By Danielle DeSimone

According to Travis Pastrana, a professional motorsports competitor and stunt performer, there are a lot of similarities between action sports and the military. The 36-year-old father of two should know: he grew up in and around the military community in Annapolis and has several family members who served throughout U.S. history.

In particular, Pastrana says his family’s long history of serving in the military – his great-grandfather served in World War I, his father served in Vietnam and his cousins currently serve in the Navy today – instilled great appreciation in him for our men and women in uniform.

That’s why the daredevil recently joined the USO on a visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where he met with injured, ill and wounded service members to boost morale and say thank you to those who have served. Despite living in nearby Annapolis, Maryland, a city known for its Navy population, this was Pastrana’s first visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, even if it wasn’t his first time giving back to the military community.

Pastrana has been committed to supporting the military for years. He has worked with “Bikes over Baghdad” tours and has even invited selected veterans to his house so they could try out some of his equipment and enjoy a day of four-wheeling and BMXing.

Pastrana didn’t go on the USO hospital visit alone. His father, former Marine Sgt. Robert L. Pastrana, tagged along for a busy day of learning about today’s military.

Travis Pastrana and his father, a Marine veteran, visit with injured service members at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. | Photo credit Bernard Little

“He doesn’t take off work for much,” Pastrana said about his father. “But he said, ‘I’m going, I’m not missing this!’”

Pastrana and his father spent the day visiting service members recuperating at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, one of the nation’s largest and most renowned military medical centers. A USO Warrior and Family Center is also located on base at Naval Support Activity Bethesda, which provides support for service members and their families currently recovering at the medical center. While at Walter Reed, Pastrana had the opportunity to speak one-on-one with patients and listen to their stories, as well as share a few of his own.

Many of the service members at the hospital grew up on motorcycles or watching motocross events, so having the chance to speak to Travis Pastrana – a daredevil legend who has been compared to the likes of Evel Knievel – was an incredible, morale-boosting experience for the service members during their stay at the medical center.

Although the patients he met are faced with challenging recoveries and sometimes life-threatening injuries, Pastrana was struck by how so many of service members he spoke with approached their situations with grit, humor and – most importantly – an emphasis on the importance of camaraderie in the military that has carried them through. When dealing with dangerous situations on the front lines, it was the quick thinking and actions of these patients’ fellow service members that kept them alive.

“Everyone just jumps on board, never leave a man behind,” Pastrana said. “And they all just help each other out. At the end of the day, that camaraderie … and to see how the guys who are protecting us are also protecting each other – that’s what really stood out to me today.”

Photo credit Bernard Little

Travis Pastrana strikes a pose with a service member while speaking with patients at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

As with many USO entertainers, Pastrana was heavily influenced by the day at the medical center.

“It was awesome to go today, hoping just to bring a smile to somebody’s face,” Pastrana said.

“But at the end of the day, I definitely left better-off, as a person … Thank you for the opportunity, and definitely anyone who’s thinking about going [on a USO tour], it’s definitely well worth your time, because you’ll learn a lot from it.”