Wow - I don’t even know quite where to start - I never expected to be holding the position of State Captain for such great organization. Thank you to the membership and leaders of the Minnesota Patriot Guard for entrusting this position to me, and it’s not one I take lightly. When Doug Bley took over as State Captain, he made a comment that I have always remembered, "It is an honor to be holding a position that is entirely a reflection of those people holding a flag in honor of our fallen and in support of our military, family and veterans", and I find that statement to be entirely true not only in this position, but all the positions I have held.
In Minnesota, we stand at almost 6,000 members, a small part of a national organization of over 225,000 members across our country. Members who have stood up to make sure that those serving and those who have served are always given the honor, dignity, and respect that such service deserves. We wear our sunglasses at missions to hide our tears, but as we stand the flagline, our hearts are filled with pride for the selfless men and women in our Armed Forces.
You, our members are our most valued asset. You are the ones that make sure the mission is carried out. I have said on numerous occasion, that it never ceases to amaze me how our members make sure the mission happens - it doesn’t matter what day of the week, what time of the day, or how many missions are going on around the state on the same day - you make it happen! We provide comfort to a grieving family, we are there when our military deploy, we are privileged to be there again when they come home to their families and loved ones; and we bring smiles to the faces of those in our veterans home. I have talked to some of our Minnesota National Guard members who have said when they see us at the border, they know they are HOME! What a feeling for them, their loved ones, and for us to welcome them back.
Due to the Patriot Ride, our only fund-raiser, we are able to make donations to really great causes that support our military, veterans, and their families. We stand in remembrance with our Gold Star families, and we share hugs and heartbreaks with them, we remember and never forget. That is what makes each of you so very special - you give of your hearts, and you also give of your time and expense to make sure that we uphold our mission.
We receive thank you letters from families, friends, and by-standers who comment on the professionalism in which we conduct ourselves, and the way we pay honor, dignity and respect. You all have earned that reputation that we can all be proud of and enjoy. General Shellito said it best at the 2011 Patriot Ride - "the Minnesota Patriot Guard is one of the most respected organizations in the state". That is a tribute to our members. We see on Facebook, Twitter and other media forums, comments made by our military that the "Patriot Guard is one of the most dedicated organizations", again a tribute to our members. THANK YOU!!!
I attended my very first mission on 2 June 2006 for SPC Michael Hermanson in Fargo, ND. Like many of you, it was an event that forever changed my life. Not only did I know that our mission is what I needed to do, it was what I wanted to do. A friend and I had been tracking the national site for months, vowing that if one came close, we would be there - it was 2 hours away and close! Some friends and I went, including 2 young soldiers who had recently returned from deployment to Iraq. It was the most awesome and impressive thing I have ever seen, and I was so proud to be able to be part of letting that family know that SPC Hermanson’s sacrifice was not in vain and that we were there to honor the hero that he was. There was also another group there that day, my first exposure to them, and to this day I can remember the horrified feeling I had that someone would do that to anyone, let alone someone who signed the dotted line for Uncle Sam and said they would go where-ever needed to protect our freedoms.
For those that don’t know me, since that time, I have served as an Assistant Ride Captain in Nov 07, to Ride Captain in Jan 08, to Northern Region Senior Ride Captain in Dec 08. It has been an honor every step of the way. My background before the Patriot Guard Riders and the Minnesota Patriot Guard came into my life was serving in the US Army for 21 years until my retirement, then 2 years volunteering with the soldiers of the Wadena National Guard, and 6 years in the role of Family Readiness Group leader. I long ago stopped counting the number of missions I have attended - each one has been a privilege and honor to be at.
Some have wondered what our future will be when deployments end. In our endeavor to "never forget", we will still have missions to conduct. We have military still serving; we have a whole group of veterans in our veterans homes, who unfortunately sometimes are forgotten - we need to remember! Our veteran home missions can be some of the most fun times we get to experience in our organization. We will continue to have a job to do, and I would encourage each of you to take that step to be involved - your life will be richly blessed for it.