U.S. veterans are not recognized and honored, but it’s not in Gwinnett County.”