Fort Bragg, NC –The ceremony itself lasted no more than seven minutes, but it was a fitting tribute at the turn-around point for motorcycle drivers participating in 95th Civil Affairs Brigade (Airborne)’s first brigade-wide motorcycle mentorship ride on Nov. 8.
Fifty eight bikers from its headquarters staff and four battalions, some with passengers saddled in, began the first leg of their journey from the brigade’s motor pool at 10 a.m. Patrol cars from Fort Bragg Provost Marshal’s office, Hoke County, and Scotland County led the cavalcade, efficiently handing them off from one jurisdiction to the next.
The quarter-mile long motorcade sped quickly but safely on the clear, crisp fall morning. With cold air whipping their cheeks, the bikers rumbled past trees that autumn had woven to patches of gold, ruby and rust. They tooled along the mostly two-lane highways that wind past Fort Bragg training areas, small towns, farmlands, and some brown fields dappled white with cotton tufts ready for harvest.
Waiting for them some 39 miles from Fort Bragg, at the Outback ATV Park near Wagram, were Bill Greene and his wife Becky, who represented Hope Mill’s Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10630. They had brought a poppy wreath on a wire stand and an electronic bugle for the noon ceremony.
Outback ATV Park owners, Mike and Jennifer Evock, had readied his stock car, famous on the oval dirt-track circuits of the Atlantic seaboard for the hundreds of names stenciled in blue, on all sides and top of the white, aluminum body of the GRT chassis. Memorialized on his 715-horsepower dirt track race car are the names of more than 270 Army Special Operations Soldier killed in combat since 9/11. Evock, a retired Special Forces warrant officer and race driver, decided early on, after building his first race car eight years ago, that he would dedicate the car to his fallen comrades from the Army’s Special Operations Forces.
On the race car’s hood, between the raised air scoop and the red letters that identify four military campaigns of wars that began over eleven years ago, were the freshly painted names of Staff Sgt. Kashif Memon, Cpt. Daniel Utley, and Sgt. 1st Class Marciano Myrthil, the three Civil Affairs Soldiers killed in combat earlier this year.
Shortly before noon, the nearly six dozen riders from the brigade formed a large semi-circle, facing the single wreath of red poppies set before the race car, gleaming brightly in the mid-day sun. Behind it, the U.S. flag fluttered softly at half mast.
“We are reminded that we who are left behind cherish their spirit, honor their commitments, send them our love, and never forget the service that they gave,” said Greene in opening the ceremony with a prayer.
Greene continued, “Today, our troops continue to make the ultimate sacrifice, and even as we lose troops, more Americans step forward and say ‘I’m ready to serve,’ following the footsteps of generations of fine Americans….”
Following Greene’s remarks, 95th CA Brigade’s deputy commanding officer Lt. Col. Brent Bartos and Command Sgt. Maj. Tony Duncan stepped forward to place the wreath before the flagpole and then salute, as Greene sounded taps.
Duncan then turned to the audience of his Soldiers.
“Walk proud, keep your head up,” Duncan said. “…You’re the founding part of this country. You’re the backbone of this country. We lose people everyday out there, in training, combat, accidents. Whatever it is, every soldier we lose, no matter what the method, we lose a big part of who we are, and how we protect this nation. For our soldiers who have fallen in combat, they paid the ultimate sacrifice. To me, personally, when I hear the words ‘he died in combat,’ I say, ‘Nobody dies in combat; they were killed in combat.’ Never forget that…. Our brothers were killed. They didn’t die. Carry their memory forward. Don’t forget. Everybody understand that?”
“Hooah,” the Soldiers affirmed in lowered voices.
Duncan was followed by the brigade’s deputy commanding officer, Lt. Col. Brent Bartos. “Like the sergeant major said, carry that memory forward and never forget those families they left behind. We need to take care of them too. ”
Later, after members from Family Readiness Groups and the Evock family warmed the crowd with bowls of hot chili, some of the riders continued their conversations around the two campfires used to warm visitors at the 700-acre ATV park.
“To me, it’s all about family,” commented Green. “It was a small ceremony, but it’s all about family. You can do 20, 30, 40 years in the military, but it’s all about family. You got to stick with each other. That’s what it is.”
Helping to link up the Soldiers, the VFW, and the ATV park that day was Lt. Col. Dominic Kusumoto, chief of the brigade’s Civil Affairs Planning Team and biker of many years.
“I’ve done mentorship rides before, but they’ve always been at the company or the battalion level,” Kusumoto said. “We’ve never done one at the brigade level, and since the rider safety program is command-directed, we figured we’d do one for the brigade and get everyone together as one cohesive unit, build our esprit de corps and actually look at other people’s riding skills.”
“This gave us the opportunity to watch people ride, look at their cold weather gear. One of the biggest safety concerns we have, outside of paying close attention to other vehicles that may not be looking out for bikers, is proper equipment and proper gear– ensuring that they dress properly according to the weather. So layers were what we were looking at.”
“The weather was perfect for riding,” said Kusumoto. “I was very comfortable, but not so this morning, when I rode in at 4:30. That was very cold.”
Temperature that morning had dipped to 48 degrees at 7 a.m. But when the rides turned their bikes toward Fort Bragg that afternoon, the air had warmed to the mid-60’s.