When soldiers return home, Patriot Guard gives them a ride
Most of the time, servicemen and women surprised
KINGMAN - When a local serviceman or woman heads off to war or returns home, dozens of riders take to their bikes to make sure they get a hero's reception.
It's a national idea that began in 2005 and has spread to Mohave County, where dozens participate in the Patriot Guard rides for local heroes.
"Ninety-eight percent of the time it's a surprise," said Mohave County road captain Loren Larson, as he described the commotion created as the motorcycles serve as a convoy to take the service member to lunch or dinner.
"People pull to the side of the road to let us pass even when we don't have a police escort."
The local chapter of the Patriot Guard Riders doesn't have the capacity to raise its own funds, instead relying on donations.
On Jan. 15, Larson accepted a $200 donation from the KOTP non-profit group, which raised the money through fundraisers such as a pancake breakfast and a holiday gift-wrapping program.
"This is what we were built to do," said Daniel Swaine, who started the KOTP non-profit as an off-shoot of the Knights of the Patriot Motorcycle Club.
The Patriot Guard Riders was created by motorcyclists from chapter 136 of the American Legion in Kansas in response to the military funeral protests being staged by Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church.
The riders served as a funeral escort for the families of fallen soldiers, Larson said, lining up their bikes at the actual ceremony with their exhaust pipes pointed at the protestors to serve as a buffer.
The Patriot Guard Riders mission has grown to include providing send-offs and homecomings for soldiers.
The group boasts a nationwide membership of more than 175,000, with more than 200 members here in Mohave County.
Those who participate in the rides do not have to belong to a club or own a motorcycle, with many joining the convoy by car.
The rides are only done at the request of the family.
Larson said the local Patriot Guard Riders average about one ride a month for those either being sent off or returning from war.
Larson said he will use part of the donation from KOTP to buy flags. Service members are presented at the rides with a flag of their military branch that is signed by everyone who participated in the send-off.
"We wouldn't be able to do this without support like this from the community," Larson said.