As 15 Patriot Guard Riders lined up on each side of the escalator at Sacramento International Airport, an arriving passenger headed for the escalator, saw the line and immediately stepped aside.
The other arriving passengers followed his course, leaving the escalator empty, until a woman with big blonde hair showed up.
She stepped onto the escalator smiling and thanked everyone for greeting her. The Guard Riders had not noticed as she stepped off the escalator, she stayed with group. The long awaited soldier finally appeared and proceeded down the escalator, while shaking hands and being cheered by Guard members. As he stepped off the escalator the woman with the big blonde hair stepped forward, threw her arms around him and said, “Welcome home.”
Mike Doyle, a former sailor who served in the Navy during the Vietnam War and a member of the Patriot Guard Riders for two and a half years, said that is one of his favorite stories.
“The thrill of seeing a soldier come down the escalator of an airport and back to the arms of loved ones is just absolutely incredible,” Doyle said. “If a family invites us to come, how can we not.”
American Legion connection
Patriot Guards began in Westboro, Kansas in August 2005, when a group from the American Legion Riders Chapter 136 was appalled to hear that a group of misguided religious zealots were protesting the Iraqi war at soldiers’ funerals. Their chapter established a mission statement requiring the Guards receive permission from the families to attend the funerals and to include the local police. On Oct. 18, 2005, the Patriot Guard name was established.
There for the family
Doyle said the Guards simply form a flag line and quietly stand in front of the protesters, blocking them from the family and funeral. They are not there to confront anyone.
“Funerals are extremely sad and emotional,” Doyle said. “But it is also such a point of pride to be able to honor these people, particularly those who have given the ultimate sacrifice.
When the Guard is invited to attend the funeral of a soldier, there are anywhere from 40 to over 100 riders showing up. Doyle said at a recent funeral in Anderson, Calif., hundreds of riders showed up to honor the local sailor who had been killed. There are close to 400 Guard members in the Sacramento region.
It’s about R-E-S-P-E-C-T
The Patriot Guards mission statement establishes that the one thing members have in common (besides riding motorcycles), is an unwavering respect for those who risk their lives for America’s freedom and security.
Although a motorcycle group started the organization, Doyle wants people to know that riding a motorcycle is not a requirement to be a member of the Patriot Guard. There are no dues or meetings and it is not required to have served in the military. The only requirement is that respect and honor are shown to the soldiers and their families.
Working with families
There is no solicitation by the Patriot Guards. If a family request the presence of the Guard at a funeral or greeting the returning soldier at the airport, a ride captain from the Guard meets with the family to gather necessary information. The ride captain adds this information to the Guard website and sends out a notice to Guard members via a mailing list. There is no requirement that a Guard member must show up at an event. Occasionally the returning soldier is escorted home with flags attached to motorcycles and cars. Doyle said it is quite a sight to see.
All service members honored
Soldiers are amazed when they realize total strangers are waiting to greet them. And, Doyle added, if other military service members show up they don’t know about, they receive the same greeting.
For example, right before Christmas, the Guard had been invited to greet one soldier at the airport. As the Guard members gladly stood at the escalator waiting for this one soldier, streams of military service members started coming down the escalator and they ended up greeting 44 returning soldiers.
The capitol region makes a special welcome home dog tag for returning soldiers. The Guard buys the tags and a local printing company donates the engraving on the tags.
When soldiers are greeted at the airport, they receive a card and the dog tag.
Tell a friend
Doyle said he wants to get the word out to all military families about what the Patriot Guard Riders do. He said they greet soldiers returning home from anywhere, even those who just get home from boot camp.
The national Website for the Patriot Guard Riders is www.patriotguard.org. There is information on the site so families across the nation can reach the Guard.
“Bottom line,” Doyle said. “These soldiers are sacrificing their lives for their country.”