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Day 7: Stars

On a dark night far from the light pollution of cities, one can see a sky filled with an uncountable number of stars. These stars are beautiful to behold yet the light we see is not reality. It is from a past that influences our present. My day was about a different kind of star, the Gold Star of a family who has lost a loved one in battle. That past also influences the present as each Gold Star family will always remember their loss, and so shall we. We ride for those who can’t. We remember our Gold Star families.

The day was filled with ceremony and generosity spread across three communities. I’ll speak to those events to a degree but what I want to communicate to you today is the purpose of our Outreach Team, who I’ve taken to calling the “Green Sleeves”. The team wears the color green as it is representative of “hope”. The Green Sleeves ride out ahead of the pack with the charter to visit Gold Star families who live along our route. Their mission is vitally important and often emotional. The team, when possible, visits two families at one time. This is to build a connection between them so the families can support each other after the team has gone. When the team visits the family they do a couple of things. They present the family with a letter from the Run For The Wall, which states the following:

On behalf of the Run For The Wall riders, we would like to express sincere condolences for your loss and appreciation for your loved one’s service to their country. Lost but not forgotten. We consider it a great privilege to ride across our nation in support of all veterans and their families. Many of our riders are not veterans but choose to ride to show their patriotism and support those who have served and are now serving our country.

The Outreach Team also takes the time to listen to the Gold Star Family’s story, and they leave them with several mementos including a special RFTW Outreach pin, a Gold Star Family pin, a unique Hope bracelet made by an RFTW supporter a ride pin, and this year also a PGR Pin as the current leader is a PGR State Captain. While today’s ride with the Outreach Team had no visits, they can sometimes be very busy. Even though we had no family visits, the ride had me thinking about the immense sacrifice each Gold Star Family has unwillingly made for our nation. It is a feeling those who haven’t walked in their shoes cannot understand so we do the one thing we can.. we honor them, respect, them, listen to them, and ride for their loved ones.  Upon my arrival in Corydon, the lessons of my afternoon with the Green Sleeves were immediately tested as I encountered two Gold Star moms at the fairgrounds dinning area. The lessons of the afternoon caused me to not just notice them and be silent, they prompted me to acknowledge each mom with gratitude and honor. I’ve used the words “me”, and “I”, a lot in those last few sentences but the lesson and why we ride isn’t about me. It is about the Gold Star families we ride for, and their loved ones who cannot ride.

Our morning started in Wentzville Missouri, where the pack attended a brief ceremony at the first Vietnam Memorial in the US, which was followed by the dedication of a new mural placed on a nearby building. The Fire Department Color Guard presented the Colors and the Wentzville Holt High School band played the National Anthem. I spoke to the band director who said they have been coming out to play at this event since at least the year 2000 and maybe longer. He pinpointed the year 2000 because that is when he first started coming to the ceremony himself when he was eight years old!

We departed Wentzville for Mount Vernon where we were received by an overflight of a medivac helicopter, a throng of children holding flags, and a town that turned out en masse to welcome us home. At our gas stop, children with backpacks filled with water and bags filled with lollipops walked among our bikes offering us quick refreshment. We were doing what we call a “gas and go”. We were at the gas station and staging area just long enough for every bike to fill up. Thus we were tethered to our bikes knowing the pack would leave at any moment. Thank you for coming to us to bring us water and a wee bit of sugar. After the gas and go the fire department escorted us to the local airport where we were fed an abundance of fried chicken as students passed among us carrying water, soda, and even refills of some of the side dishes. The service was amazing.  I asked one adult volunteer if she could pinpoint the number of volunteers they had helping host us. She put the number as “exceeding 200”. Wow! That is a huge turnout. Thank you so much for investing in us as we fulfill our mission. After the meal, there was a brief ceremony and a large sendoff featuring a Huey helicopter flying a massive flag.

With full bellies and full hearts, the riders departed for Corydon Indiana knowing dinner would be fried catfish. Corydon never disappoints with amazing hospitality and fried catfish that is worth waiting for in a line of riders of any length. I understand the volunteers who provided the meal arrived at 10:00 am that morning to make it a reality. Thank you for a long day of service. On a personal note, my wife and son registered here as FNG’s!

I’m going to leave you with one last item. It is a story somewhat related to the Outreach Team (Green Sleeves, if I say it enough, maybe it will stick) and their mission to recognize Gold Star families. The story comes to us from Dan Koster, who was the SitRep Writer my FNG year. The Green Sleeves conducted a special presentation during our ride to Williams to the family of Trenton Rhea and Dan Koster met with Travis Rhea, Trenton’s brother the evening of the first day of the Run. Dan sent this to me via text message about the experience: WHAT AN INCREDIBLE YOUNG MAN!  [Kay and I] met with Tavis Rhea. Travis’s twin brother Trenton was KIA in Afghanistan in 2013. We have become good friends with Trenton and Travis’s father Marshall Rhae from Oakley KS. Marshall called me about a month ago to tell me Travis lives close to Williams, AZ.  We made arrangements to meet him at the American Legion, which always serves the RFTW riders an incredible barbeque dinner. After meeting with Travis for more than two hours we came away with not only a real understanding of what a hero his twin brother Trenton was but what an incredible young man Travis is. Travis told us that Trenton wanted to be a soldier from the time they were five years old. We came away with deep gratitude for their family values and great love of the United States of America.

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Day 6: Flag Day

Today was another great day on the RFTW. We rode in front of a storm the entire day, keeping dry and out of harm’s way. This is but one of the many miracles that happen on the Run. I’ll tell you of a couple more that have happened in the days to come.

I rode out with our Ambassador Team to visit folks on overpasses supporting our riders. It was a new perspective for me to see how these great men and women become the face of the RFTW by greeting and acknowledging the time and effort so many people put into setting up flags and banners, then waiting for us to pass by. They sometimes spend an hour or more in miserable weather all for a few minutes of supporting us. What those supporters may not realize is that what they do gives us more drive and commitment to complete the mission. Ambassador’s range out about 30 minutes ahead of the main pack. When they see a bridge lined with supporters they “drop off” a couple of their team to the bridge to thank the supporters and hand them ride pins. Sonia, one of the Ambassador team leads told me that one of the people she spoke to earlier on this Run was so grateful that she stopped. He had been coming out to cheer on our riders for more than a decade and in that period not one person had stoped. This is also why we ride. We acknowledge those who sacrifice to support us, just as our servicemen and women sacrificed to make it possible.

For lunch we went into Concordia, MO where Lori Wilson and her team welcomed us with open arms. Lunch was, as always amazing. As we enjoyed our food, kids from the community gave us care packages. Each package contained a button made by the children along with a preaddressed envelope for us to use upon our return home. Their hope is to receive a number of these envelopes stuffed with details about the riders, their RFTW experience, and where they are from. The older kids organized groups to clean up the park where we met, volunteered to move tables and helped with clean up as well. After acknowledgements of those who contributed to make lunch a reality, one of the most amazing moments of the day occurred. Lori invited everyone to join in singing the Star Spangled Banner. Wow, so many voices, so many patriots putting their heart into our National Anthem.

Our final stop was in Wentzville, the home of the first Vietnam Memorial in the US. The massive US Flag that we ride under is astounding and brings me to tears every time I see it. The local service organizations put on a fantastic ceremony where we honor both riders and local heroes such as Lance Corporal Schmitz, who was lost in a suicide bombing in Afghanistan during the abrupt withdrawal in August of 2021. Dinner was steak and potatoes with all the trimmings. Thank you, Wentzville for another great visit.

Special thanks to Mama G for helping with today’s SitRep. I was absent for the stop in Concordia.

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Day 5: Generations

Today was the longest day so far for the Central Route. Breakfast and Raffle Rousing started early at 5:30am and dinner hosted at the Eagles in Junction City, Kansas didn’t get rolling until about 7:30pm. Your riders and this SitRep Writer are tired and dreams of tomorrow and memories of today are fighting for the attention of minds that long for sleep.

I’ve entitled this post Generations not out of any real creative means for a writing prompt but to rather simply speak to the number of families with whom I’m traveling and one amazing family with whom several of us riders became enamored during our lunch stop in Oakley. My family is represented by three generations fulfilling the RFTW mission and several other families have grandparents traveling with grandchildren or siblings traveling with their kids (aunts, uncles, and nieces). Still more families will grow in representation as we move East. The Gilman’s come to mind. They ride as a family for Frederick Gilman, KIA 16 March, 1970. But the family who stirred my mind to thinking about the flesh and bone families on the run is the Kuhlman family.

The Kuhlman family live on the street opposite Memorial Park where the great town of Oakley hosted us for lunch with the help of several service organizations. It was my lucky day as it was my bike that blocked their driveway making the Kuhlman’s walk part of the way home from church. After dismounting my bike, I struck up a conversation and discovered that three Veterans reside there and four generations of family were there to greet us. One of those veterans was 97 year-old Mildred Kuhlman, a WWII Nurse. I’m told she rarely comes outside, and she wasn’t when we arrived. But, with a bit of coaxing her son was able to bring her out to meet many of us right there in her driveway. Mildred has a twinkle in her eye that not only draws you in but also communicates that she knows full well what our mission is about. I didn’t ask her about her service for we know that The Greatest Generation sacrificed much and at 97 she deserves to be free from reliving those horrors. It was an honor to sit next to Mildred and speak for a few minutes. She allowed a few of us to give her a hug and we pressed ride coins into several of the families hands. I’m grateful for the generations of Kuhlman’s and families like them across our great nation that are sewing seeds that mature into generations of patriots.

Pictured from the Kuhlman family are Mildred Kuhlman, Ron Kuhlman, Raye Kuhlman (both Ron and Ray are Veterans), Braxton, Becky, and Bowen Stramel, grand children to Ron and Raye and great-grandchildren to Mildred. Not pictured was Ron and Raye’s daughter who’s name I didn’t capture.  Rounding out the photo are a father son duo who are completing the run and myself.

One of the things I love the most about the Run For The Wall is that we really do think of each other as family. That family is comprised of brothers and sisters with a common history of military service or deep respect and support of veterans. While completing the mission together our hearts are knit together and our family grows beyond the traditional nuclear family with whom we came to the run. By giving of ourselves to join in something that is much bigger than anything we could achieve or become on our own, we become part of the current generation of the Run For The Wall who will shepherd it for generations to come.

None of this could be possible without the support of hundreds of people who donate fuel, feed us, and support the mission. Today we started in Limon Colorado and finished our day in Junction City Kansas. As mentioned above we stopped in Oakley Kansas for lunch. Volunteers in Limon were up at 3:30am to prepare us a biscuits and gravy breakfast. In Oakley we were given bbq beef sandwiches, and in Junction City, we were served Chicken Fried Steak. Thank you to everyone who prepared and served food or set up chairs, or did any number of other supporting tasks to make it possible for us to continue the mission.

When thinking of generations, we always remember those who’ve gone before us. Today, the RFTW visited three memorials. In Oakley we lunched in Memorial Park, which was recently renamed from Clark Park. While there, a new installation to the park’s memorials was unveiled. Braden Gormley took a bit more than a year to design the new memorial and then poured one month of labor into its creation. A subset of the Central Route did a breakout (left the main pack for a side destination) to a memorial in Wakeeney where they found a peaceful, serene, memorial to the five branches of service. And, in Junction City the entirety of the Central Route visited the Kansas Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Heritage Park where a ceremony was held, which honored the RFTW as well as many who were in attendance.

We speak to the new generation (FNG’s) joining the run about the countless supporters that line overpasses to spur us on as we cross the country. Today there were too many overpasses with patriots waving to count. People with banners, flags, and signs all showing their support for the riders and our nation. And as a fitting closing chapter to the day long support of people at gas stations, people on over passes, and people on the city streets across which we traveled is the 300 or more people lining the street with US flags as we approach and enter Heritage Park. There is nothing quite like it. It leaves my throat lumpy, my eyes watery, and my skin goose bumpy even remembering it. Thank you to all who have welcomed home the generations of our RFTW family.

Not to be missed today was that every one of our gas stops was donated. Amazing. Thank you so much. Also, very much worth noting is that we paraded through Russell Kansas in honor of the late Bob Dole, US Senator, Presidential Candidate, and US Army Captain who served during WWII until he was severely wounded.

Pictured in the gallery below are the memorials in Wakeeney and Junction City as well as various photos taken throughout the day.

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Day 4: Snow Day!!

When we were children I think we all pretty much looked forward to snow days. I remember one from somewhere around my kindergarten or first grade year. Frankly, I remember very little from that period of my life. We had nap time at school on mats printed to look like dollar bills, making mud pies under a tree, turning too tightly on a bicycle causing a handlebar to go into my eye cutting the inside of my eyelid, and an epic snow day! I was pretty short, so it may not have been that epic, but for me it was awesome. The snow that fell that year in Lancaster California was deep enough that my dad made pathways through the snow that resulted in the snow on either side of the pathways being higher than my head. It was so cool!

Thankfully, the snow that caused our route to detour to a more direct route from Raton, NM to Limon, CO wasn’t higher than that young boy’s head, at least not by the time we hit the road. This morning was amazing. Our plan was to receive donated gas between 8:10 and 8:40 then have our rider check in and briefings with departure around 10:00 AM to a lunch provided to us in Pueblo, CO. None of that happened. The entire region was hit with what I think was an unusual May snowstorm. A friend of mine who lives twenty minutes outside of Pueblo related that power had been out for five hours and that they had a good amount of snow on the ground. At my hotel check-in tonight in Limon, CO the kind woman at the front desk indicated they had 15 inches at her home.

Our leadership and those that support them rallied in a phenomenal way. Fred, an FNG, spoke with me about it to me at dinner tonight. I’m not going to quote him because my memory isn’t that of the young boy earlier described, but this was his sentiment. You know a leadership group is performing really well when you can only see the positive results of their efforts, not the efforts themselves.

Riders, drank coffee, prepared their bikes, donned rain gear, and swapped stories to pass the time until the revised staging time of 11:00 AM. I was surprised not to see spontaneous games of Hearts or Spades from our mostly Veteran cohort but that didn’t materialize. To pass the time, I found Sage Coffee, a local coffee shop where I enjoyed a hot mocha and chatted a bit with the really nice people there. In my short time at the unexpected overnight stop in Raton, I came to realize that the town has a lot of heart. Thank you Raton for welcoming the Run For The Wall as we adapted to both fire and snow.

After a unique morning briefing held alongside a Raton Fire Truck while using it’s speaker as a PA system, the pack set off to La Junta for a very unique fueling experience. I can’t state this with certainty but I suspect this fueling station was the smallest the Run has utilized in a time period that is likely measured in decades. The Loves Travel Stop in La Junta with a bit of spill over into the Pizza Hut next door, hosted us for fuel and staging. From there the second leg saw the Central Route arrive in Limon. It was a short ride of about four hours with just one stop.

Dinner in Limon was provided by the Chamber of Commerce and hosted in the gym of Limon High School. The kind smiles and warm food was just the perfect remedy for our cold and shivering riders. Temperatures were in the 40’s for the entire ride. According to the weather.gov website, at a temperature of 45 degrees and having wind at 60mph, the wind chill feels like 31.9 degrees on your skin. Brrrrr!  Besides dinner, the Chamber gave us t-shirts emblazoned with the RFTW logo, the “We ride for those who can’t” mission tag line, and Limon Colorado 2022. It is a great souvenier from a town that clearly loves to host us.

During our dinner, where the tables were covered with red, white, and blue tablecloth’s (my wife would be proud that I noticed) Charlie, from the Chamber of Commerce introduced a hero from WWII. Ninety seven year old Don Morrison is a local businessman who flew 17 missions over Nazi occupied territory. The entirety of the room gave Don a well deserved standing ovation. Every Veteran deserves honor and respect, but there is a reason we call our WWII heroes “the greatest generation”. Countless men volunteered to go to war on a global scale to preserve freedom for millions. Thank you Don for answering the call.

After quickly fueling in La Junta, I rode ahead of the pack to Limon where I had the fortune to meet a small group of Patriot Guard Riders. These amazing people drove from Colorado Springs to Limon to complete their mission! Our route change caused their mission of greeting us  in Fountain (not terribly far from Colorado Springs) to cancel so they issued themselves their own FRAG Order and came out to Limon. We had a great time talking with these amazing patriots as we awaited the arrival of the pack.

Today was everything I expect from the Run For The Wall. We had opportunity to honor the Veterans riding among us and to also honor the veterans and families who host us. RFTW leadership excelled at what they do so well, safely hosting a parade across the country for those who never received the one they were due, and while we weren’t focusing on proper distancing from the bike in front of us, we saw some amazingly beautiful skies and countryside dotted by quaint patriotic towns and cities. A biker couldn’t ask for a better day in the saddle.

There is one more thing I’d like to add to close out this SitRep. Each morning we are holding a drawing in which only our veterans may participate. The wife of  Ron Seldon, a Vietnam Veteran who has spent many years taking his vacation time to go to Vietnam in search of the remains of missing soldiers was donated $2400 by the Run For The Wall. Ron passed away executing the mission of the RFTW some years back. Ron’s wife  wouldn’t accept the money. Instead, she asked that it be given to riders to defray their lodging expenses as they complete the RFTW mission. So, each morning we are holding a drawing that awards a Veteran riding with us some of the money that Don Seldon’s wife so graciously sewed back into the RFTW.

Pack arrival in Limon

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Day 3: Semper Gumby

I’d like to start today’s SitRep with an inside tip. Do not ever accept a bag of XXTRA Flamin’ Hot Crunchy Cheetos from the Hydration Team. I was handed an 8oz bag of this demon snack at our first stop and just had my first taste. I’m thinking they may be better used as ice melt come tomorrow than eaten tonight. The forecast is showing a mix of rain and snow tomorrow morning in Raton, where we are spending the night, and snow starting at 1:00am through 11:00am in our lunch city of Pueblo. Maybe if we seed the snow clouds with XXTRA Flamin’ Hot Crunchy Cheetos we can warm things up a bit.

This morning started in Gallup as normal with the Staging Team and the Road Guards arriving in the still dark morning to prepare for the arrival of the riders. Everything was going as planned until a wrench fell into the cog of the well-tuned RFTW machine. Wrenches have a way of doing that but no dropped wrench is going to deter us from our mission. As always, Leadership remained flexible and solved the issue but it preempted much of our Raffle Rouser’s time to complete auctions and to raise money for Rainelle. I’m sure he too will adjust to achieve his goals.

The biggest show of flexibility to meet and resolve a problem, came in response to a wildfire. Day three of the Central Route is usually spent traveling to one of our most favorite locations, the Angel Fire Vietnam Veterans Memorial State Park. Unfortunately New Mexico has been battling fires since April. With fires in proximity to Angel Fire and Eagle Nest, taking the Central Route’s riders through that area became impossible causing Central Route Leadership to quickly make alternative plans. Ok, new plan… divert riders around the areas impacted by wildfires, now how and where do we feed them, bunk them down for the night, and where do we fill up several hundred bikes with gas? The NM State Coordinator stepped up to the challenge. Our day went brilliantly yet still had some “Gumby” required. We travelled to our first gas stop where we were met by a contingent of motorcycle LEO’s who lead us through Albuquerque by shutting down traffic on the interstate to both expedite our passage through town and to ensure our safety. Even the incredibly precise and coordinated movements of the LEO’s didn’t go quite up to plan when we followed them down an off ramp instead of continuing on the freeway when they’d completed their escort. I was impressed with how they reacted in an instant to block traffic at the off ramp’s intersection allowing us unimpeded access up the opposite on ramp to quickly get back on our way.

Lunch was provided by the Black Mesa Casino. On short notice they pulled together sandwiches, chips, and drinks then served it to us at tables set up in a theatre. Similarly, on short notice, an amazing BBQ dinner of elk burgers, elk brats, and beef burgers awaited our arrival at the Raton Aquatic Center. There, a number of volunteers manned the grill and kitchen to feed us some really fantastic food. Neither Raton nor Black Mesa expected to support us just a short while ago, but flexed last minute to so today. Thank you!

I spent the afternoon traveling with the Staging Team. This team is responsible for making sense of the mayhem that is several hundred motorcycles trying to find parking in such a way that they can hit the road safely organized. Every day, several times a day, the Staging Team helps riders find their platoons and helps them park aligned in a manner  that facilitates a group departure to the next stop. No parking lot is the same so how they fit us all into the space they have available is never the same. Add to this layout and traffic management problem, the need to stage bikes in places the Run has never visited and you have a major need to be flexible. A huge shout out to the Staging Team and its leadership on flawlessly executing your mission. At one of our stops I saw the Staging Team leader get the lay of the land and start writing platoon numbers on the pavement with chalk all within about 60 seconds of arrival at a location he’d never been to. Steve would say that their success lies with the team who steps up every time. I do agree but only partially. The team cannot execute if they do not have and understand the plan and that plan comes from Steve. Here’s a tip of the cap, which somehow stayed atop my head in today’s wind, to you all. Click this image this link to see a short clip of staging in action.

Speaking of wind… If any of you are armchair meteorologists, I’d like to know how the wind could be blowing from the South to the North as we were headed East then be blowing as equally hard from East to West when we were headed North. The wind was relentless. I spoke with one rider who said his right shoulder was sore from pushing  his bike into the wind to keep it upright. Wind and desert do not mix well with motorcycles. Several tumble weeds met their fate upon the crash guards of my motorcycle. We rode through a dust storm, through tumble weeds all the while riding straight but constantly pushing down on our handle bars as if to turn right.

Why did we “turn right” all day into the wind? Why do we do what we do and why do supporters spring into action at the last minute to provide us with a meal? It is because of our mission. One person who knew that mission well was Rupert “Preacher” Harrell. I didn’t know Preacher personally, but I’ve been prayed for by him while on the Run. Rupert was to be our Senior Chaplain this year. Instead, he was honored as the Missing Man all day today. I heard this story about him this morning.  Rupert once saved a man twice. The first was when he pulled that man, pinned down into a helicopter while serving in Vietnam. The second was when he lead that same man to Jesus Christ. I can think of no better legacy to be said about a man.

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Day 2: Honor

I don’t think I’m going to find the most appropriate words to describe today’s events to you, but I’m going to give it my best. The morning started in Williams Arizona on historic Route 66 where breakfast and snacks for the road were provided by very generous supporters of the RFTW. The effort it takes to procure, prepare, and serve what is so graciously given to the riders is significant. Thank you for honoring us with your sacrifice of service and resources.

One of the routine events in a rider’s day is the morning meeting. Every morning we kick things off with raffles, 50-50 drawings, military branch challenge donation collections, and auctions. Each of these are fundraisers that culminate in a donation to the Rainelle Elementary School on our 9th day of the Run.  I’ll write more about Rainelle in a future SitRep. Following the fundraising, we pledge allegiance  to the US Flag, the lead Chaplain prays for the day ahead, then we honor Gold Star families, Silver Star families, POW/MIA families, FNG’s, and several KIA’s. For the KIAs a bio is read and an FNG selected to carry that bio to the Wall. Each one, remembered, honored by the riders of the Run, but more specifically by the individual tasked with the honor of carrying that KIA’s memory to the Wall.

Today’s route saw us travel from Williams AZ to Gallup NM. We stopped for fuel in Winslow after parading through town, then rolled on to Holbrook for lunch. As we entered town we were lead in a parade past every school, and I mean every school where every student lined the street holding flags, waving signs, clapping, waving, and yelling, “thank you”. The honor these students and their teachers showed to complete strangers, veterans, riders, was overwhelming. I wear foam lined glasses when riding so wind, rain, and sand don’t get in my eyes. I had to lift them off my face to let the “rain” run down my cheeks instead of pooling in my glasses.  Thank you Holbrook for raising the next generation to honor others. It is an enormous testimony to the character of your people.

One of the most important ways we honor others is through the Missing Man Formation. Every mile of every day we ride for a missing man at the front of our line of riders. The formation consists of two riders followed by just one who is in turn followed by two. The space next to the one rider in the middle is left for the “missing man” and the person riding next to the missing man is the missing man escort. Every leg, we ride for someone different. I’d like to tell you about one of the riders who rode as an escort today.  Tom is an FNG from Washington State. He rode in honor of his father, Sheldon Grover, Field Musician First Class USMC, who served as an antiaircraft gunner onboard a ship during the campaign for Okinawa. I am unsure of what Tom was feeling before he started his missing man escort, but looking at him I could see he was experiencing many emotions and thoughts and that his ride might not be easy. When his escort was completed I asked him how it went. Part of his response was, that “it became easier the closer we rode to its completion.”  Riding as the missing man escort can be quite difficult. Thank you to those who have and will fulfill this role during our run to DC. We honor you and are all behind you, literally, spurring you on to the completion of your mission.

I’d like to take a moment to honor Tom and any veteran like him who felt shamed upon returning from war. Tom is a Vietnam Veteran who gave me permission to relate this portion of his personal story. After successfully fulfilling his honorable duty in Vietnam he returned home. Upon landing, the reception he felt in the airport left him feeling so ashamed that he went into a bathroom, changed into civilian clothes out of his dress uniform, and left it behind. Tom, the days of shame are long past. We honor your service. You and your brothers had your well-deserved parade today in Holbrook and will have several more before our mission is complete.

Lunch in Holbrook was wonderful. The American Legion Navajo Post 37 hosted us with as much enthusiasm as was shown by the students who welcomed us into town. While we ate, we were treated to several different Native dances. I am uncertain of their ages, but most were rather young compared to their audience. One in particular was quite young and stole the hearts of those I was sitting with (sadly I only captured blurry photos).  The National Anthem was performed by Isabella Moyte who was met with a roar of approval from the room when she finished. Each of these performances were gifts of honor to the riders. The Native dances all have significant meaning, and the National Anthem was sung in Honor of our nation.

We left Holbrook bound for Gallup, NM where I greatly anticipated our time at Red Rock Park and the three mile’ish parade we ride through town. While not the throng of people we usually encounter on the parade through town, we were met with a good number of patriots who waved flags and cheered our arrival. This is significant. Gallup, NM and the Navajo people were especially impacted by COVID. To see the city rebounding and people starting to get back to a generally normal way of life is very encouraging. The culmination of our parade through town was our arrival at Red Rock Park.  The street was lined was flags on both sides ushering us through the history of warriors past who sacrificed for our great nation into a ceremony of honor presented by representatives of several First Nations (Navajo, Comanche, Osage, Cheyenne, and descendants of the Modoc tribe from NE California).

Arrival at Red Rock Park

The Head Singer (Paul Bemore), drummers, and other singers along with the Head Gourd Dancer (Travis King) lead our riders and members of their tribes in several songs/dances. The one that I found to be most significant was the song/dance that brought in the flags. The Master of Ceremony (Ramona Yazzie) said that First Nations have over 500 flags. A combined color guard of sorts was created by having a number of people from all of the groups represented carry in a large number of flags. The flag ceremony and the song that went with it honors RFTW veterans as warriors. Let that sink in. People rich in heritage, who now live and fight under the flag of the United States yet remember their own sovereign history, choose to honor our veterans as highly as they honor their own warriors. This moment is not just an extremely memorable stop on the Run For The Wall, it is an exchange of kindred spirit olive branches that renews each time these songs are sung and the ceremony is completed.

As the ceremony started I approached a gentleman in what I probably am ignorantly calling “costume”. [edit: a reader tells me this is called regalia.]  I fear that completely under represents the significance of what he was wearing. I do know the feathers and other adornments have deep meaning, so I apologize for my lack of knowing the correct terminology.  I introduced myself and asked for basic information such as what does this ceremony represent, who organized it, what Nations are represented here today, and so on. T.J. Anderson introduced himself, answered my questions, and then introduced me to several of the elders who were present. Thank you T.J. I was honored that you’d take the time to introduce me to the elders who were present.

I’d like to leave you with an additional image,  provided I can paint it with words well enough to convey its importance. One of the elders had spent the previous night in the hospital. He’d been released just that morning yet he was present at the event in a motorized chair. When the flags were presented during the flag ceremony, he found the strength of will to stand. While so many wish to degrade the notion of sovereignty and the flags that represent individual nations, this man fought through his difficulty to stand and give honor to the US Flag and the other flags flying with her.

I’ve entitled this post “Honor” and I’ve used the term many times. My hope is that I have conveyed that we daily receive and can choose to give honor to others while on the Run. It is part of what makes experiencing and participating in this mission so special. My prayer for each of you reading this is that you’d fully receive the honor given to you. You are worthy of it. If you are a veteran, we honor your sacrifice, please reach out if you need help. If you are a supporter, we honor you as well. Thank you for supporting the Run For The Wall. If you fall into a different category, we’d like to honor you as well. Come join the RFTW family by finding a way to support the mission.

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Day 1: Ontario to Williams

Welcome to the 2022 Central Route Run For The Wall (RFTW)! I am Redleg. I’ll be bringing you daily reports of the many amazing moments the Central Route experiences on our mission across the country. If you are reading this, you are likely familiar with the mission and history of the RFTW, for those who are not I thought it important to put it here at the start of our journey to focus us on why we ride.

The RFTW Mission Statement
To promote healing among ALL veterans and their families and friends, to call for an accounting of all Prisoners of War and those Missing in Action (POW/MIA), to honor the memory of those Killed in Action (KIA) from all wars, and to support our military personnel all over the world.

The RFTW Philosophy
We strive to maintain a safe, supportive, and private atmosphere in which all participants can reflect and heal on their journey to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC, and the Middle East Conflicts Wall Memorial in Marseilles, Illinois in the hope they can return home to a new beginning.

RFTW Goals
To guide the participants across America.
To educate future generations on the importance of accountability in wartime actions, emphasizing that no one should be left behind.

Wow, today was amazing!
After a two-year hiatus the RFTW was once again rolling out of Ontario California enroute to Washington DC. The day started early, with last minute registration starting at 0545 and riders from the Central, Midway, and Southern routes staging at the Ontario Convention Center parking lot D for a spectacular sendoff, which started at 0645. Donuts, coffee, and breakfast burritos were graciously donated and handed out by volunteers from local service organizations, the National Anthem was sung, and chills were experienced as about a thousand patriots pledged allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. Thank you to the Marine Corps Walking Color Guard from the Marine Corps Logistics Base in Barstow CA for presenting the Colors. As is done every morning, the day was started with prayer, a safety briefing, and several groups of people were honored…FNG’s (Friendly New Guys and Gals), Active-Duty Military, Medal of Honor recipients, Blue Star families (those with family members currently serving), and Gold Star families (those who have lost an actively serving service-member).

It is extremely difficult to describe the enthusiasm of the supporters we encountered on today’s journey. The day was filled with countless hugs, handshakes, laughs, and smiles all exchanged by riders and patriots encountered at our send off and at each of our stops. Supporters waited in the blazing sun to wave flags from overpasses, and city streets welcoming home our veterans and those we ride for. We stopped for gas in Barstow CA, Ludlow AZ, and Kingman AZ. We enjoyed lunch in Needles CA, which was sponsored by the Needles Chamber of Commerce. Upon our arrival in Williams AZ, dinner was provided by the American Legion Post 13. Everywhere we went, patriots of all ages were there to welcome us home and to encourage us as we fulfill our mission.

Needles California
There’s just something about the town of Needles that makes the insane heat there just fade (at least a little) into the background. If one rides away from Needles hungry or unhappy, they’ve missed what Needles has to offer. There are many people we encounter on the run that have spent countless hours in preparation to host our riders for a meal or a gas stop. The first place we stop for a meal is Needles; the people there get us off to an incredible start. Lunch was served in an air conditioned room! I’m not quite sure if I should call our lunch taco salad, or beef nachos with all the fixings. Maybe the best thing to call it was “delicious.” Outside, we were provided with bananas, ice cream, cold drinks, and cooling bandanas to help us across the desert. The entire visit was set to the backdrop of music from not one, not two, but three bands! The music was great, but seeing people still learning to play instruments made me smile. A bit of a side note about me, for my undergrad years I majored in music so the gift of music in the hot sun filled my soul for the remainder of the day’s ride. Thank you Needles for declaring today Run For The Wall Day and for providing such a “warm” welcome. The special tablecloths were really cool!

Williams Arizona
What’s not to like about parading along historic Route 66 in Williams! We entered the city on historic Route 66 from the West and paraded through warmly lit neon in the light of a soon setting sun and the radiant smiles of patriots who waved us into town. Williams is in the desert, but I assure you, there was a bit of rain in many riders helmets. The welcome we received on the streets of Williams was matched by the amazing bar-b-que so generously cooked for us by the volunteers at American Legion Post 13. The meal Post 13 provides always warms both our stomachs and our hearts. If lunch in Needles wasn’t clue enough, it’s at this point in our mission that FNG’s realize they will not go hungry unless they choose to do so. The generosity given to the riders through a labor of love represented in the ample bar-b-q and fixins in Williams paired with the spread at lunch meant no rider was going hungry today and there won’t be anyone hungry going forward either.

In one corner of the room, Post 13 has a solemn reminder of why we ride. It speaks for itself.

Patriotism on the Highways
One of the things that always makes it rain inside our helmets is seeing people who have come from who-knows-where to stand on overpasses and freeway frontage roads out in the middle of nowhere to waive flags in acknowledgement that this is a parade for those who have never received what they were due upon returning from war. Thank you to all who came out to spur us on. One moment that made it rain a bit in my helmet today was when we came upon a trucker who appeared to have broken down on the highway. There was a support vehicle assisting him. As we passed, he stepped toward the highway and held his hand over his heart. In his moment of trouble, he took the time to honor us.

Thank you
It is with sincere heart felt thanks that we express our gratitude to the many people who made today possible. We are so very grateful for the send off from Ontario, lunch in Needles, and dinner in Williams. Your sacrifice is recognized. We will honor it as we continue the mission.

Today’s stats
Miles: 402
Temps started in the high 50’s, peaked at 106, and ended in the mid 70’s.
There were 192 bikes in the main pack, and as always a significant number of riders on all of the support crews.

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Ontario

The short time spent in Ontario is filled to the brim with activities. From information and planning meetings, to registration, to the Quartermaster issuing all of the things leadership needs to get the job done there is an unending buzz of activity. Amongst all of the preparation efforts there is still the focus on the mission.

Tomorrow a contingent of riders will visit the Riverside National Cemetery. The enormity of RNC is imposing on its own but add to it the National Medal of Honor Memorial, the POW/MIA Memorial and the Veterans Memorial and you have a weighty feeling even in the midst of the peaceful water features and lush green grass. Knowing the Central Route’s FNG meeting coincides with the departure of riders to RNC, I took two of the FNG’s I invited on the Run to RNC today. These are the words Glenn wrote about his experience,

“This morning three of us rode out to Riverside National Cemetery, the largest cemetery in the National Cemetery System, which was created in 1862 to create military burial places. Riverside National Cemetery (RNC) was created in 1976, covers 1,250 acres,and is beautiful and peaceful. While we were there, at about 10:00 on a Monday morning, we witnessed one funeral procession, heard a 21-gun salute, and heard ‘Taps’ floating to us across a beautiful pond. I’m told RNC is the busiest cemetery in the National Cemetery System, and I believe it. RNC contains three national monuments; the Medal of Honor Memorial, the POW/MIA Memorial, and the Veterans Memorial. They were all somber, powerful and impactful, but the POW/MIA Memorial just wrecked me emotionally.”

Glenn is not alone. We saluted or held our hands over our hearts as the funeral procession passed by, then did the same when we heard the 21 gun salute and taps. When they were complete, there was not a dry eye among us. What followed as we approached the POW/MIA memorial was even stronger. There is no way to not be “wrecked” by the image so carefully sculpted to depict the suffering and hardship those in captivity endure. We are so very blessed by those who have gone before us to secure our freedoms.

We ride for those who can’t is not just a motto, it is a way of life. We look for opportunities to actively draw men and women under the umbrella of the mission by speaking to people about their service or the service of their loved ones. Today, just before leaving RNC, Glenn, who I quoted above, asked if he could go back to the Medal of Honor memorial to take a few more pictures. We had plenty of time so of course we said yes. Glenn rode back to the memorial ahead of myself and the other rider who went with us as we hadn’t yet fully geared up. Upon parking near the memorial I witnessed a woman standing over a grave marker where she’d just placed fresh flowers. Her posture was one we all recognize, it was one that demonstrated a heavy heart and loss. I felt the need to approach her to tell her of our mission and to let her know that she is not alone. Jan, we will carry your burden with us, you are not alone. The loss of Carol is recognized and honored. As Jan and I spoke she told me that her sister was supposed to join her at the cemetery but had a conflict. Jan felt she needed to come anyway. As we were parting, she said “now I know why.” Indeed, I would not have approached if Jan were not alone. Nobody should walk out their grief alone. We ride for those who can’t. We listen, remember, and join hearts so that people like Jan and her mother Carol are remembered and are not alone.

The afternoon concluded with me witnessing my daughter, who recently graduated high school, becoming officially pinned as an FNG (friendly new gal) and experiencing the tremendous gift of the Combat Veterans Bike Build. This year, there were two bikes built and given to veterans who have themselves given much. Tomorrow is the last day of preparation, Thursday we ride.

A quick note about photos. I will generally add a few photos to the daily SitReps but I am not the Central Route Photographer. I’d like to point out that in the Central Route Hub on this website you can find a link the the images the official photographer will post. I encourage you to click through those to better “see” what I’m doing my best to describe to you as we cross the country to complete our mission.

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The Alaska Airlines Fallen Soldier Cart

It’s almost time for the Run For The Wall. Riders are leaving their homes on their individual journeys to Ontario for the start of the mission. It is each of these individual stories that combine hearts and minds into one purpose to fulfill the mission of the Run For The Wall. Everyone has their own story, their own reasons for riding, their own troubles and victories. As a group, we listen and care for one another as we execute the mission of riding for those who can’t and peacefully drawing attention to the 81,600 servicemen and women who are still unaccounted for.

One of the stories woven into the Run For The Wall is the escort of the Alaska Airlines Fallen Soldier Cart across the country for delivery to an airport where it will serve to honorably carry the remains of fallen military members to and from aircraft. This year, the cart is traveling from the Seattle Tacoma (SEATAC) airport where it was constructed by Alaska Airlines volunteers, to Ontario and then on to Kansas City with the Central Route. The cart departed SEATAC this morning and will arrive in Ontario on Saturday, May 14th. It was at the cart’s first stop in Rochester, WA that I met up with it to thank the escort riders, and Jim Rea, the organizer of this year’s cart. My purpose for going to see the cart was to honor those making the escort journey and to help some of my friends and family in my home state understand a bit more about why we ride. Being a member of the Central Route, I will of course have opportunity to escort the cart, but seeing it in this context as a patriot citizen with others who cannot ride was fulfilling. Those I took with me were grateful for the opportunity to experience firsthand the patriotism that is still alive within Washington state and the rest of the country. It was with grateful hearts and tears in our eyes that we waved, saluted, and raised the flag for the escort and the cart as it departed Rochester on its journey southward to Ontario.

My personal journey to the 32nd Run For The Wall will start tomorrow, but the mission for most of us lasts all year. Today’s experience with the cart and one of the Patriot Guard Riders who escorted it from SEATAC to Rochester was a reminder that we should always be ready to listen to the stories of our brothers and sisters. After the cart and its escort departed, my family and I were in the parking lot packing up our flags and preparing to ride the 45 minutes back home when a gentleman began to tell his own story of woundedness. I gave the hero as much time as I could to unload some of what he was carrying. I hope it was enough. Everyone has value, everyone is important, and to lose anyone to their struggles is a tragedy.

Those carried by the Alaska Airlines Fallen Soldier Cart have their stories honored by the volunteers who sacrificed to build the cart and to carry it to airports across the nation. Their stories are also remembered by their Gold Star families and those who support them in their time of need. Every man and woman participating in the Run For the Wall has their own story as well. It is those stories when shared and honored that bring restoration and healing to the brokenness caused by military conflict. I look forward to bringing you the story of the Central Route this year and some of the individual stories that make the greater story of the 32nd Run For The Wall so much richer.

Departure of the Fallen Soldier Cart from Rochester Washington