Today is about Us!
Today was a very short riding day for the Midway Route. We are within an average days ride from Washington DC, but we will make it a two-day trek. With so few miles to do today, we will just take it easy and enjoy a few last memorial stops. But first we had to get started for the day.
As you may have ben able to tell, a LOT goes on during our morning Riders meeting. These meetings are Mandatory, as we discuss any changes to our itinerary, weather issues, safety concerns, and other general announcements. Today’s meeting started, as always with one of our Chaplains leading us in a prayer for safety and of thanksgiving for our safe and successful trip across the country. We said the Pledge of Allegiance and sang the national anthem, as usual. The meeting and announcements were nothing new, until we got to the very end. The last activity of each meeting is to read a biography of one of our Nations Fallen Heroes.
Denise “High Maintenance” Dugas has been reading these biographies to us for many years. As she took to the stage this morning, she mentioned that this would be the last bio that she reads to use. Her years of Midway Route Leadership is coming to a close, and she will pass that torch on to another for next year. For her final reading, she chose to read the biography of Col Rex Meyer, a Vietnam Veteran that lost his battle with Agent-Orange related cancer a few years ago. While she was reading Col Meyers biography, several people enveloped Vickie Meyer, our own “Needy”, in a circle of hands, everyone wanting to comfort her and pay tribute to her late Husband. Denise and Vickie have been close friends for decades, so Denise could think of no better person to honor with her last reading than the Meyer Family.
So it was with tears in my eyes that we started down the highway towards are first fuel stop. Normally, there is a bit of chatter on the CB radio as the Road Guards deploy to intersections and on-ramps, and the Leadership communicates with the Platoon Leaders. Today, the radio was relatively silent. It gave us all a time to reflect on what we have done over the past 10 days. Part of that reflection for me is the close friendships that I have bound with certain people. For the past 4 years, I have ridden primarily with the Leadership Support Platoon, which is directly behind the Missing Man Formation. The riders in this Platoon have not varied much during these years. In fact, there has been a “core element” that has remained the same. Now, I knew that at least one of “my gang’ would not be coming back next year. And that made me wonder who else would not be returning.
At our first stop, I found out that several of “my gang” would not be returning, for one reason or another. It was both a sad and bittersweet morning. Sad, because I will miss riding with these patriots, my Friends, in support of our Mission. I will miss seeing their (generally) smiling faces. But I understand the need to move on. Someday, I, too, will step back and give someone else the opportunities that I have enjoyed. Until that time comes, I wonder who I will be riding with next year. Will it be another Leadership Member in a new role? Will it be someone brand new to Leadership? What will MY role be? Will I have a role? It is actually exciting to think about all of the possibilities. “My Gang” cannot be replaced in my heart, but there is room for others to join in. There MUST be, because just a few years ago, *I* was the “New Guy” and I was welcomed in.
This sort of reflection was on my mind all day. And in talking with many others, I could tell that they were having the same thoughts. I know of at least six people that will not be with us next year, from Leadership Support to Platoon Leadership to Road Guards. There will be changes in our Outreach Team and Ambassador Team. As sad as I am to know this, I am heartened to see several of this years FNG Class that I know will be stepping into leadership roles. I am not saying that I can predict the future. None of us can. But some of us “seasoned” RFTW Riders can sort of tell when an FNG “gets it” and fully understands what we are trying to do. I have seen that again this year! There are some very promising young Riders that I KNOW will be leading the Midway Route into the future. We are in for some exciting times!
We continued down the road to our lunch stop at the River Falls Park in Weldon, NC. This beautiful little park always has a special Patriotic display set up for us. This year was no exception. Imagine a large cross laid out and outlined on the grass with small American Flags. Then imagine being able to fill the interior of that outline with thousands more flags, until the park is filled with Red, White, and Blue! There are always some Christmas Trees set up in the park that we decorate with the names and photos of Fallen Heroes, POWs, those Missing in Action, and memorials of “The 22.” (On average, 22 Veterans commit suicide every day in the United States. We need to do a better job at understanding and identifying PTSD!)
Yes, the memorials are beautiful and somber, but we don’t let our emotions get the best of us. Today, we know that we are celebrating US. This park, and specifically the Weldon Mill Distillery is a great place to take group photos. I try to get every platoon, whether a service platoon or a Riders platoon, to gather together on the steps of the Mill for one final photo.
Notice that I said “try”? With everyone feeling a little “salty” from our achievements, getting them to line up for a “nice’ photo is like trying to herd cats, with a broom, while wearing roller skates, on ice. In other words, “It ain’t easy!” We were just having too much fun with each other today! But we DID get the platoon photos, both serious and fun, and we had a good time doing it. (I HOPE I got every platoon!)
After the lunch, it was just a few short miles to the Moose Lodge in Hopewell, Virginia, where we would have our “recognition awards ceremony.” This is our chance to thank all of our Leaders and volunteers for the hard work that they put into the Midway Route. We get to acknowledge the contributions and successes of each Team, and start sowing the seeds for next year. That doesn’t mean we can let up on our duties for the next two days, but we can start “seriously” recruiting some of those eager (soon to be) former FNGs!
During this awards programs, we said Thank You to Ken “Six-String” Dugas for his MANY years of service to the Midway Route. He has kind of been a “Route Coordinator Emeritus” as well as a mentor and stand-in for all things Road Guard related. He was instrumental in developing the “servant leadership” style that Midway has fostered. His time with RFTW is coming to an end, as he is focusing now on the Combat Hero Bike Build program. He isn’t going away, he is just changing his manner of supporting our Veterans. Six-String, we are going to miss you!
We got to honor many of our other leaders, but the one that deserves the most thanks this year from all of the Midway Riders is our Route Coordinator, Jerry ”Corp” Wilkins. He did an outstanding job as out Leader this year, and the success of the Run can be laid at his feet. Yes, he had help and he graciaously admits it. But it was his leadership, training, and oversight that made our journey and Mission so successful. Jerry, it has been an honor to serve with you, and I know that all of the other volunteers feel the same! You did good, Sir!
As all of the other Leaders were called up to receive a certificate and wall plaque, you could hear people joking, laughing, and even crying a few times, as we honored all achievements and heard people announce their plans for the future. This is where some of us found out who would not be returning next year and who definitely would be back. Again, it is both a sad and happy ceremony.
Finally, it was time to leave and head to our hotel for the evening. And that is why this SITREP is a little shorter than usual. We got here early. We are in a good mood. We have an early, but easy day tomorrow to get us into Arlington, Virginia. So tonight, we will laugh together, tell stories together, some may have a beer out in the parking lot, others were already playing a game of cards in the lobby. We will relax and enjoy the limited time we have left together. We will have some fun.
Tomorrow, the mood of the entire Route will change. We will wake up to the knowledge that this is the last time that we, the 2023 Midway Route Family, will be together as a singular unit. Once we arrive in Arlington and all the other Routes join us, we will never be the same. Our thoughts will be on finishing the Mission we started 10 days ago.
But that is tomorrow. Tonight, we will enjoy each others company.
When I get back home after the Run, I will start editing the photos that I have taken this year. They will be made available for you to use for free. They will be posted at www.jimmccrain.smugmug.com/Run-For-The-Wall. Just look for the 2023 Gallery.