The Team Jesse Foundation
Mission: To provide education and support for families of fallen soldiers in honor of SSG Jesse Williams


Mission: To provide education and support to families of fallen soldiers in honor of SSG Jesse Williams

A Ride To Honor

May 23, 2012 - by Ilona Idlis of the Mercer Island Reporter When the planes hit on Sept. 11, 2001, Kevin Mincio had just finished a conference call in his Goldman-Sachs office at One Liberty Plaza. As the World Trade Center crumbled next door, Mincio escaped with his life, but it wouldn’t be one he ever returned to.

In the next few months, Mincio, then 30, abandoned his position as Goldman-Sachs’ youngest-ever VP of financial information technology and enlisted as an Army private. He moved his wife and livelihood to Washington state for basic training at Fort Lewis. There, he befriended Jesse Williams — a California kid with a great sense of humor — and together they manned the first Stryker unit into Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Years later, Mincio would celebrate the birth of Sgt. Williams’ daughter, Amaya, with a promise — to care for Jesse’s family if he didn’t return from his second deployment.

In 2007, Williams was killed in action. Though Mincio’s active duty was over, his commitment to his brothers in arms was not. He began by fundraising for Amaya. Now he does so to provide support for Gold Star families across the nation as head of the Team Jesse Foundation. Inspired to do more, Mincio marked the charity’s inception and the 10-year anniversary of 9/11 with an epic, 95-day bike ride across the United States.

On Memorial Day — Monday, May 28, the documentary of his journey, “The Long Ride Home,”  will premiere at the Seattle International Film Festival.

Mincio’s story is extraordinary — though he’s loathe to admit it — but no one would have seen it on a big screen if it wasn’t for Mercer Island lacrosse.

Brett Bowker, 24, has loved lacrosse since middle school. He played it competitively at Mercer Island High School and covered it as a journalist after graduating from the University of Washington’s journalism program. In April of last year, Bowker was asked to profile the new coach of his old MIHS lacrosse team. That coach was planning quite a bike ride.

Taken by Mincio’s story, Bowker contacted Thomas Lee Wright, father of a fellow MIHS lacrosse player and acclaimed documentary filmmaker. Wright was hooked.

“Kevin’s personal story encompassed recent American history from Goldman-Sachs to 9/11, to the Iraq war and a lifelong promise between soldiers,” Wright said in an email. “[It was] an inspiring journey imbued with meaning and a natural subject for filming.”

With the bike ride two months away, the director and subject met at the South end Island Starbucks to discuss collaboration.

“I was just really focused on getting across the country and the fundraising side of it,” Mincio recalled. “I would have taken very few pictures, and I certainly wouldn’t have had any video, but Tom said, ‘You’ve got to capture this.’”

Reluctantly, the very private Mincio agreed. The conditions were strict — not a single penny of Team Jesse donations would fund the ride or its documentation. All the proceeds from the movie would be given back to the Foundation and its charity partners, such as the Travis Manion Foundation.

“Nobody got paid to make this movie,” Mincio said. “I’m proud of that. People dedicated a year of their lives to this, and we wouldn’t have been able to do it without them. I’m grateful.”

Thus, with a volunteer force and a shoestring budget, Mincio and friend Matt Saury set out to “connect with America” and the families of its fallen. The ride began in Santa Rosa, Calif., Jesse’s hometown, on the day of his 30th birthday, June 9. The two reached Ground Zero on 9/11.

Bowker and two cameramen followed the riders on their 4,200-mile traverse in a media van. They filmed as Mincio and Saury averaged 70 miles a day through desert heat, tropical storms and Hurricane Irene.

When they weren’t braving the elements, the riders visited soldiers’ families, gravesites and communities. They shared Team Jesse’s mission and asked for donations. Over the course of the summer, Mincio raised $120,000 for the Foundation.

“The wars are not just one family’s burden,” Bowker said in a recent visit to a UW journalism class. “People who have lost family members are kind of walking around and saying, ‘Does anybody care?’ Kevin was that person saying, ‘I care who your son was.’”

With Wright’s editing, their stories intertwine with Mincio’s in the film’s narrative. His mission was “to convey a measure of their sacrifice and heroism.”

Wright, who had shown at SIFF before and won Best Documentary in 2000, then submitted a rough cut of “The Long Ride Home” to the festival’s head, Carl Spence.

Wright, Mincio and Bowker hope the film will motivate audiences to “aid and honor returning veterans.”

“There’s no political slant,” Mincio concluded. “It’s not for or against the war. It’s about the impact war has on a family.”