ST. GEORGE — They can be seen standing a flag line at funerals for fallen servicemen and women or riding their motorcycles in missing man formation escorting a funeral procession. They carry the United States flag at Honor Flights, wreath ceremonies and parades, and they can be found pulling weeds or repairing plumbing at the homes of veterans and first responders.
The Patriot Guard Riders are a group of mostly (but not all) motorcycles riders who have great respect for those who risk their lives for America’s freedoms and security. To that end, it is the organization’s calling to stand with the nation’s military heroes, first responders and honorably discharged veterans.
Founded in 2005, the Patriot Guard Riders are a national nonprofit organization with chapters in all 50 states, rider Kent Hardman said.
Hardman is a member of the Patriot Guard Riders of Southern Utah. The group is part of the Utah chapter, and Hardman recently resigned his leadership position as a member of the state board of directors.
The primary roles of the Patriot Guard Riders, according to their website, are to show their sincere respect for America’s heroes and to shield families of fallen heroes from those that might disrupt the services of their loved ones.
Family members of fallen servicemen or women, first responders or veterans can invite the patriot guard to attend the funeral service, Hardman said, and members of the organization will create a flag line for the casket to pass through at the church or mortuary, provide escort for a funeral procession or stand a flag line graveside.
These events are called “missions,” and it is a solemn and important responsibility for the Patriot Guard.
Hardman said one of the most memorable missions for him was being part of the escort for Navajo Code Talker Samuel Tom Holiday, who died in June 2018 in Ivins.
Members of the Patriot Guard Riders escorted the deceased hero from Southern Utah to Page, Arizona, where they were met with a host of other riders, including members of the Navajo Hopi Honor Riders. The large procession then continued on to Holiday’s final resting place in Monument Valley.
It is an experience Hardman said he will never forget.
Acting as escorts and standing at funerals is the main purpose of the Patriot Guard Riders, but as the organization has grown, so has the scope of their missions.
In Southern Utah, the Patriot Guard Riders can be found sending off and welcoming home veterans participating in Honor Flights – trips to Washington D.C. for veterans to be able to see their monuments – standing a flag line for the Wreaths Across America ceremonies at area cemeteries or riding in patriotic parades.
The service-oriented organization strives to live their motto of “Standing for those who stood for us.”
One of their most crucial and growing missions is a program called Help on the Home Front.
The program helps struggling veterans or first responders with projects and needs that they cannot physically – or sometimes financially – take care of themselves.
Local projects have included helping veterans or first responders with yard maintenance, installing handrails in a veteran’s home and helping veterans or their spouses move.
When local veteran Tom O’Brien got a water leak under his house, the Patriot Guard Riders were there.
O’Brien lives alone in an older home in St. George and sometimes needs a wheelchair when he physically can’t use his walker. He told St. George News that because of the way older homes were built with all the plumbing running under a cement slab, in order to access the leak, he needed to rip out the hardwood floors and drill through the cement.
“They were there in an instant,” O’Brien said of the Patriot Guard Riders, including Hardman, who fixed the leak and put everything back together – and then did it again when a different leak sprung up.
O’Brien is a veteran of the Korean War and stayed in the armed forces until the beginning of Operation Desert Storm, working at Fort Douglas preparing medical teams to deploy.
Today he helps the Patriot Guard Riders in any way he can but said he has received so much more from the organization than he could ever hope to give.
“Just the friendship they give,” O’Brien said, “that’s worth a million bucks.”
And the relationship is reciprocal.
Hardman said that the best thing about being involved with the Patriot Guard Riders is the “emotional paycheck.”
“It’s hard to say, really, what kind of numbers are on that paycheck,” Hardman said, clearly emotional as he talked about the gratitude expressed by families who are impacted by the organization’s service.
“That payback is worth any amount of time that we sacrifice.”
Hardman is not a veteran himself. He learned of the Patriot Guard Riders through one of his employees who had asked for a donation for a flag.
As he was filling out the forms for the donation, he was able to learn about the organization and its mission, and that was it for him, he said. He and his wife joined and have been members for eight years.
Hardman rides a motorcycle and dresses the part in a black leather vest and clothing bearing the American flag and Patriot Guard Riders insignia, but the organization is not a motorcycle club, he said.
The group is open to anyone – veteran or not, motorcycle rider or not.
Though they are most known for thundering down the road on their motorcycles, Hardman said they appreciate those who show up in cars and can carry the flags to each mission site.
The only requirement of members is respect for the men and women who risk their lives and make sacrifices daily in the service and protection of the United States.
“It truly is just a group of volunteers from all walks of life who want to give back to those people who have stood and protected our rights and our safety,” Hardman said.
Those wishing to request the Patriot Guard Riders’ services for a funeral can find information at most of the local mortuaries, as well as online.
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