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SPIRIT OF AMERICA: From military to motorcycles

Anabelle Sikes

Jul 1, 2022

The American Legion Post 63 officially welcomed its newest organization — the American Legion Riders Post 63 — in April 2021, following years of work and determination by several community leaders.

The American Legion Post 63 officially welcomed its newest organization — the American Legion Riders Post 63 — in April 2021, following years of work and determination by several community leaders. Since its charter in 1920, the Winter Garden post has welcomed veterans from all branches of the armed forces with the aim of “implementing the goals, aspirations, dreams, peace and blessings for our country, friends and families,” according to the organization’s website. Although this is a common goal for many of the American Legion posts, the riders in Winter Garden have the ability to bring the veteran community closer together than ever before. American Legion POST 63On April 26, 1920, Winter Garden Post 63 was granted a temporary charter. The post had 15 members at the time and was named Hugh T. Gregory. On Aug. 4, 1921, the post became a permanent charter with 45 members. The post now hosts a plethora of events and activities, including bingo on Monday nights and American Legion meetings once a month. The hall also is available to the public as a rental space.The post’s main initiative is its fight against veteran suicide through its Challenge22 Walk & Picnic. Individuals, families, businesses and more participate in the event to raise money and awareness to help eliminate veteran suicide due to Post Traumatic Stress. The next Challenge22 is scheduled for Nov. 12, 2022. Kurt Gies, commander of American Legion Post 63 said he is hoping to put together a special ride to go along with the event.FAMILIAR FACESKurt Gies, commander of American Legion Post 63 and one of the founders of the riders in Winter Garden, and Bob Hughes, director of the Legion Riders 63, are two of the main faces behind the organization’s success. Gies said the American Legion has many great programs, but a large number of members never got involved. He always noticed the riders at different events who seemed to be heavily involved and decided he wanted that for his own community post.Although the commander said the formation of the local riders group took years of work, he shared the inspiration for the idea itself came naturally.“To me, it’s what the American Legion represents,” he said. “It’s a group of people who come together for a common cause, which is supporting veterans.”Hughes said he had a motorcycle and wanted someone to ride with, which is why he joined a previous post in Orlando. However, he and his wife wanted to be part of a more active group and came to the Winter Garden post after meeting Gies.“It’s kind of like that smaller family inside of a bigger family kind of thing,” Hughes said. “Just to be a part of something where everyone recognizes you and rides for a purpose.”“It’s one thing to go ride; it’s another thing to go ride with someone else,” Gies said. “It’s just fun.”The local group now has six official riders with accompanying additional ride supporters. Anyone who is part of the American Legion, American Legion Auxiliary or the Sons of the American Legion is invited to join the riders.MORE INFORMATIONAmerican Legion Post 63: Click hereAmerican Legion Riders Post 63: Click hereGies and Hughes said the goal with the new chapter is not only to grow membership but also provide resources and opportunities to veterans and their families. Hughes, who served in the Michigan Air National Guard for six years when he was in college and later in the U.S. Navy, said he always remembers having the desire to be in the military. “I always kind of had that (a passion to serve),” he said. “To me, I’ve always just wanted to pay it back to not only the country but (also) people, in general.”Gies said he also always wanted to serve and was part of the American Legion Boys State when he was younger. He served in the military for 25 years in high-level positions. “With freedom comes responsibility,” Gies said. “If there’s nobody willing to fight for freedom … if the next generation isn’t willing to step up and serve, then we’ll be gone. Freedom is not only the ability to defend your country and what it stands for but also to go along with your daily life and not have to worry about it, because you know other people are defending it for you.”WHO ARE THE RIDERS?The Florida American Legion Riders was formed in 1993 to “promote the aims and purposes of The American Legion as a family oriented motorcycling activity for members of the American Legion, the American Legion Auxiliary and the Sons of the American Legion.”The riders participate in parades, ceremonies and escorts to keep with the aims and purposes of the American Legion, promote motorcycle-safety programs, provide a social atmosphere for family members, and promote and support programs of the organization and charities of the local community.Today, there are more than 106,000 riders in more than 2,200 American Legion rider chapters, organized by local posts and departments worldwide.The riders represent one of the American Legion’s fastest growing and most visible activities. They perform service activities in their communities and participate in the annual cross-country Legacy Run, the group’s signature fundraising event.Riders in all states have escorted military units returning home from combat tours overseas and have raised millions of dollars for local state and national charities.

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