“They Stand for Those that Stood for Us," but sometimes they also ride.
They are the Connecticut Patriot Guard Riders. Sometimes clad in leather, often astride Harleys or Yamahas, these men and women come together for Honor Missions, that’s when they escort fallen soldiers and first responders. This all-volunteer organization also provides escorts for welcome home ceremonies and troop deployments.
“Whether you are at a funeral or a troop sendoff, you realize how important it is to the family,” said Gregg Barratt, state captain of the Patriot Guard Riders, or "PGR." “I can only speak for myself but there are three components on any mission. There are the logistics; you could be holding a flag for hours. There is the emotional side; you are helping someone who just lost someone. And there is the service side.”
It is the last of the three components that motivates Barratt. The Stamford resident was an EMS for 26 years and is also a former police officer. Service is simply part of who he is, he said.
The PGR always notifies the police when there is an escort. Usually the escort is limited to 30 to 40 motorcycles as safety is paramount, Barratt said.
“Honor missions are always at the request of family, the government or the funeral home. We don’t just show up,” Barratt said.
There are also the flag lines. That’s when PGR members stand at attention holding flags for either a welcome home or a funeral. Or, like last month when a line of PGR members holding flags framed the newly inaugurated Pfc. .
Barratt also got involved in PGR because he rides motorcycles. But his true drive comes because he grew up in what he described as a very patriotic family.
Barratt’s 18-year-old daughter is a member of the Connecticut Air National Guard and his 17-year-old son also plans to enlist in the military.
Earlier this week the riders participated in the bitter and the sweet.
About 40 members of the Patriot Guard Riders provided an escort for SSG Ari R. Culler’s funeral. Culler, 28, was killed in Afghanistan. The riders participated in a welcome home escort for a returning Marine who landed at Bradley International Airport.
According to the Patriot Guard Riders website the organization started in August 2005 with the American Legion Riders chapter 136 in Kansas. The riders, incensed by the Westboro Baptist Church’s protests at military funerals, banded together to show their respect for and to honor fallen soldiers.
Today the Connecticut Patriot Guard counts high school students and WW2 veterans among its members. And while Barratt said he doesn’t know exactly how many people belong, his email list goes out to more than 1,000 people in the state.
To join it’s not necessary to be a veteran, to ride a motorcycle, or to pay dues, Barratt said. One need only go to the national website and click on the join now tab.
“Even if you can only make one mission a year,” Barratt said, “you’ll be doing something important."