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Old 03-02-2010, 08:54 PM   #1
RoosterBoots
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Default RoosterBoots Meets the PGR

(From "The Incredibly Normal Adventures of RoosterBoots")

“This cold weather has got to stop,” I thought to myself. It was warm enough for walking around in short sleeves and the day promised clear sunny skies. But the overnight chill had clouded my Heritage’s windshield with a thick layer of mist. As quickly as I wiped it dry, it condensed again. I’d have to drive to Meridian looking over the top of the shield.

6:25 in the morning. I hadn’t even digested breakfast, and already I was rolling wheels. A month earlier I had torn something in my left leg. Twelve hours earlier, I had parked the bike for the night after a four-hour ride to Hattiesburg and back. Two seconds on the saddle was about all I could tolerate today. My hip joint was on fire. “Aspirin,” I begged, “hurry up and work.”

We had a plane to meet. One of our boys was coming home. Well, technically not one of MY boys. That’s just a Southernism. Matt Ingram was from Newton. His flight was scheduled to land in Meridian at 9:00 AM sharp. I was sure he wouldn’t mind if I was a little late. Heck, he didn’t find out himself that his tour in Afghanistan was over until just last Thursday. It was also a surprise to his mates at 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division.

Sgt Ingram’s orders home were issued by the Taliban. He was coming home for the last time. But the trip this morning wasn’t about death, nor burials, nor sadness. It was about something else. I didn’t know exactly what, but I intended to find out.

You see, two weeks earlier I had joined the Patriot Guard Riders.

They’ve got a really sharp-looking patch you can buy right after signing up. There are ball caps, and t-shirts, and flags, and lots of other biker goodies. And best of all, there’s NO INITIATION. You just join, order your patches, and sew ‘em on!

Nobody does that, though. Nearly everybody rides a “mission” first, THEN they join. And then they take a good long look in the mirror before they ever sew another damn “I been to Sturgis” patch on their wrinkled leather vest. Usually, the first patch they put on after joining the PGR is a small American flag.

The rally point was in the Stuckey’s parking lot on Airport Road, at 0730 sharp. KSU (kick stands up) would be at 0745, right after the ride brief. I had stopped to pull on a light jacket and some gloves, so I rolled in a little later than planned. Every head turned and watched me pull in.

I was new. It was obvious.

“Hey, new guy!” I looked up into a pair of eyes as old as my own. He was sticking his hand out the way military people do when they’re gonna shake your hand. Most people point their hand at your belly, and you shake it out of self-defense. Spend a few years in the service and you’ll notice something different. If a serviceman wants to shake, they’ll point their hand directly at your hand. Sometimes, they’ll just grab it.

I introduced myself. I didn’t catch his name. Nor the next guy’s. Nor the next. Someone waved me over to where they were standing. I got introduced to the SC – the State Captain, Ed Baker. He was sturdy, hairy, and serious. His vest showed where he’d come from. Navy. First Class Petty Officer (Journalist). Mission pins all over.

I looked around. There were leather and denim vests everywhere, each one different…yet, the same. Jump wings (Army). Jump wings (Air Force). Vietnam Service medals. Meritorious Service medals. Pilot wings. Coast Guard. Rangers. Swabbies. Jarheads.

Almost all ex-military. And not a club patch to be seen. Military and PGR patches, special dedication patches, and mission pins. Long hair. No hair. Beards. Clean-shaven. Ear rings. Women. Do rags.

Everybody was different, and everybody had a common mission.

They came from New Orleans, Birmingham, and Memphis. None of them knew Matt Ingram, but they took a day off from work, paid for their own gas and meals, rented hotel rooms, and got sore butts just so that they could welcome him home. Nobody was sponsored. Nobody got per diem. Nobody brought their bikes on a trailer. Every last one of them volunteered.

“Where do you FIND people like this?” I wondered.

The police escort showed up. Matt would be a little late. Time for some orange juice, but Ed Baker called a briefing. We’d ride two abreast, large flags in front, then small flags. We’d enter the airport and circle to park so we’d leave in the order we came in. New guys in the rear so the formation doesn’t yo-yo too badly.

I teamed up with an acquaintance from the Little Rock MC, whom I’d met at Sturgis South. I pulled my blue Heritage next to his bright green Suzuki. He looked over and said “Sure am glad I don’t drive a Harley.”

“Watch it,” I told him. “Everybody’s gonna be lookin’ at the guy who’s making so little noise!”

Ed Baker walked to the center of the parking lot. “Bike up!”

We started engines and gently joined a slow parade of Harleys, Gold Wings, and one bright green Suzuki. Police held traffic for us. What a thrill!

We parked on the tarmac a few minutes later, everyone pointed in the proper direction and ready to pull out. Ed met with the military and then called his riders to order. Two ranks. At ease. All salutes at a 3-count (slow, funeral style).

And there we waited, legs cramping, backs aching, sweating under the early morning sun. It was just like the good old days, standing inspection in stiff, starched whites. Sweating. Listening to the mosquitos.

“Patriot Guard, attention!” called Ed. “Present…arms!” I slowly pulled my hand up into a salute, looking around to see why we were doing this. Crossing in front of us was Sgt Ingram’s wife – a widow in her twenties, holding her head up, her eyes focused intently straight ahead.

Then Matt’s mother, walking straight ahead also, her eyes pinched closed.

We waited as the white Learjet carrying Sgt Ingram pulled to a stop. Its cargo door opened with the slowness of a funeral salute. Then the cargo specialists unloaded the hydraulic lift, positioned it, and slid the flag-draped coffin in place.

One at a time, escorted by friends, the family greeted their returning son with somber touching, crying, and final waves goodbye. We held a salute as the coffin was loaded into the waiting Hearse.

Ed Baker called a final road briefing, then gave the order to start engines. An unfamiliar face crossed in front of me, turned, and handed me a shiny pin – a MISSION pin (my first). I had just enough time to stick it through my leather vest before we were ordered into the saddles and were underway again.

We followed behind two Mississippi State Highway Patrol motorcycles for the next half hour. I had that green Suzuki next to me most of the time, but neither of us was comfortable with two-abreast riding. Thirty-five miles per hour from Meridian to Newton. We were used to the trip taking forever at 80!

We passed little towns on the way…Lost Gap, Chunky, Hickory. People gathered at every exit, showing signs and flags, flashing their lights and saluting. Fire trucks stopped. Police cars stopped. At Hickory, the exit was lined with people. By the time we arrived at Newton, soldiers and nurses and restaurant workers and kids all stood at attention as we rolled by. “We love you Matt,” read one light blue sign, adorned in lace and held up high by a small girl standing on top of her parents’ car.

Finally, we made our way to the Webb Funeral Home. Once again on foot, we formed two lines. The sun beat down on us, it was getting toward noon. We held the slow salute as the honor guard walked Matt Ingram’s casket into the side entrance.

At that moment, a hummingbird shot down from a nearby tree, swooped over the Hearse, and stopped in a perfect hover directly before the PGR rider standing in front of me. It hovered, twisted its head back and forth as though inspecting the line, and then left.

Ed called us together one last time. Mission orders for tomorrow, escorting the remains to Hickory for church services. Rally at Walmart at 1030.

Finally on my own, I started home. But passing Walmart, I remembered that I needed a new battery charger. I wore my black leather vest with the new mission pin into the store. My leg on fire, I limped into the auto parts section and studied all the chargers they had. I spent ten minutes comparing their features, examining whether the boxes had been opened before, and carefully stacking them in the order in which I thought I might purchase one. Then I opted for the cheapest one and headed to the nearest “20 items” checkout.

While standing there waiting, an elderly gentleman in front of me turned and asked whether I was part of the escort for Matt Ingram. I said that I was. He became pensive for a moment, and then said, “What a great tragedy.”

For some reason, I felt he was wrong. “I disagree,” I said, embarrassed now that I’ve put myself on the spot. “I think it’s glorious.”

He gave me a look that questioned my sanity.

“Consider this,” I said. “When you and I were of service age, there were laws enacted that forced us to make a decision between going into the military, going to jail, or running away to Canada.”

He nodded.

“Matt Ingram knew what might happen,” I continued, “but he volunteered anyway.”

“Tragic that he had to die,” the man intoned.

“Perhaps, but the point is…he didn’t have to. He went willingly so that you and I can go shopping at Walmart.”

Then I asked, “Where do you FIND people like that?”

“I don’t know,” the man answered. “I don’t know.”

“Neither do I.”
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Old 03-03-2010, 08:30 AM   #2
pushrod
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RB,

You keep this up, we'll have to keep you around!

Thanks!
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Old 03-03-2010, 10:37 AM   #3
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Y'all got a deal.
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Old 03-03-2010, 12:06 PM   #4
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I did a PGR ride locally circa '05 when this whole "Hate" fiasco with that SOB in Kansas started. There is a LOT of Respect there from the PGR; and a lot of Respect for that here (points to self).

Since my Dad was killed (not in any action - he was USN - Retired), I can't attend Military Funerals any more. Even 4 years after the fact. I appreciate that there are still guys willing and able to meet and escort our Boys home.

Props to you, RB.
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Old 03-04-2010, 07:38 AM   #5
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Thanks RB, good job.

Those other guys were protesting here in Richmond the other day. A bunch of counter protesters showed up and tried to make them look like @ss clowns.

I think we should all just ignore them.
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Old 05-31-2011, 01:23 PM   #6
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Default Can't Go Home

A while back in Duncan, OK a group was protesting at a KIA Funeral. The PGR were there and did a great job for the family. The protesters however, did the INSANEABLE thing that they do. When the funeral was over the protesters got ready to go home, but they could not!!! All their vehicles tires had been slashed, not by the PGR, but slashed. No one in Duncan, OK would sell the protesters any tires. They were stuck in a VERY uncomfortable situation for a long period of time, maybe they will began to rethink their thoughts, beliefs and desires.
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