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Rough Riders supporting veterans through service to others
Spirit of Yuma
For vets that need some cash to get back on their feet, or a little help around the house, or even just conversation and companionship, there are the Rough Riders.
So named for Teddy Roosevelt's esteemed volunteer cavalry, the Rough Riders are a motorcycle club made up largely of active duty and former military members who want their brothers and sisters in arms to know they still care. Members have a presence worldwide, including in Yuma.
Fundraisers go toward veterans causes or projects, from the Disabled American Veterans and Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society to individual vets like the one in Wellton, who got a new window air conditioner after the one in his trailer broke down.
The Yuma chapter's chief annual fundraisers are runs held in May for Armed Forces Weekend and in November for Veterans Day. Their last run was to benefit the newly established Yuma Veterans Fund.
“We gave them a check for $4,000,” said Yuma chapter president and former Marine Bob “Mac” McDonnell.
It's a club tradition not to reveal membership numbers but it is growing, McDonnell said. The group started in Southern California as the brainchild of some Marines. The Yuma chapter – also called the Prison Chapter as a nod to the Yuma Territorial Prison – started in 1992.
“This chapter is actually the second-oldest chapter in the club as a whole,” McDonnell said.
When not fundraising, members also seek out veterans in assisted living facilities. They haven't made calls in a while, and it can be emotionally difficult – but, McDonnell points out, just imagine what it was like for those combat veterans to see and feel what they did. He said he'd like to resume these visits. Now, even Vietnam veterans are getting to that age.
The elders light up when they have a visitor, especially one who knows what it was like to serve, and especially when they don't have family or other friends.
“There's some people who have nobody,” McDonnell said.
Some of these vets could also use a few comfort items, which the Rough Riders are happy to provide. “They all say the same thing. They'd all say, a bottle of booze and a woman,” McDonnell chuckled.
The club can't do anything there, but they can purchase TVs, movies, slippers or sweats. For one vet, who was missing fingers, gloves were a hot commodity for helping him push around his wheelchair.
“So we got him a box full of gloves that lasted him quite a while,” McDonnell said.
McDonnell served at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma from 1984 to 1987 and never left Yuma, choosing to buy homes and raise his family here. He now works at the air station as a civilian locksmith. He's been with the Rough Riders for about 10 years, after a friend in the club turned him on to the group.
He said the club is aware of the negative perception of bikers and motorcycle clubs, but it's something they've learned to deal with.
For their part, members – many still serving or, like him, civilians with security clearances to work on base – don't want trouble.
“We're not an outlaw organization whatsoever,” he said.
All members need is an American-made motorcycle. A member can invite a prospective member to a meeting to get an idea of the club – it's not a lifestyle but it can take some time, and support from home is also much appreciated, McDonnell said – before committing. The club is only for men, but wives and girlfriends can help out and go on rides.
Clubs can have some members who are not military-affiliated, as long as they're sympathetic to veteran needs.
McDonnell said there is no administrative spending, so money goes right to vets – to show gratitude.
“They've sacrificed,” he said. “A lot of them, the ultimate sacrifice – given their lives.”