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‘Phantom Thunder’ Promotes Motorcycle Safety, Honors Veterans

By Michael Heckman
Special to American Forces Press Service

FORT HOOD, Texas, Nov. 10, 2008 – The roar of nearly 1,200 motorcycle engines split the morning air at Hood Stadium here Nov. 7 as soldiers and civilians in the “Phantom Thunder” motorcycle safety event started their ride to Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery in Killeen.

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Nearly 1,200 riders depart the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery following a Nov. 7, 2008, memorial service. The riders participated in a 60-mile safety and mentorship ride. U.S. Army photo by Chris Varville

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Army Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch, commander of 3rd Corps and Fort Hood, said he organized the 60-mile ride to emphasize the importance of motorcycle safety, family time and fun for soldiers and to honor the men and women who have served in the military and sacrificed their lives to defend American interests.

Addressing the crowd, Lynch said he asks himself the same questions every day: “Are we doing the right thing, and are we doing things right?”

“What we’re doing today is, indeed, the right thing,” Lynch said, noting that he implemented new rules for motorcycle riders on and off post “because it is ridiculous to have survived the fields of battle and combat and come home and die on the highways and byways of Central Texas.”

“I refuse to allow that to happen,” he said.

With Veterans Day approaching, Lynch told the soldiers and veterans at the event that their service is important to all Americans. “It’s because of the veterans who served today and in past battles … that we have the freedoms we enjoy today -- the freedoms you provided us,” he said. “We will continue your legacy to assure that your kids and our kids enjoy the same freedoms.”

As he recognized World War II veterans, Lynch singled out an 83-year-old veteran who planned to ride. “Thank you for your courage,” he said. “We complain about our 12- to 15-month deployments, but yours lasted five years. You and your generation mounted up and went to war and didn’t come back until the war was over. Just know we love you and appreciate you.”

Lynch also recognized two motorcycle groups whose members assisted with the ride, the Patriot Guard and Combat Veterans Association.

“You amazing people … have been at memorial services and funerals for our fallen comrades for the past six years, … and are there to assure that there is no disturbance to the dignity and solemnity of the event,” he said. “Thank you.”

Lynch then called country music artist Michael Scott, who performed as part of the event, a “true American hero” for his many performances for the nation’s servicemembers. Scott performed several times at Fort Stewart, Ga., when Lynch was 3rd Infantry Division commanding general, Lynch said, and he invited Scott to perform for troops in Iraq. “He came and played at every base,” the general said, “and … whether it was for two or 2,000 soldiers, it was the same good party every time.”

When two reports from a nearby howitzer signaled the start of the Phantom Thunder ride, Lynch led the 60-mile ride to the cemetery across the Central Texas countryside with clear skies and temperatures near 70.

“We are here today to honor our veterans,” Lynch said at the cemetery. “Not only those who currently serve but those who have served before us.”

Lynch and Army Command Sgt. Maj. Neil Ciotola, 3rd Corps command sergeant major, presented a wreath in honor of all veterans and then saluted the traditional Army memorial with an M-16 rifle and helmet on a pedestal.

Following the ceremony, one rider sitting next to his battle buddy said he was excited and honored to participate in the ride.

“This is one of those times that makes our service all worth it,” said Army Sgt. James Mosely, a wheeled vehicle mechanic for the 2nd Battalion, 1st Air Defense Artillery Regiment, 69th Air Defense Artillery Brigade. “It’s like the times when someone walks up to you in a store and says, ‘Thank you for your service,’ but this event was that much more special.” Mosely said he couldn’t believe so many riders participated from so many different organizations.

Mosely’s battle buddies were Army Spc. Jason Arnold and his wife, Nicole, also from 2nd Battalion, 1st Air Defense Artillery Regiment.

Another unit that participated in the ride with 23 riders and 21 bikes was the 36th Engineer Brigade. Army Command Sgt. Maj. William Lewis and his wife, Liz, led the unit of riders.

“This was a beautiful day to ride,” Lewis said. “I like to ride with wind in my face. And the views from a motorcycle are so different than a car. I just love it, and so do my guys.”

He said this was the third safety and mentorship ride for his unit.

“We just like getting together,” he said. “And the less-experienced riders really like the mentorship and tips they get for the more experienced riders.”

Following the ceremony, the riders continued the ride through the Central Texas countryside before returning safely to Hood Stadium for the after-ride party with their families and community members.

(Michael Heckman writes for the Fort Hood Sentinel.)

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Photo Essay: Patriots Join 'Phantom Thunder' Ride

Click photo for screen-resolution imagePace “Pawkee” Bonner, of Austin, Texas, rides his BMW motorcycle to Fort Hood, Texas, for Phantom Thunder. Bonner rides up to 30,000 miles a year on Patriot Guard missions, ensuring that demonstrators don’t disrupt military funerals. U.S. Army photo by Michael Heckman   
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