Perception is a strange thing. I have always been amazed at how two individuals can look at the same thing and both see something entirely different. The Patriot Guard Riders group is a fine example. This group was brought to my attention through various posts on the motorcycle forums I visit at www.delphiforums.com. Discussions and recruitment efforts were everywhere, so I had to take a look at the group’s website for myself. Before visiting their website I had assumed, with the help of some of the posts I had read, their primary purpose was to ensure the “flakes” of the world did not pollute sacred ceremonies for our nation’s fallen heroes. I was wrong. The misperception is this: The Patriot Guard Riders were not formed to be an adversary toward anyone. The amazing fact that is falling through the cracks everywhere is the group’s main objective, which is printed clearly in their mission statement. The main objective and focus are to “show our sincere respect for our fallen heroes, their families and their communities.”
Their mission is an honorable one, and to see them as anything more than patriots does them a huge disservice. I am as guilty as anyone of assumption. While the Patriot Guard Riders do provide fallen soldiers’ families and friends with a buffer from any type of protesters at funeral services, they do this at the request of the family. They are not some kind of vigilante group out to do battle with misguided religious zealots. The group attends services as invited guests of mourning families. They first make the effort to contact the family of a fallen soldier, and at the family’s invitation, they attend and serve as “buffers” between the family and disrespectful protesters. They show class and respect to the soldier, his or her family, and their community. I believe their efforts are to show the very best of what this nation is all about.
While many people, including myself, question the use of our military today, one thing has never changed in my mind. The soldiers of our nation are doing their jobs wherever and whenever they are deployed and deserve nothing less than our heartfelt respect, love and admiration. We take for granted the freedoms their sacrifices provide us on a daily basis, but I beg you, NEVER take them for granted. In my mind the Patriot Guard Riders do you and me a service as well. They attend the funerals of our soldiers as representatives of the majority of my family and friends as well as yours, representatives of a grateful nation.
I sincerely request that each and every one of my readers visit www.patriotguard.org and if it is in your heart, join this fine group. If you cannot join but agree with their mission, please pass their message on to others. I want to thank Jeff 'Twister' Brown, National Director of the Patriot Guard Riders, for his time and for sharing information with me for this article.
Jeff also took time out of his busy schedule for the following interview:
CC: What has public opinion been for the Patriot Guard Riders?
Jeff: The public opinion has been overwhelmingly favorable. About the only negative public opinion that I am aware of has come from a protestor. It never ceases to amaze me when we go into some of these towns, especially the small towns, and we have a mission ride. The citizens of the town, they will cross the road and stop and shake our hands and thank us for coming and the response from the family just breaks your heart.
CC: How many active members does the Patriot Guard have?
Jeff: I can tell you exactly how many individual members we have, but bear in mind that we have groups like the American Legion Riders and VFW Riders, Combat Vet Riders, Christian Motorcycle Association and ABATE and all of them ride with us on mission rides. If you exclude those individual members, we have 2020 across the country.
CC: I have seen messages in reference to your group on several forums. How is that affecting your recruiting efforts?
Jeff: On an average, we will receive between 75 and 80 new members a day and that has been pretty consistent since I would say about five days after we started.
CC: How are you treated by local law enforcement?
Jeff: One of the first calls we are going to make once we find out about a death is we are going to call local law enforcement, and sometimes their initial reaction can be negative, but it just takes a minute of explaining who we are if they are not familiar with us. If they are familiar with us it is positive, but if they’re not familiar with the Patriot Guard Riders, then occasionally you will run into an initial attitude of “biker gangs” and “coming into our town,” and we’ve got protesters there, it’s going to be a melee,” that kind of thing. But once we explain who we are and that our mission is totally to honor a fallen soldier, then they understand and when the topic of protesters comes up, our attitude is very honestly we are there for a much more noble cause than any protester, and we will ignore the protesters, we will turn our backs to them, we don’t have any conversation with them, and we work very, very closely with law enforcement doing exactly what they want us to do. In fact, I have a letter on our website from the chief of police from Inola, Oklahoma where we had a mission ride for Travis Grigg and Chief Brad Craig thanked us for making his job easier. So, we’ve had a very good relationship with law enforcement, all branches. You’ll have state troopers, you’ll have sheriffs from the local police, and invariably they will walk through the line of bikers and shake our hands and thank us for coming.
CC: Have you had any negative response from families of those you come to honor?
Jeff: No, you have to understand that before we ever establish a mission ride we will make contact with the family and what their wishes are. If they want a private ceremony and do not want us to come, we don’t come, so anytime we set up a mission ride, we are going as invited guests of the family.
CC: How do you decide where to stage a mission?
Jeff: We have emails from the Department of Defense, KIAs (killed in action) and every single one of them is examined and put out on what we call a watch list. We have a state captain and ride captains in every state, and part of their responsibility is to keep an eye on this watch list. If a KIA is posted in their state, then it is their responsibility to contact the local law enforcement, church, funeral home, and the family will be the last. But normally what happens is the family will designate a spokesperson to handle this kind of thing, so our calls are to the police, the funeral home and the churches to get the information on how to get a hold of the family contact. Every single KIA is set up on the watch list, and the only reason that a ride would not come from that is if we just absolutely hit a brick wall trying to get a family contact. Or, of the family has requested a private ceremony. We had one mission where we had one sole rider, but that is the rare exception.
CC: Tell us about your first mission?
Jeff: You talk about dramatic! There are pictures of it on our website. I believe it was in Greeley, Colorado, and in fact a local TV station did an interview, and we hadn’t been in existence but maybe two days and this one rider rode up there and parked his bike in front of the protesters and I’ll tell you what, I’ll give him credit, he literally sat there very stoically and make his presence known.
CC: This must be hard for you to put into words, but how do you feel after you have been on a mission?
Jeff: There are a lot of different feelings. A lot of it depends on whether or not you’ve had any contact with the family. There is a certain amount of pride in knowing that you have done something well and something deserving and something that needed to be done. There is of course, a great deal of sadness over the loss of a young person. And when you do deal directly with the family, it just breaks your heart. I will never forget a mission ride in South Haven, Kansas, a little bitty town. The family had put the word out that any of the riders would be welcomed at the local Methodist Church to have a bite to eat after the services, and I left early in the morning from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma to get to South Haven, Kansas and hadn’t eaten, so after the service, I stopped by the church, and I purposely went immediately after the interim, and I grabbed a bowl of soup and right as I was walking out the door, in walked the mother carrying the flag clutched to her chest, and she turned the corner right as I was going out, and she looked at me and threw her arms around me and just wept and said thank you for coming, and I mean that was a long ride back to Oklahoma.
CC: I have one last question for you. I’ve been hearing this from a lot of our readers and a lot of friends who I have talked to through the forums. What can the average person who is not a rider do to help your organization? Is there anything at all they can do to help you?
Jeff: Absolutely. It is not a requirement that you be a rider to join the Patriot Guard Riders. A non-rider can be just as effective. When you are talking about some of these northern states in the middle of winter when you have two feet of snow and its 30 degrees below, we’re not riding motorcycles. We get in the car and drive. So, for someone who doesn’t ride, if they feel the same way we do and share our mission statement that our main objective is to honor a fallen shoulder. Period. It is not to be a counter protestor; it is not to be a protestor. We are neither of those. We are there to honor a soldier, his family and community. If they share that feeling, join up, get in their car, and meet us at the staging area.
CC: I sincerely request that each and every one of our readers visit www.patriotguard.org and if it is in your heart, join this fine group. If you cannot join but agree with their mission, please pass their message on to others. I want to thank Jeff “Twister” Brown, National Director of the Patriot Guard Riders, for his time-sharing information with me for this article as well as the interview also in this issue.
Article and Interview by Loney and