By Sgt. Neil W. McCabe/XVIII Abn. Corps and Fort Bragg PAOJanuary 21, 2011
FORT BRAGG, N.C. - More than 100 patriot riders from area motorcycle clubs formed a gauntlet of American flags Saturday for Iraq-bound Sky Dragons from the main post theater to the buses that would take them to the flightline.
"I set the mission up and get the word out, and on the day-of, I make sure people are where they need to be," said Dutch Macomber, a member of Patriot Guard Riders.
Joining the PGR were riders from Rolling Thunder, Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association, as well as, Club Auxilliarist, Gold Star Mothers and Blue Star Mothers.
Earlier in the day, 40 riders met at Sandhills Veterans Cemetery to remove Christmas wreaths placed on the graves in December, said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Christopher Gunderson, a member of CVMA and a Family readiness liaison with XVIII Airborne Corps.
Gunderson said he has been part of welcoming missions and funerals, but this time he reached out to his fellow riders to see if there was interest in supporting the Soldiers as they left for Iraq.
The riders gathered in the parking lot by the Main Post Chapel and the Main Post Theater. Inside the theater, departing Soldiers spent their last moments with well-wishers and loved ones.
When the time came to go, the paratroopers left the theater through the left-rear exit, accompanied only by their comrades to the buses that would carry them to the flightline. As they made their way, they were bulwarked on each side of their path by walls of American flags and the encouragement from the riders. Sometimes a wave. Sometimes a shout. Sometimes both.
After spending time with his paratroopers in the theater, Lt. Gen. Frank G. Helmick, commanding general, XVIII Abn. Corps and Fort Bragg, met with the riders to express his gratitude.
Standing with Macomber in a circle of riders still holding their flags, Helmick said, "Unfortunately, during the last two years, I have had to attend a lot of Soldier funerals. I have had to bury guys killed in Afghanistan and Iraq - the Patriot Riders were the one common variable at every funeral I have been to."
"The Patriot Riders have always been there to thank and console the Families for their loss. But, this is the only place I have been where the Patriot Riders show up to send the guys off," he said.
"I think that it is so cool. I really do."