By Linda Kor
Groups intending to protest military funerals will soon be severely limited in their ability to do so since Congress passed a sweeping veterans bill last month that includes limitations on such demonstrations. The Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012 will prevent demonstrators from picketing military funerals two hours before or after a service. The bill also requires protestors to be at least 300 feet away from grieving family members.
The bill was crafted in response to the actions of the small, but vocal congregation of Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., that began picketing funerals of fallen troops in 2005 to promote an anti-gay agenda that included carrying signs proclaiming “Thank God for dead soldiers” and other slurs.
The incidents caused outrage and promoted the organization of another group, the Patriot Guard Riders. These mo-torcycle riders arrive at funerals where the Westboro members protest, and provide a barrier of American flags and mo-torcycles that block protestors from the view of family members and those in attendance at the funeral.
Brian Huff and Richard Stuart, members of the organization, see the effort as a final service to those who served. “Those who take part in the Patriot Guard are very devoted, driving through and standing in all kinds of weather, doing all they can in support of former troops,” explained Huff.
Since 2005, the Patriot Guard has grown to include more than 200,000 members and is not restricted to veterans. “You can ride a motorcycle, drive a car, bike or whatever you have. We even have support crews of moms and their kids providing water and snacks for the riders who participate,” stated Huff.
The Patriot Guard provides the service out of respect for those who served in the military and their families, but will only provide the service at funerals if invited. “We rely on mortuaries to talk to the family if the deceased served in the military. We make certain we’re invited by the family, otherwise we would be no better than Westboro,” Huff said.
Once the family requests the Patriot Guard, members are contacted and those who are able to make the trip to pro-vide the service and pay their final respects do so free of charge.
Westboro has become less active with the enactment of the new law, but the Patriot Guard has continued to grow and expand what it does.
“We go to veteran homes and take them to ballgames or fishing. It helps them to get out and be active,” explained Stuart, who served in Korea.
The group also provides funeral escorts, assists in traffic control and welcomes returning soldiers as they arrive at airports; a welcome many veterans did not receive upon coming home.
“We want to make sure they get the reception we didn’t,” stated Huff, a veteran who served in Vietnam.
Huff, who has a summer home in Show Low, and Stuart, who has a home in Overgaard, shared their story of the Patriot Guard in order to let residents of the region know that those services are available in their communities. “People don’t really know about us up here, but riders will come up from as far as Phoenix if a family requests us to be here,” explained Huff.
The Patriot Guard also welcomes new members. The volunteer organization has no membership dues, and only asks that members share an unwavering respect for those who risk their lives for America’s freedom and security. Those in-terested in learning more about the Patriot Guard Riders are encouraged to contact Huff at (903) 714-1377 or Ride Cap-tain John Moffitt at (928) 713-0856, or go online to www.patriotguard.org.
By Linda Kor