They are short, tall, ten to seventy, students, Sunday school teachers, office workers, military, vets, and Blue and Gold Star parents who ride Hondas and Harleys. They are women and men of the Patriot Guard Riders that now number over 100,000 nationwide.
Beginning in 2005 when a group of anti-war protesters began making appearances at the services of fallen heroes, a small group of veterans rode their motorcycles and stood with a flag line to protect and honor the family. Hence, the subsequent creation of the Patriot Guard Riders national non-profit organization that covers all fifty states, Canada, and the Pacific Protectorates such as Guam.
My husband and I first met and shook hands with Georgia and Alabama PG riders this year while attending the services of area fallen heroes. These are individuals who take vacation, sick leave, or a day without pay to participate in paying respect and showing patriotic honor to our nation's grieving families. At services the Patriot Guard not only stands with a flag line, but also presents a plaque to the family.
My friend and Gold Star mom, Jan Johnson, is a Georgia PGR member who drives her truck as a support vehicle for ride missions. Jan also orders and presents families with their Gold Star service flag. I've been privileged to stand with Jan for several presentations.
Each state has an appointed State Captain and Mission Ride Captains. After the PGR receives the Department of Defense notification and subsequently learns the state location of a fallen hero's funeral service, the service member's name is listed on the PGR website. Subsequently the State Captain makes contact with the funeral home director to initiate the process of obtaining authorization from the family to organize a ride mission. When authorization is granted, the Ride Captain then coordinates with participating riders the time to gather, formation of the flag line, position the family wishes the riders to be in the funeral procession, and presentations.
Although my husband and I don't own or ride a Honda or Harley, I participated in my first ride on Friday, July 27th in honor of PFC Harrelson and his family. After contacting Ride Captain Shelia Smith in Phenix City, Alabama, I was honored when she invited me to be a part of this new mission. I would be the end vehicle behind the PGR's bikes and also present the Gold Star service flag to PFC Harrelson's parents at graveside
In the evening sun the funeral procession of over a mile long flowed around road bends and over hills from the church to the cemetery. Part of the Patriot Guard led the hearse and family cars that were followed by the remaining riders. With my car as the PGR caboose I led the continued stream of processional vehicles. Driving behind the group of sixty wearing jeans and leather vests in a dual line of two wheeled roaring machines with our grand ole flag waving in the wind, I was part of a united strength and pride.
Respected by law enforcement in communities of their missions, the PGR is met by local police to lead them to funeral homes, churches, and cemeteries while blocking traffic if necessary. I commend the law enforcement and citizens of Dadeville and Alexander City, Alabama for treating us all with utmost respect.
Other than ride missions, the PGR works together with ride events within their local regions to help raise funds for various causes. In honor of Sgt Michael James Stokely who served with the U.S. Army E Troop 108th Cavalry 48th BCT Georgia Army National Guard and who was KIA 8/16/05 in Yusufiyah, Iraq, riders are coming together with a law enforcement lead in Peachtree City, Georgia, on August 25th. The ride will benefit The Mike Stokely Foundation to establish a scholarship in Mike's name at the Georgia Military College in Milledgeville. Such events are only a hint of PGR contributions to our country's military families. The Patriot Guard Riders website tells much more.
Yes, these women and men from all walks of life are salt of the earth that bless and encourage military families across the country. Often they stand in silent formation for hours in humid heat or freezing cold at visitations, churches, and cemeteries. They pay for their own fuel and hotels if the ride takes them that far from home. When requested and from hearts as great and sincere as any I've ever known, they appear in numbers from few to hundreds to perform a mission as a family wishes. Then, not wanting attention or kudos, like ghost riders, they simply disappear until needed again.
For more information or to join the Patriot Guard Riders go to www.patriotguard.org.