Patriot Guard Riders only goal: support those mourning loss of service member
When the Patriot Guard Riders of New York show up at the funeral of a U.S. soldier, they know it's at the request of the family.
They also know they are members of an organization — some 6,000 strong in New York and over 285,000 nationwide — with only two basic objectives: Show sincere respect for our fallen heroes, their families and their communities and shield the mourning family and their friends from interruptions created by any protester or group of protesters.
As their mission statement says, "We don't care what you ride or if you a 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. The only prerequisite is respect."
Furthermore, this all-volunteer group will tell you, "we do not have meetings, dues or most of the things that other organizations have. The only thing we all have in common is a deep feeling of appreciation for the sacrifices that our military and first responders make. Many also share a love of motorcycles and are veterans, (but neither is a requirement)."
In a recent presentation to his Palmyra-Macedon Rotary Club, Bob Yost, a member of the New York Patriot Guard Riders since 2011, explained how the group formed in 2003 in response to a group from Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) in Topeka, Kan.
This tiny, family-run independent church group (not affiliated with any Baptist denomination) seems to believe that God is punishing society for its acceptance of gay rights, etc., by killing our service men and women. Their beliefs propelled them to picket, according to Wikipedia, at "over 41,000 protests in over 650 cities since 1991," including public events (often where celebrities might draw more attention) and funerals of soldiers.
The Supreme Court upheld the church's right to protest under the free speech doctrine. The same court also affirmed the right of local municipalities to enact restrictions as to how far from a funeral service the protesters are allowed to be when they gather.
The Patriot Guard Riders found they could shield families from the banners and rantings of such radical groups by simply positioning themselves, either on motorcycles or standing with flags, in strategic line-of-sight and sound formations, thus allowing grieving families to conduct their final goodbyes with the respect and dignity they deserve. Such "missions" by the riders are coordinated closely with law enforcement agencies and with other motorcycle groups such as the Legion Riders and Moose Riders.
With chapters in all 50 states and Canada, Patriot Guard Riders, mostly through contributions by their own members, have expanded their outreach and service in additional ways. Their Help On The Homefront (HOTH) program is involved in retrofitting homes for wounded warriors, providing housing and financial assistance to deployed servicemen or family members of wounded servicemen hospitalized away from home, transportation to medical appointments, and even some of the basics like groceries, clothing and household supplies.
They can be seen at airports quietly standing with flags to honor returning service people or welcoming home World War II vets from Honor Flight trips, and they are proud to participate in funerals for any veterans, law enforcement officers and first responders, always at the invitation of the families involved.
Yost may have a rather unique perspective on the services of his chapter and its activities, as he is a licensed funeral director as well as a rider-member. He understands first-hand the impact the Patriots' services can have on bereaved families. In New York State last year, the group executed 476 funeral missions, 34 of them for active duty service men and women who died during 2012. Area members of the Patriot Guard also stand in flag lines for police officers and firemen, including the two men who were killed Christmas eve in Webster.