May 28 at SIFF: NW vet takes a 'Long Ride Home'
Seattle Times staff reporter, Jonathan Martin, interviews Kevin Mincio and Tom Wright. Kevin Mincio was on a conference call at Goldman Sachs' offices across from the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, when the first plane hit. He soon found his brother on the sidewalk, and they were across the street as a group of five people, holding hands, jumped from a burning tower.
They escaped just in time, but something snapped inside Mincio, a Goldman vice president. He quit his job and, out of "complete anger," joined the Army as a private, intent on combat.
A decade later — after deploying to Iraq for a year with the Stryker Brigade at Joint Base Lewis McChord and settling into Mercer Island with a job in estate management — Mincio's unique call to arms is told in the documentary "The Long Ride Home," which debuts at Seattle International Film Festival on Monday, May 28.
The film centers on Mincio's 95-day, 4,200-mile cross-country bike ride in honor of widows and orphans of fallen soldiers. The ride ended with Mincio, clad in a red-white-and-blue bike uniform, walking his bike to Ground Zero on the 10-year anniversary of the attack.
Mincio, 41, is an intense, restless character, on film and in person. He viewed his Trek Madone bike as "a weapon," fieldstripped it after each day of riding. At his home last week, he sat, stood, paced, texted and served drinks, continually in motion.
He sidesteps the politics of America's decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, instead focusing on the families of his brothers in arms. When Mincio's military enlistment ended in 2010, he started the Team Jesse nonprofit foundation, named for Staff Sgt. Jesse Williams, a 25-year-old California native killed in Iraq in 2007.
The film, commissioned by the foundation but paid for by grants and sponsorships is intended as a "call to action" for Americans to recognize such sacrifices. "We want people to recognize the cost, to the families and to the soldiers who require aid when they return," said Mincio.
About a month before Mincio was to begin the cross-country ride, he was introduced to filmmaker and fellow Mercer Island resident Tom Wright via the island's lacrosse circles.
Wright was a producer of a 2000 documentary, "Trade Off," which chronicled Seattle's WTO riots and won a SIFF Golden Space Needle award. Like that film, "The Long Ride Home," was intended to capture the American ethos at a moment in time, Wright said.
"Kevin's ride through the country is a symbol for what we are going through right now, with all the soldiers returning home," said Wright, who directed "The Long Ride Home."
The ride started last June at Williams' gravesite in Santa Rosa, Calif., before quickly climbing to the spectacular high desert of Utah. On camera, Mincio and riding partner Matt Sauri become specks in the red rock canyons.
Riding between 40 and 117 miles a day, with three cameramen and a support team in tow, the riders followed a well-organized route. "They had everything mapped out, but what we didn't expect was the weather," said Brett Bowker, a recent University of Washington journalism graduate who helped film the ride.
The riders confronted a heat wave in the Midwest, Hurricane Irene, Tropical Storm Lee and an earthquake in Washington, D.C. Through it, they did not miss a scheduled day of riding.
The film's visually striking travelogue is juxtaposed with wrenching interviews of war veterans, including Mincio. He treads lightly on the psychological toll of combat, acknowledging that he is more volatile and agitated.
But an Army buddy from Montana, Steve Camposan, chillingly describes on camera how a minor incident on a college campus had him suddenly strategizing how to kill. "I understood the crazed gunman stories," said Camposan, who got mental health treatment.
The stress of combat forges bonds, Mincio said. Williams had asked Mincio to care for his wife and infant daughter, Amaya, should he die. "He meant it as a lifelong promise, and I took as a lifelong commitment," Mincio said.
Team Jesse, his foundation, has raised $175,000, most of it from the ride. It helped send 10 children of fallen soldiers to a bereavement camp, and has committed to helping five other children, said Mincio. None of the fundraising goes to the foundation overhead, he said.
"The Long Ride Home" starts with a video Williams made just before his death, to be seen if the worst happened. "So I'm dead. That ... sucks," Williams tells the camera.
It is a reminder that nearly 6,500 American soldiers have been killed in a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Jonathan Martin: 206-464-2605 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @jmartin206.