EDITOR: Friday, May 4, my husband invited me to join him and other Patriot Guard Riders as they escorted troops from the 1432nd Engineering Co. of the National Guard leaving that morning from Kingsford.
He had ridden with the Guard before but this was my first time. I had prepared myself for a chilly ride to Manistique in 48 degrees, but I had not prepared myself for the emotional roller coaster I would have that day.
The Patriot Guard Riders stand for honor, remember and respect. We stood at the front and rear entrance of Kingsford Middle School forming a line of flags that family members would walk through to enter the gymnasium. My husband and I were at the rear entrance of the school and as we watched the family members pass between us, my throat began to tighten. I witnessed fathers with brows wrinkled from worry; mothers, mouths drawn tight with fear; and young wives and girlfriends, eyes wide with panic, carrying small children and infants. As they passed I began to realize that some of them would miss their baby's first steps and first words. So many firsts would be missed in the 12 months they would be deployed.
The last 17 years of my teaching career was spent at North Dickinson. The chances were great that some of the 95 to be deployed would be former students. As the soldiers passed us on the way into the gymnasium I counted five I recognized; four young men and one young woman. It became very difficult to hold back my tears.
When the ceremony was over and the last kiss was given, they loaded the buses. The Patriot Guard Riders, with flags flying from the bikes, led the buses through town on the way to Grayling. Each block throughout town there were people cheering and waving flags. As we passed the row of flags outside the VA we noticed a construction worker with his hard hat over his heart as we rode by.
People were running across the Wal-Mart parking lot to see the buses as they passed. The Home Depot employees were standing by the road cheering and holding signs. They were shouting thank you. I thought, thank us for what? We are doing two things we love, honoring our troops and riding motorcycles. If they were that enthusiastic for us I can only imagine what joy they brought the true heroes that were riding in the buses behind us.
Each town we went through there were people waving and cheering. The students from Norway and Rapid River were standing by the side of the highway, in a chilly May breeze holding their signs and flags letting the soldiers know they were appreciated. It was all so much to process. I was holding it together until I recognized two brothers standing beside their cars, tears running down their faces, looking past the riders to the buses behind us, one of those buses was taking their older brother away.
Godspeed soldiers, thank you for your service. May you return to the loving arms of your family, friends, and community with minimal scars of war and separation. I pray that the families will get the support from the community that they need. We must remember while their loved ones suffer hardships serving, they too suffer great hardships waiting for their safe return.
I am now a member of the Patriot Guard Riders and look forward to riding with them again when they return home to all of us. It was an honor, one I will remember with great respect.