“STEPPING UP TO SERVE: IS A MISSISIPPI-BASED INITIATIVE TO SHOWCASE PEOPLE IN OUR COMMUNITY WHO ARE GOING THE EXTRA MILE TO GIVE BACK. THIS SEGMENT IS MADE POSSIBLE BY:
“Stepping Up To Serve” – The Patriot Guard Riders
When you face the loss of a loved one, it’s difficult to imagine a group of strangers being your comfort and security.
But for veteran and first responder families, that’s exactly who the Patriot Guard Riders are.
The Patriot Guard Riders (PGR) is an organization of men and women who attend the funerals of members of the United States military and first responders at the request of the decedent’s family.
Darkhorse Press spoke to the Mississippi State PGR Captain, Roger Barrett, who is also a Vietnam veteran. He provided some insights about the conception of the Patriot Guard Riders.
The PGR began on November 8, 2005, and was founded primarily to provide shelter and protection to the deceased’s family from Westboro Baptist Church protestors. The men who founded the organization were Vietnam veterans and understood the importance of “standing for those that stood for us”, which is now the slogan for the PGR.
“What started the PGR was a homecoming for an Afghanistan veteran, and the Westboro Baptist Church was planning on being there. A couple Vietnam said, ‘no that’s not going to happen,” Barrett explained.
“A lot of that was due to the fact that we didn’t want the guys coming back now and treated the way we were when we came home. They deserve better.”
At the moment there are about 500,000 members nationwide, with the Mississippi branch reaching approximately 1,500 members.
In 2011, a notable event that occurred in Mississippi was when Staff Sergeant Jason Rogers, a Marine that was killed in action in Afghanistan, was brought back home to his family in Brandon. The Westboro Baptist Church was speculated to protest the funeral, but the PGR was not going to let that happen.
Barrett and his fellow riders met fallen Sgt. Rogers at the Jackson airport and escorted him back home, and to his final resting place, in Brandon. Over 400 Patriot Guard Riders and thousands of supporters lined the streets of Brandon; and, together, erased any sign of the protestors.
“This is all something that I feel – at this point in our country – needs to be done. For our veterans and their families… that we appreciate their sacrifice.”
The PGR attends the funerals only at the family’s request; but the military Casualty Assistance Officers and DPAA (The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency) involved brining a service member killed-in-action home can also request services.
The Patriot Guard Riders will meet the family at the funeral home and stand a flag line for visitation. Then, for the service they will escort the family and friends to the cemetery, stand a flag line again, and deliver a final salute with military honors.
The PGR has grown since 2011 and has expanded its reach to include services for all military, and now for all first responders as well. Still only at the family’s request.
The organization emphasizes that anybody can be a member of the Patriot Guard Riders.
“You don’t have to ride a bike; you don’t have to be a veteran. All we request is that you show respect and honor to our veterans and their families. That’s the main requirement,” said Barrett.
“It is an honor that you just can’t explain. It’s one of the great things that has happened in my life. It’s hard to do what we do and not tear up. Because of the honor in it, and because of what you’re doing. It’s humbling.”
Overall, the PGR has provided a sense of security, honor, and support for thousands of military and first-responder families across the U.S.
“The families tell us they appreciate what we’re doing… us being there… and how much it has helped them.”
One of those families was the family of our own Nicole McCardle. In 2019, her stepdad, Michael Hanley unexpectedly passed away. He was a US Marine Corps Veteran; and when he passed a family friend referred them to the Patriot Guard Riders. One phone call was all it took. They reached out, told them the place and date, and the PGR organized the rest.
They arrived to the funeral home before the family did, stood in a flag line as guests made their way in and out of the visitation, and then lead the miles-long caravan to the Biloxi National Cemetery.
Nicole describes the PGR group as “powerful”.
“It was comforting to know they were there. It felt like Mike was being ushered on a chariot. Everyone who attended from the PGR felt like a friend by the end of the event, and I don’t think we can ever say ‘thank you’ enough.”
Below you can see her post from Facebook, and also the comments of other families impacted by the Patriot Guard Riders.
Although the service is free, the PGR does accept donations which are used to purchase flags and items needed to keep the PGR going. You can donate on their website at www.patriotguard.org/donate/.