Arizona Nation of Patriots fire up cycles for veterans tour

The Arizona Nation of Patriots makes its way through downtown Flagstaff during a past Patriot Tour ride for military veterans.

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The Arizona Nation of Patriots makes its way through downtown Flagstaff during a past Patriot Tour ride for military veterans.

KINGMAN – The Arizona Nation of Patriots will start their portion of the annual Patriot Tour in Kingman on July 7 in an effort to raise funds for military veterans and their families, said Rick Bitzer, chairman of the volunteer organization in Flagstaff.

Nation of Patriots gained a huge following after forming in 2008 and launching their Patriot Tour the next year, carrying the U.S. flag through 48 states.

The 2018 Patriot Tour kicks off in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, on May 19, with riders escorting the flag from one destination to the next for 100 days, culminating back in Wisconsin.

About 100 riders are expected to converge on Kingman for a celebration, flag exchange and lunch at the Elks Lodge. The tour proceeds to Williams, Payson, Flagstaff and Twin Arrows Casino to Gallup, New Mexico, where the Arizona Patriots will pass the flag.

All of the money raised in Arizona goes to veterans in the state who meet the organization’s criteria, Bitzer said.

“I ride in memory of my father who was an original Seabee and served four years in the South Pacific in World War II,” he said during a visit to the Daily Miner to promote the tour. “My father was just one of the many quiet unsung heroes of World War II. And they truly were the ‘Greatest Generation’ in my opinion.”

Dan Smith, regional commander of Arizona Nation of Patriots who accompanied Bitzer on his Kingman trip, served in Vietnam and said he hated coming back to people calling him names for wearing the uniform.

“Dan and I, along with some our team members, travel all over Arizona year-round speaking about the challenges our wounded veterans face and why it is so important to recognize their sacrifice,” Bitzer said.

“For many of us, this is not just the tour, but a topic that we are passionate about because we have seen the damage and the lack of funding to help get through the emotional and family crisis a wounded veteran faces.”

Bitzer said he also rides for friends like Steve Sunda, who served during the Cold War and never saw action in a full-blown war, but watched the Berlin Wall come down.

Ted Martello served a number of tours in the Middle East and has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, which he manages every day and works to help other veterans in the same boat.

Bill Sherer did not serve in the military, but founded Nation of Patriots when he saw his friends coming back from active duty and struggling with day-to-day life and personal issues.

“If we can minimize the suffering and challenges of these people who give so much, then it is truly worth it,” Bitzer said. “After you meet some of these vets, your drive to help gets stronger and stronger because they are people who put it on the line for (our) freedom.”