By Bill O’Connell
At one time in America the thunderous roar of hundreds of motorcycles entering a small town was a frightening and ominous sound. Local residents, fearing violent biker gangs, would lock their doors, hide their valuables and send their children into the basement.
Today, however, that sound is most likely coming from one of 2,000 chapters of the American legion Riders (ALR) that are made up of approximately 110,000 members from around the country that share a common love of motorcycles and a passion to help fellow Americans that are in need. People now flock to the curb with cameras in hand hoping to capture images of the bikes as they go by.
Founded by Legionnaires in 1993 in Garden City, Michigan to help veterans with struggles too difficult to overcome by themselves. One such individual was former Marine Kenny Bass who had a debilitating case of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) but was able to overcome 10 years of suffering with the help of a service dog named Atlas. Based on this experience Kenny founded The Battle Buddy Foundation (TBBF) to raise funds to acquire service dogs for other veterans suffering from the same brutal affliction.
Three years ago, the Murbach-Seifert Post #479 in Swanton decided to join Kenny’s cause by enlisting their ALR group to organize a fund-raising poker run and make enough money to help train a service dog like Atlas. The event attracted about 125 bikes and raised more money than expected. That success inspired the Swanton Legion to make it an annual affair.
Year two saw the bike total rise to 183 and the donation total shot up to $15,000, enough to give Post #479 the naming rights to a service dog. With a history of always challenging themselves to do better, they used the 2016 numbers as a bar to jump over. The financials will take a few weeks to be calculated but the number of motorcycles skyrocketed this year to over 260 with ALR members coming from all over the area and as far away as Georgia and South Carolina.
The run began at 11:30 am this past Saturday at the Swanton Legion. Aided by the Swanton Fire and Police Departments, it took seven full minutes for all the bikes to exit the parking lot and head out of town to their first stop, the NCO Club at the 180th Tactical Fighter Group located at Toledo Express Airport.
From there they traveled to VFW Post 7424 in Wauseon and then to the last leg of the run, the Swanton Sports Center in Swanton. While at the Sports Center, most of the riders gathered around Swanton Fire Engine 703 for a group photo to commemorate the day. Eventually, all riders made their way back to the Swanton Legion for a well-deserved meal and to take part in several auctions. They were greeted by Kenny and Atlas and the Deputy Executive Director of the TBBF, Chrissy Faulkner.
The Third Annual Battle Buddy Poker Run was chaired by Swanton ALR member Ron Wilson and his wife Lisa but it is not the only fund-raising run they are involved in. “There are ten Legions in a 75-mile radius and we all support each other,” Ron said. “Most runs are veteran related but they can be community related too. We just did one a couple of weeks ago to raise money for school supplies for Swanton students.”
Not surprisingly, the Swanton American Legion and the Riders outdid themselves with another great run. They have set the bar at a very high level which will present a major challenge for the next Battle Buddy event scheduled for August 25, 2018. Just one word of advice, however. Don’t bet against them.
Bill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org