To date, we have had 5 soldiers from our state killed in action since the Iowa National Guard Troops deployed to Afghanistan. Three were Guard soldiers and two were not, but that's not the point. Each of these servicemen were part of the "family" regardless of which branch of military they served.
Specialist Shawn Muhr was the first of our soldiers to be killed in action. His death on January 29th was devastating for us all. At the point of Specialist Muhr's death, we had seen little of the insurgents. From this point on, things changed. No longer could soldiers, families and friends think the same. The risks became more real, if that's possible, and the stress became harder and harder to deal with. Weeks later came news of three more deaths.....Specialist Brent Mahr, Specialist Donnie Nichols and Staff Sgt. James Justice. Their deaths further cemented a higher sense of anxiety for us all. Weeks after Staff Sgt. Justice's death a Prayer Vigil was held in Des Moines for all of our the Iowa Troops deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq. Words and song and prayer helped that day.....and they've continued to be a source for strength and understanding. That's been a difference, I believe. In early June, funeral services were held for Staff Sgt. Joseph Hamski in Ottumwa, Iowa. Staff Sgt. Hamski was killed by an IED. As hard as his death has been to accept, it was also further proof of one group standing tall, not for themselves but for the fallen.
|Patriot Guard Riders of Iowa Present a Wall of Flags in Ottumwa|
The Patriot Guard Riders of Iowa are on a mission. In fact, here is there mission:
The Patriot Guard Riders is a diverse amalgamation of riders from across the nation. We have one thing in common besides motorcycles. We have an unwavering respect for those who risk their very lives for America’s freedom and security. If you share this respect, please join us. We don’t care what you ride or if you ride, what your political views are, or whether you’re a hawk or a dove. It is not a requirement that you be a veteran. It doesn't matter where you’re from or what your income is; you don’t even have to ride. The only prerequisite is Respect. Our main mission is to attend the funeral services of fallen American heroes as invited guests of the family. Each mission we undertake has two basic objectives:
- Show our sincere respect for our fallen heroes, their families, and their communities.
- Shield the mourning family and their friends from interruptions created by any protestor or group of protestors.
We accomplish the latter through strictly legal and non-violent means. To those of you who are currently serving and fighting for the freedoms of others, at home and abroad, please know that we are backing you. We honor and support you with every mission we carry out, and we are praying for a safe return home for all.
But they know not all of our soldiers will return home safely. And when that happens, they take ACTION. I was astounded to see over 500 motorcycles present for Specialist Donnie Nichols funeral in Waverly. It was a chilly morning to say the least (in the 30 degree area). Many Patriot Guard Riders had ridden hundreds of miles to pay their respects. Un-be-lie-vable!! But if that wasn't enough, the "500" led the funeral procession from the Waverly-Shell Rock High School to the cemetery in Cedar Falls. It was truly an experience unlike any other.
|Flags and Motorcycles Lead the Way|
From their humble beginnings in 2005, the Patriot Guard Riders now total more than 100,000 members across the country, linked via the Internet. The group, with no membership fee, has members in all 50 states and as far away as Belgium. Fundraising goes toward bandwidth for the Web site and scholarships.
If you ask any of the Patriot Guard Riders their allegiance, expect little fanfare from their lips other than respect and the flag. This is a passion they've embraced without hoping for any sense of return. Some families of the fallen soldiers have been so moved by their presence, they've joined the group. It's been no question they are a silver lining to a very difficult time. They are the Riders within the Storm. That's how impactful they are.