Why We’re Still Serving, and Riding
You can leave the military, but it never really leaves you.
Occasionally, I venture back out to the air base where I’m greeted by an imposing security guard who looks carefully at my identification card, hands it back and says, “Have a good day, tech sergeant.” Every time I go back onto the base it feels good to be called by my previous rank, but odd to be in civilian clothes, walking among the servicemen and servicewomen going about their duties as I once did, years ago.
The military, for all its flaws, is a comfort zone for anyone who has ever worn the uniform. It’s a place where you know the rules and know they are enforced; a place where everybody is busy but not too busy to take care of business. Because there exists behind the gates of every military facility an institutional understanding of respect, order, uniformity, accountability and dedication that becomes part of your marrow and never, ever leaves you.
Personally, I miss the fact that you always knew where you stood in the military, and who you were dealing with. That’s because you could read somebody’s uniform from 20 feet away and know the score. Service personnel wear their careers on their sleeves, so to speak. When you approach each other, you can read their name tag, examine their rank and, if they are in dress uniform, read their ribbons and know where they’ve served.
I miss all those little things you take for granted when you’re in the ranks, like breaking starch on a set of fatigues fresh from the laundry and standing in a perfectly straight line that looks like a mirror as it stretches to the endless horizon. I miss the sight of troops marching in the early morning mist, the sound of boot heels thumping in unison on the sidewalks, the bark of sergeants and the sing-song answers from the squads as they pass.
To romanticize military service is to be far removed from its reality, because it’s very serious business, especially in times of war. But I miss the salutes I’d throw at officers and the crisp returns as we crisscrossed on the flight line. I miss the smell of jet fuel hanging heavily on the night air and the sound of engines roaring down runways and disappearing into the clouds.
I even miss the hurry-up-and-wait mentality that enlisted men gripe about constantly, a masterful invention that bonded people more than they’ll ever know or admit. I miss people taking off their hats when they enter a building, speaking directly and clearly to others, and never showing disrespect for rank, race, religion or gender.
Mostly, I miss being a small cog in a machine so complex it constantly circumnavigates the Earth and so simple it feeds everyone on time, three times a day, on the ground, in the air or at sea. I don’t know anyone who has served who regrets it, and doesn’t feel a sense of pride when they pass through those gates and re-enter the world they left behind with their youth.
Face it guys (and gals), we all miss it. Whether you had one tour or a career, it shaped your life.
By Ken Burger, The Charleston, SC Post and Courier
“Choose Your Ride” by Artist David Camp
Brian Green, the individual who modeled for this work, is a TSgt with the USAFR 419 Fighter Wing at Hill AFB in Utah. In this scene, he sits upon his 04 Road King custom in front of an F-16 fighter aircraft that he supports. The title for this piece reflects the idea that Brian would never turn down the chance to fly in the F-16, but he prefers riding his bike through the mountains of the southwest more than anything else.
He’s a dedicated airman who has served his country well. At his first assignment, he was involved in the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Dahran, Saudia Arabia. He was awarded the commendation for valor medal when he saved the life of another severely wounded airman. As a result of the bombing, Brian himself was wounded and refused medical treatment.
Later, he served in Bahrain, Saudia Arabia, Prince Sultan Air Base and Kuwait Al-Jabbar in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001.
Some rides he’s embarked on include, Salt Lake City, Utah to Las Vegas, San Francisco, Texas and twice to Sturgis. His dedication to his country, as well as to his hog, is exemplary.
Brian is like many veterans that enjoy riding, many of whom have found that the American Legion Riders gives them a place to continue serving, and riding.
The Challenge Coin
Since World War I, members of the U.S. military have traditionally carried a special coin symbolizing unit identity and esprit de corps. With bonds forged in battle thousands of miles from home, these custom coins minted for military units – each bearing their own revered symbols and mottos – capture in metal the essence of their affiliation and fierce pride. Known to generations of American military personnel as challenge coins, they are a vital part of military life today and are revered by troops in every branch of service.
Today, challenge coins are also proudly collected and displayed by veterans, including those minted and carried by the American Legion Riders. These colorful coins identify the bearer as a member of the Riders, the Legion, and as a veteran. Wherever the Riders gather, one will display a coin, thereby challenging other Riders to display their coins. Those who are unable to respond with a coin must pay a penalty; if those challenged are in possession of a proper coin, the challenger pays the penalty instead.
Rides, Runs, Rallys, and ExposSince the invention of powered, two-wheeled transportation, motorcyclists have enjoyed riding together in order to share with one another the special freedom and enjoyment of riding along the open road.
The members of the American Legion Riders are no different except that as veterans, they also share experience protecting such freedoms. As motorcycles have grown in popularity riders, including the ALR, have developed and organized events so that larger numbers of riders could safely enjoy riding together.
One such event, commonly known as a “run”, has proven to be a favorite of the motorcycle community. Although many people are not familiar with the term, they have likely seen a “run” – a long procession of motorcycles traveling two-abreast on the highway. “Runs” generally have a special theme or purpose, and are most often used as fundraisers for various charities. Chapter 14 has adopted the Legion’s Mountaineer Boys and Girls State and the Marine Corps’ Toys for Tots, among others, and uses “runs” to support them. Another, the American Legion’s Legacy Run has generated millions of dollars for the Legacy Fund, which pays college expenses for the children of U.S. servicemembers killed on active duty on or after Sept. 11, 2001.
Large rider meetings called rallys are well known, large events of several days duration that draw riders from long distances. Riders also enjoy small, casual gatherings to share information and stories with other riders. In addition to our post, a casual gathering place utilized by the riders of the chapter is called the “Cone Zone”, a place where ice cream cones, malts, and sundaes, mixed with a few picnic tables on a warm summer evening, spark conversations about motorcycling hardware and experiences.
Most of us are familiar with motor escorts used to facilitate the movement of VIPs, such as the President and other dignitaries. In the case of the American Legion Riders, such escorts are used as a display of respect, honor, and appreciation for sacrifice.
Frequently as an adjunct to an American Legion honor guard, the American Legion Riders provide motor escort as a tribute to a fallen servicemember, escorting him home, and/or to his final resting place. The Riders also provide funeral escort to ensure that the sanctity of a servicemember’s funeral is not disturbed by those who would intrude, demonstrate, and dishonor their memory.
Motor escorts are also provided for wounded warriors, such as those participating in the Ride 2 Recovery program, as well as military units leaving for overseas combat tours, or returning from them.