Couple bikes across US to aid CIA families

AP News
Posted: Oct 27, 2010 7:07 PM
Couple bikes across US to aid CIA families

Dipping their bike tires into the Pacific Ocean at Coronado, Calif., a husband and wife team Wednesday ended a 3,200-mile bike ride aimed at raising money for the loved ones of fallen CIA officers.

In a journey they dubbed "Khost to Coast," Rob and Kim Richer made the 47-day trek to help the children of CIA employees killed in the attack on the agency's base at Khost, Afghanistan, late last year.

"Families of serving or fallen officers don't have their loved ones come home to parades," Rob Richer said. "But we had cheers today."

CIA officers are acknowledged as serving in the front lines against the war against violent extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but their dependents must rely on private donations for their future education. The dependents don't receive the same benefits as the loved ones of fallen service members.

There were parents among the seven CIA employees who were killed in December when an al-Qaida double-agent was driven into the compound and blew himself up. The station chief was a married mother of three.

They were honored with stars carved into the CIA's memorial wall at Langley, Va.

But while dependents of the agency's fallen do get some government support, there's nothing to equal the GI Bill educational benefits that were recently extended to dependents of members of the military killed in the line of duty, according to former CIA spokesman Bill Harlow, who helped publicize the transcontinental trek that began in Jacksonville, Fla.

Richer, a retired agency officer, and his wife _ both of whom are ex-Marines _ designed the bike ride to raise money and awareness of the work done by the spy agency that the couple says is "often much misunderstood and maligned."

Richer knew three of the CIA officers who were killed in Khost. He said the ride was about showing CIA families "this country cares about them."

Four of the families who lost loved ones at Khost were waiting for the Richers in California at the end of the ride.

Kim Richer said there is a unique stress on an agency spouse, having to maintain the fiction of their "cover" job, versus their real one, sometimes even lying to their own children "about why mom or dad are away."

And even if the children are in on the secret, she says it's tough on them because they can't explain to their peers why their parent is missing birthdays or school events. Worse still, they often can't share what happens if they lose their parent in the line of duty.

The money the Richers raised will go to the CIA Officers Memorial Foundation, which was set up after the death of CIA officer Michael Spann in 2001, to help care for dependents and spouses of the agency fallen.

Spann was the first officer, and first American, killed during the post-9/11 invasion of Afghanistan.

Former CIA Director Michael Hayden said, "There had been no mechanism to take care of the family of CIA officers who had fallen" over the long term, with most of the money going into college education.

The Richers said they don't know yet how much they raised for the foundation, but believe it will fund several scholarships.

The organization currently is supporting 30 children of officers who died in the line of duty. The foundation includes family members of contractors working for the CIA, such as the two security contractors who were among those killed at Khost.

The oldest of Spann's three children started college this year with the help of the foundation's scholarship funds, Harlow said.

Harlow said several family members of those lost at Khost have been in frequent touch with the Richers along the way, sending their thanks and encouragement.

CIA Director Leon Panetta sent the couple a letter, expressing his thanks for "every minute and every mile that you've dedicated to the seven heroes who fell" at Khost.



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