Circe Olson Woessner, Executive Director, Museum of the American Military Family.org
One by one, people introduced themselves to me…”Rocket”, “Happy Feet”, “Bulldog”. Someone called an “FNG”. I was at a planning meeting for the annual motorcycle event “Run for the Wall”, and as an outsider, I was going to see how something this huge gets planned.
Barbara “Happy Feet” Montoya, one of the State Coordinators for Run for the Wall, started the meeting. After introductions and the Pledge of Allegiance, the planning began in earnest. Various biker clubs were represented: American Legion Riders, Patriot Guard Riders and others. Annette Torrez from the New Mexico Motorcycle Riders organization was there, as was the Museum of the American Military Family’s Veteran Liaison and avid biker, Larry “Wolfman” Hurtado.
Run for the Wall, an annual event, is a cross-country MISSION, which starts in Rancho Cucamonga, California and ends in Washington, DC. There are two routes, a southern and a central. Our group was planning the central route.
“This is a mission, not a vacation, not a party”, says a man, who I think introduced himself as Firecracker. “We ride for those who can’t.”
“It’s a rough ride,” Happy Feet admits.
Because of the sheer numbers of participants, every detail must be painstakingly planned out. Each rider is assigned to a platoon, and his or her motorcycle is registered and labeled with different colored ribbons, designating a platoon assignment. Each platoon has a platoon leader,assistant platoon leader, and two tailgunners —all of whom have specific tasks to perform.
Overall, there are more support people than riders from each state. In addition to “chase crews”, there are fuel crews who have perfected the art of refueling more than 300 motorcycles in fewer than 30 minutes. Fueling hundreds of bikes in a short time means that bikes slip in and out of the pumps, while the fuel crew handles the hoses. As one bike slips out, another slips in. “Cash only—no credit card, no change. This is pay and go to the max.”
Road Guards ensure that the platoons safely navigate past the on and off ramps of interstates and the countless other things that must be managed when hundreds of riders travel in close proximity at high speed.
The staging crews get all the bikers organized and lined up whenever the MISSION stops, and there are also advanced crew members, ambassadors, chaplains and more.
Additionally, there are friends and family who follow along behind all the way across country, and there are townspeople who voluntarily feed the riders as they pass through their town.
Food, all the way across, is provided: spaghetti, pulled pork, BBQ, burritos– In Eagle Nest, NM, population about 290, the townspeople feed over 600 bikers breakfast and lunch. They start cooking around 4:00 am to have a hot meal for everyone before the 7:30 safety briefing.
Safety is of utmost importance. Because the platoons ride in tight formation, all participants are advised to attend a safety class prior to the event, and must attend the daily morning safety briefings on the road.
“To new people, especially, this ride is a completely different ride; it is side by side. When we start in California, we have some time to practice through the West. Once we cross the Mississippi, you need to be professional. We are family on the road. It’s very black and white on the MISSION. There’s no tolerance for a grey area. We will never leave you broken down or if you need emotional support. But if you didn’t prepare—watch out. You need to be accountable, responsible and ride your own ride,” a seasoned rider told the guy who’d introduced himself as an FNG.
What is an FNG?
The term originated in the Vietnam War when “Friggin’ New Guys” would transfer into a unit. They were often ignored, because the other troops didn’t want to get attached to them because they never knew how long they’d be around. It was easier not to know their name.
Nowadays the term is used affectionately, and this MISSION with Run for the Wall goes out of its way to welcome newbies and teach them the ropes. Hence, the informational meetings about Run for the Wall.
In fact, being an FNG has its perks. Once the ride gets to DC, the Arlington National Cemetery Administration allows 250 bikes –125 from each route– to ride through the hallowed Arlington Cemetery as part of the Run for the Wall. Only FNGs are chosen, and they are picked according to how far they have ridden with the MISSION.
“We ride our bikes right into Arlington. No one else in the country gets to do it. The police escort us through the front gate and we lay the wreath at the tomb of the unknown—you will never forget it…” an old timer reminisced.
Whether one rides the whole distance or just a leg, Run for the Wall is an experience to remember. For more information about the MISSION, please check out the following website:
New Mexico Central Route Monthly Meetings will be held the third (3rd) Sunday of each month at NOON at the Veterans Memorial on Louisiana and Gibson, in Albuquerque in the Visitors Center. Next Meeting January 20, 2013