Riding for veterans

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SPRING HILL — Motorcycle riders from across southern Middle Tennessee revved up their engines on Armed Forces Day and rode more than 60 miles for veterans in need for Saturday’s annual “The Ride for Life” benefit.

Hosted by Spring Hill’s chapter of the Baptist biker group FAITH Riders, proceeds from this year’s event will go to the veteran outreach organization Operation Stand Down Tennessee.

The riders make their home at First Baptist Church Spring Hill.

“We are just trying to be a blessing,” Local FAITH Riders Director Mike Welch said.

Although these riders may look tough with their big motorcycles, leather jackets and American flag bandanas, the riders certainly have equally large hearts, Welch said.

“There is a misconception about motorcycle riders,” Welch said. “These people ride these motorcycles and they have the biggest hearts around.”

J.C. Christian, one of the toughest-looking of the bunch, sporting a matching black leather vest and bandana, serves as the church’s pastor when he is not leading the convoy across rural Maury County.

“We wanted to something to honor our vets, so we are riding to raise money for them,” Christian said.

Raised by an Air Force father but unable to enlist due to medical issues, Christian said he has always had an appreciation for those who have served.

The pastor blessed several motorcycles, praying for a safe journey, before the group set out on its expedition.

“For me it’s an honor just to be able to recognize and appreciate our veterans,” Christian said. We wanted to let them know that we honor them and we appreciate the commitment they have given. Our nation is free today because of their sacrifice.”

Operation Stand Down Tennessee is a Nashville-based veterans organization offering services from both permanent and transitional housing programs and job search assistance to basic outreach and support across the state. The service center also runs its own thrift store.

It is the only organization in the state recognized by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and is currently serving more than 1,600 veterans.

Transitional Housing Manager Nicole Bridges and Transitional Housing Case Manager James Wilson said that the ride will go to helping veterans in need of emergency aid.

“With grants we have stipulations.” Wilson said. “But the donations from this goes to those people who walk in and come off the street who might not meet the grant’s guidelines.”

He said the funds from Saturday’s ride will purchase gas for a veterans who cannot afford the drive to a job interview or help those who need just a extra to purchase groceries or make a payment.

“Unfortunately, especially in Nashville, the cost of living is outrageous but minimum wage does not meet that. It is difficult without organizations like ours. I don’t know how they’d do it,” Bridges said.

Each of the more than 30 riders in the tour made a $25 dollar donation.

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