A 'bucket list' ride to Sturgis by three members of ALR Chapter 31 out of Salinas, Calif., was readily adapted to a tour of duty in an effort to raise awareness of the scourge of veteran and active-duty suicides that afflicts our nation. On Aug. 3 of this year, President Hy 'Crash' Libby, First Vice Rick 'Phin' Phinney and Chaplain Steve 'Pops' Culver set out with only what they could carry on their motorcycles for an epic trip to the Black Hills of South Dakota. Wrapping the luggage bundle on Pops' bikes was a banner that read "22 A DAY".
It is estimated that 22 veterans and active-duty servicemembers - whether they have ever deployed or not - take their own lives. The mission was to spread the news of this problem and gather signatures to push Congress and the VA to do more to understand and effectively treat these men and women before it is too late. Chapter 31 supports the efforts of the Spartan Alliance and encourage vets to take the Spartan Pledge (http://www.spartanweekend.org/)
The trip took the three Riders - always in their ALR vests with back patches in full display - across Nevada, into Idaho, across Wyoming and into South Dakota on the ride out. Five days were spent in the Sturgis area, dividing their time between the rally itself and rides to such notable locations as Devil's Tower, Mount Rushmore and the Badlands of South Dakota. By the time they had returned via the southern route through Utah and across Nevada on U.S. Highway 50 - "The Loneliest Road in America" - they had logged 4,189 miles.
At every gas stop, restaurant, national park, hotel and "watering hole" along the way, the "22 A DAY" banner caught the attention of the public and a conversation was held explaining its meaning. Signatures were gathered, including almost 100 names collected at American Legion Post 33 in Sturgis.
Without exception, the sympathies of the citizens were in alignment with the mission; but the apparent lack of awareness on the part of the general public was disconcerting. It is clear that only through the efforts of dedicated individuals and organizations such as The American Legion and the Legion Riders will this issue ever be brought to the full attention of the public - and our leaders be prompted to take action. ALR members 'Crash', 'Phin' and 'Pops' are honored to have played an active role in making this happen.
(Photo: Rick 'Phin' Phinney, Hy 'Crash' Libby and Steve 'Pops' Culver prepare to leave Post 31 in Salinas)