Tribute To The Troops

The annual Tribute To The Troops motorcycle ride happened this past weekend.  Back in 2010 I had the honor of riding with this amazing group to see the impact they are having.  At that time I wrote an article explaining what I saw.  While it is not our typical topic to write about, sometimes we have to make exceptions for exceptional events.

Five years later, I feel like that weekend is worth revisiting.

Reposted from Sept. 10, 2010

 

My Mom and her husband have been a part of the Tribute To The Troops group for the last 4 years.  Every year they invite me to participate in the annual ride and concert, and every year something has gotten in the way of me going.  This year she asked me to drive the support truck and trailer on Friday’s ride and I accepted.  The experience was life changing.  I have been on many rides and involved with many charities, none have had as big of an impact on me.

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We started the ride at the Minnesota state capitol building. The group that assembled was a mix of Patriot Guard Riders, Gold Star Families, hard core bikers, die hard members of the TTTT  family, and a few casual bikers.  There were bankers, lawyers, carpenters and veterans, people from all walks of life and backgrounds.

The TTTT group was founded in 2004 by singer Rockie Lynne and Greg Schmitt.  Since 2004 the group has expanded from an annual motorcycle ride, visiting families of Minnesota’s fallen heroes, to multiple rides covering 3 days and capped off with a benefit concert.

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In 2010 Tribute To The Troops started reaching outside of Minnesota to assist groups in other states in honoring their fallen heroes.  I can tell you from what I experienced on Friday, the memories of these fallen warriors are indeed being honored by this group.  At the capital we were reminded of the reason for the mission and how we were to carry it out.  There were a lot of hugs and even some tears shed by reunited friends.

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From the capitol we rode to Mendakota Golf Course in Mendota Heights.  Mendakota was hosting the annual Tee It Up For The Troops “Day of Golf” tournament.  Tee It Up For The Troops is a supporting organization for TTTT and they host an amazing tournament.  Lunch was eaten, we watched a great opening ceremony and began our ride with a clear understanding of why we were there.  

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Leaving Mendakota, we set out on a long trip to Rochester Minnesota.  The riders were spread out in front of our support truck as far as we could see.  We were accompanied by a Chicago Police Officer who had driven all the way to St. Paul to ride all weekend with the MN group on his Police motorcycle and in full uniform.  The ride was organized and safe.  From the back of the formation we watched as traffic stopped or parted as we rode through each town as we cruised all of the way to Rochester.  Arriving in Rochester we visited the family of a true American hero, a marine who lost his life in the service of his country.

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The scene was surreal.

Several hundred leather clad riders invaded the small neighborhood, lining up along the streets surrounding the home.  The visit started with the presentation of a custom plaque presented to the family on behalf of the TTTT group.  The crowd around the family was awe inspiring.  These were rough and tumble, black jacket wearing bikers spread out across the lawn of this family, in silence offering their deepest respect to the family.  After the presentation, one by one, the group filed up to the family and offered a personal word of condolence and gratitude.  I was so taken by experiencing this moment that I felt like an intruder on a sacred memorial.  I had to step back and observe to fully take in what was happening.  The family was clearly grateful to have us there and expressed it to every person that went past.

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When the tears were wiped off of faces, we mounted up and set out to the north for another visit, this one in Coon Rapids Minnesota.  The hero whose family we were visiting this time was a Minnesota National Guard officer who had made the ultimate sacrifice.  As we filed through the smaller cities I noticed the local city police that had deployed to stop traffic were standing outside their cruisers with a hand on their hearts as we went past.  The family was in tears at the sight of our group rumbling into their neighborhood.  Standing behind the mayor of Coon Rapids, I watched the second ceremony and presentation.  As I looked around, I realized the magnitude of this trip.

We had covered over 170 miles.  Visited a golf tournament played in by the likes of sports heroes Paul Molitor, Tim Laudner, Mike Morris, Greg Coleman and many real heroes like Richard Leonard, the Gold Star families, Vietnam and Korean war vets and those injured in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Oh and this was just the first day for Tribute To The Troops riders.  They would visit five more families on Saturday, Sunday they rode up to Camp Ripley and back down to Medina for a concert by Rockie Lynne.

This whole weekend was created by Tribute To The Troops to honor Minnesota’s own fallen heroes.  After participating in Fridays events, I woke up to a huge picture on the front page of the Pioneer Press of the ride group on the steps of the capitol.  The caption and the picture were the only mention of what was happening in Minnesota all weekend long.  The Star Tribune didn’t care to even mention the weekend.  Both papers had national headlines and articles about 9/11.  The lack of coverage locally was another reminder that this group is needed.

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Our local soldiers are no less important than any national headlines and Presidential ceremony for 9/11.  These are our sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, siblings and friends.  These heroes and their families have paid a price that we can never pay them back for beyond remembering their sacrifices.

As I heard someone say on Friday: “Most of us will never know the feelings and emotions you are going through, but know we are here for you and will be as long as you’ll have us.”

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Thank you Tribute To The Troops and a special thank you to the men and women who have, do and will serve this great country in our armed forces as well as the families that have lost loved ones in defense of us all.

These amazing pictures are courtesy of Laurie Pease Johnson and Kirk Duit

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