Bible Connections The enduring influence, contributions of the Patriot Guard Riders

"Blessed be the Lord my strength which teaches my hands to war, and my fingers to fight: My goodness, and my fortress; my high tower, and my deliverer; my shield, and he in whom I trust; who subdues my people under me."

Psalm 144: 1-2

In 2005, members of a church in Kansas began protesting at the funerals of soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq. They carried signs stating, "Thank God for Dead Soldiers." And "God hates the United States." The purpose was to protest America's tolerance of homosexuality. In 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld their right to protest as protected by free speech.

Because of their hate speech and actions, other American churches have denounced their actions and refused to participate in their protests. As a result of those protests a group was formed called the Patriot Guard Riders in Mulvane, Kansas. The purpose of the PGR was to stand flag lines at military funerals to shield and protect military family members from the protesters.

PGR groups are also involved in Help on the Homefront (HOTH). This a volunteer outreach program of Patriot Guard Riders which assists our military heroes and their families. Our veterans have earned our respect and gratitude for their selfless, heroic acts. Many veterans and their families have been assisted through the efforts of HOTH in providing basic needs in varying circumstances such as home needs, financial assistance or medical needs.

During the last few years, we have been privileged to ride with the Florida PGR. We were privileged to participate in such a mission Dec. 10. The funeral was for a young soldier who died of an aneurism while in training. He was 28 and a resident of Citrus County.

It was an honor and heartbreaking to stand with the family of this very special young man. Most of the flag lines we stand are at the Florida National Cemetery near Bushnell. To see the masses of white headstones and realize each one marks the grave of a soldier or veteran invokes a feeling of American pride and sadness.

Part of that sadness centers around a very disturbing statistic concerning the veteran suicide rate. Twenty-two veterans take their own lives every day in America. Our PGR group has taken on the project of educating Americans concerning this very alarming fact. The 24-hour National Suicide Hotline number is 800-273-8255.

We stood in a flag line at Florida National Cemetery not long ago for a suicide victim. The family was completely devastated. There were about 30 PGR people there that day and we were all visibly shaken. Other victims of suicide are the family and friends. The stigma and hurt to the family lasts for years.

The motto of PGR is "Standing for those that stood for us." The current nationwide membership now exceeds 329,696. Although initially founded by motorcyclists, the organization is open to anyone that loves America, respects our flag and exhibits a sincere caring attitude toward our warriors and first responders, regardless of political affiliation, veteran status, or whether or not they ride a motorcycle.

We were also allowed to participate, as Patriot Guard Riders, in "The Snowball Express," the week of Dec. 6, 7 and 8 at the Disney complex south of Orlando. SBE is sponsored by the Gary Sinise Foundation. Each year in December, more than 1,750 children of fallen soldiers are brought together along with the surviving parent or guardian.

PGR riders also served as escorts from the Orlando International Airport to Disney. To see the dozens of motorcycles flying American flags and leading the buses through Orlando is an awesome sight.

Each child attending receives from the PGR a leather vest and when they become 18, a shadow box consisting of a PGR-Snowball Express T-shirt, patches and numerous other items.

There are many purposes of Snowball Express. To honor the fallen and recognize the survivors is only the beginning. I was with the welcoming group in front of the Coronado Springs Disney Resort on Saturday when the first buses of parents and children arrived.

To realize the losses these children and adults had experienced was a very emotional experience. Over the next two days we had numerous opportunities to talk to the children. We worked in the "Kids Activity Room." In so many cases, they were anxious to talk to adults.

More than two million children in America have experienced the deployment of a parent to a war front since 2001. Children are victims of the war and are usually not recognized as such.

A little girl named Alicia talked to me for a long while. Her dad had been killed in Iraq. She talked about it like one might talk about the weather. She was from Clarksville, Tennessee. I asked her about Fort Campbell, and she said her mother was stationed there.

Another volunteer told me she had asked a 9-year-old girl "what she liked best about 'Snowball.'" The child's reply was, "Getting to spend time with my mother." Most would think the answer might have been, "Going to Disney World." Parents often underestimate the value of time spent with a child. When I look back on my life, many of my best memories are times spent with my dad.

Of course, a great blessing to us was the time we spent with the guests and the other PGR riders. We have met some of the greatest patriots in America in the PGR. The coordination of the Gary Sinise Foundation and the PGR was amazing. Disney was also an excellent host.

Jesus said in Matthew 24: 6 "There will be wars and rumors of wars, but the end is not yet come." At any given time on this planet there are as many as 40 wars taking place. Most of these we never hear about. People die; people lose limbs, eyesight and the emotional effects are overwhelming. The scars last a lifetime, not only on the warrior but also the family.

Please pray for the families of the casualties of war; they are victims, too. If you have a desire to honor our military heros and first responders, please visit www.patriotguard.org, and join us.