I have been retired a little over a year. During this time, I have experienced many “firsts”. Today, I joined the local Patriot Guard Riders to escort a National Guard unit that is being deployed. I won’t go into details about their location since no one knew where they would end up after their few months of training in the US.
But, about the “first” for me. While in Virginia, a friend had mentioned it to me, but never really got much information. So, I just didn’t really spend a lot of time trying to get in touch with someone.
I move to Alabama. A friend is having a background check and he put me as a reference. The investigator is from a nearby town. He comes over, he asks and I answer all the questions that are required. We start talking about the area, since I am new here, I wanted to know more. He mentioned he rode a Harley, I had to show him my bike in the garage. He asks if I had heard of the Patriot Guard. I tell him yes, but didn’t know a lot about it or how to get involved. His eyes light up and he gets excited telling me about it. He gives me a web site, but says it is best to get in touch directly with the local ride leader.
Now, I don’t like making random calls to people, especially if I don’t know their name. I register on the website and don’t hear anything.
Until Tuesday of this week. The guy sent a note over facebook that he knows several people that are in the unit that is being deployed, including a family member. He asks that if anyone is interested, drop him a note and he would send details. I said I was free and would love to join.
I showed up at the initial meeting place at 8:00am. Gas the bike, meet some new people, and talk with a few friends in the group. KSU (kick stands up) time arrives and we ride in a rather tight formation from the gas station to the National Guard Armory. When we arrive, the lot is already filled with friends and family members of those being deployed. Bit of a scare for me since we had to park the bikes in the grass, and is was a bit softer than I would have liked. (Everything turned out OK, but there was a little apprehension for a minute.) We set up flags and a couple of us took shifts holding the flags at the gates.
When the buses showed up, we moved the bikes to the drive then formed two lines to salute the soldiers as they boarded the buses. The city police were waiting to provide an escort to the county line. We would be met there by the next municipality’s police. As we were to hit the main highway, the state troopers would escort us on to Huntsville and the airport.
We had been told of a couple of options for the route, but didn’t know which one we would finally take. The route was different from those that we had been told about. With police escort, we tried to keep a fairly tight formation. Police led the processional, bikes followed in a staggered formation, with the buses and another police car following in the rear.
I have to admit, I had been tainted by the attitudes by people in other parts of the country. I remember being in another processional with police escort and cars weaving in out out of the formation, turning in front of us, driving around the vehicles set to hold cross traffic, and other basic actions of disrespect. This ride. EVERYONE pulled over, even though in the opposite lanes. As we went through Decatur, a car stopped in left lane coming toward us. the passenger got out, being in military uniform, and saluted the processional. As we approached a busy intersection in Decatur, the police pulled into the intersection and people stopped. They stayed stopped even after the processional started into the intersection and the police moved to the next street. The respect that was shown was awe inspiring, I can’t think of any other way to put it.
We arrived at the airport, went through the departure lanes, then to the private hanger where the charter plane was waiting. We waited a bit for the manifest to be checked to verify ID of those getting on the plane. We lined up and saluted the soldiers again as their buses went to the hanger and their plane.
We learned of another bus on its way, so we waited to give them the same respect as we did to the troops that were from our town.
The group split up for lunch and different routes home. I chose to come home alone, staying off the interstate and riding back roads instead. I spent that time thinking. Thinking about the young soldiers that are leaving home. Some may be for the first time. Some were taking their first airplane ride. I expect few have ever been to the place they are going, maybe some of the senior NCOs and officers, but none of those 19-25 (or even 30) year olds. They all looked like kids. Most were younger than my sons.
I remember my dad leaving to go overseas. I never realized the danger he could have been in. My brother was deployed, though I never told him, I was scared for him and way so afraid something would happen. For the families, I know the pain and fear they have. For the soldiers that are taking this trip, there isn’t enough words to express our thanks for what you are doing. Whether you agree or not, whatever your political leanings, you are doing something to support our country. For that, I know the words may seem too simple… Thank you.
We look forward to escorting your entire group on the buses when you come home.