They’re a group of military veterans who belong to the American Legion and regularly visit their local post, and they enjoy riding motorcycles together. Whatever you do, though, don’t call the American Legion Riders a motorcycle club.

“There’s a difference between us philosophically and a motorcycle club,” said Brad Blanchette, director of the American Legion Riders chapter based at Legion Post 8 in Casa Grande. “Motorcycle clubs are all about the riding, the bikes and the going fast and whatever. We are a service organization. We’re more about citizenship and service to veterans.”

The Riders support the programs of their local chapter and the four pillars of the American Legion overall, which are Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation, National Security, Americanism and Children & Youth, said John Moffitt, chairman of the American Legion Riders, Department of Arizona. The Riders also promote motorcycle safety programs and provide a social atmosphere for members who are motorcycle enthusiasts.

Pinal Ways visited Post 8 in April during an event known as the traveling trophy steal. The trophy is kept at an Arizona American Legion post for eight days. When the period is up, Riders from around the state visit the post that has the trophy and draw playing cards from a deck. The chapter that draws the highest card takes the trophy to their post. As Moffitt spoke to a visitor, Blanchette went to the parking lot to greet Riders from around the state as they parked and trickled into the building. Once inside, most of the Riders went to the counter to order food and sat down at the tables with plates of hot dogs, beans and potato chips.

Whether it’s post-traumatic stress disorder or some other issue that veterans might have a unique experience with, the camaraderie here is important.

“It’s good to talk to other veterans,” said Mark Contreras, a Rider visiting from Prescott for the trophy steal.

The crowd was older and mostly male. They wore dark-colored ball caps, black leather vests with “Legion Riders” on the back and patches on the front, and blue jeans. Some people might say they looked dangerous, but they are not outlaws.

“Part of our bylaws is that all your runs will be done according to state laws and rules of the road. Whenever you’re out ... riding as a group you keep it at the speed limit or below. Obey all traffic laws. It’s just part of being a good citizen,” Blanchette said.

“Thirty years ago I considered myself a biker,” he continued. “But now, I think most of us are motorcycle enthusiasts. Biker is a lifestyle, and you kind of dance around on some lines. Motorcycle enthusiasts are guys like us. They get together and work together because we have a common interest in motorcycles, but it’s for the alternate purpose of serving someone else.”

The Casa Grande chapter, one of 60 statewide, has 21 members. According to Moffitt, the 21 riders contributed 7,015 hours of service last year. Three other chapters are in Pinal County, in Maricopa, San Tan Valley and Florence.

The Wall That Heals, a traveling replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial that’s located in Washington, D.C., visited Pinal County in March. Blanchette was the road captain for the escort when the wall stopped in Casa Grande.

The Patriot Guard Riders is an organization that protects veterans’ funerals from disruption by protesters. The American Legion Riders help the Patriot Guard Riders at those funerals and offer support at other veterans’ funerals.

“We do it as often as we’re asked,” said Don Graham, secretary of the American Legion Riders chapter in Casa Grande.

“You can always see the family is always real grateful they got some recognition, some support, for whoever it was that passed on,” Blanchette said.

Volunteers from the Missing In America Project visit funeral homes and find the unclaimed, cremated remains of veterans. The project provides “honor and respect to those who have served this country by securing a final resting place for these forgotten heroes,” according to its website. The American Legion Riders participate in these missions.

A couple of times a year Riders from the Casa Grande post visit the Fisher House, a care center for veterans in Tucson, and bring donations. In addition to the funerals and other events they attend, they have business meetings once a month at the post in Casa Grande.

“You try not to just hit the meeting and run away,” Blanchette said. “You want to stay, come early, have coffee with the guys and hang out. It’s just kind of your anchor.” | PW